— Barnes Foundation (@the_barnes) February 11, 2016
On a recently live-stream tour of the @metmuseum‘s galleries with Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan, he thanked his Periscope viewers for joining in from all over the world. “Our biggest competition in the museum industry today is Netflix and Candy Crush,” Sree stated, “not other museums.” As more and more millennials are discovering art by ditching the museum experience for Instagram and Pinterest, art museums across the world are trying to determine how to stay relevant and improve the way we see and engage with art. Particularly, art museums are beginning to examine how best to engage with audiences on social media and are exploring how to open up traditionally restrictive collections to digital audiences.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that as social media evolves, it is revolutionizing how people are discovering and interacting with art. According to a survey released recently by online auction site Invaluable, nearly 23 percent of Americans find artwork that appeals to them on social media channels such as Instagram or Pinterest. By contrast, 20 percent discover artwork by going to museums and nearly 16 percent by visiting brick-and-mortar galleries. In an article in AdWeek, Invaluable’s VP of Marketing O’Neal Rowe stated “as digital-first preferences continue driving more interest from Millennials, we know that technology will play a critical role in engaging and connecting this generation to the art world.”
“We have hundreds of iconic works of art on view. In our history, we’ve taught people how to see them, and how to talk about what they see. What we haven’t done is we haven’t taught them to unpack their meanings . . . the larger social, cultural, historical stories they tell.”
– Thom Collins, Executive Director of the Barnes Foundation
This challenge of reinventing the art museum is one that the Barnes Foundation, one of America’s most renowned collections of impressionist, post-impressionist and early modern art, has faced since its controversial move to its new facilities in May 2012. Located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, the Barnes Foundation’s art collection includes works by some of the greatest European and American masters of impressionism, post-impressionist, and early modern art, as well as African sculpture, Pennsylvania German decorative arts, Native American textiles, metalwork, and more.
In February 2016 the Barnes Foundation launched the social campaign #meetyourmasterpiece. Anchored to the vision of the Barnes’ newly appointed Executive Director and President, Thom Collins, that art should inspire, transform and educate, the goal of the campaign is to bring awareness to the collections and demonstrate how the works of art are a great resource to unpack a myriad stories in a way that brings them into conversation with the public.
In an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News, Collins stated: “We have hundreds of iconic works of art on view. In our history, we’ve taught people how to see them, and how to talk about what they see. What we haven’t done is we haven’t taught them to unpack their meanings . . . the larger social, cultural, historical stories they tell.”
— Barnes Foundation (@the_barnes) February 12, 2016
The #meetyourmasterpiece campaign pairs three keywords with a selection of blockbuster paintings and was launched in traditional, digital, and social channels. The keywords are meant to spark curiosity and interest, inviting audiences to get the full story on the Barnes’ website or social media channels via the hashtag.
Seems pretty straight forward except for one big challenge: The Barnes Foundation does not allow photography in its galleries or of its artwork. Reaching out to their fans and followers, they asked their brand ambassadors to share their stories in advance. They asked: How will you react when you #meetyourmasterpiece at the Barnes? Elated, surprised, transformed? Tell us your story in 3 words for a chance to be featured! Here’s how: 1) Tag a photo of yourself #meetyourmasterpiece 2. Name your favorite artwork & describe it in three words.
Q&A with Jo Tiongson-Perez, Director of Marketing at the Barnes Foundation
“We have all of this great content, but how do we get our followers and visitors to talk to us? We should be asking more questions. We should be listening for opportunities to leverage our stories.”
– Jo Tiongson-Perez, Director of Marketing at the Barnes Foundation
Impressed with how the Barnes is creatively engaging with its audiences via its social platforms, I sat down with the Barnes Foundations’ Director of Marketing, Jo Tiongson-Perez, to discuss the campaign.
Q: What are the key concepts behind the #MeetYourMasterpiece campaign?
When we looked at the blockbuster masterpieces in the collection, we decided to pair three words with an artwork as a way to expose backstories and stimulate conversations. The keywords could either be scandalous, or entertaining or even a little known fact.
— Barnes Foundation (@the_barnes) February 23, 2016
For example, with Paul Cézanne’s painting Madame Cézanne (Portrait de Madame Cézanne), 1888–1890, this portrait of a tight-lipped woman was paired with the words Gambler, Fashionista, Secret. Our hope was to draw people in and entice them to find out the backstory behind this woman and other paintings in the collections… and there are thousands more to explore.
On one hand, our goal is to position ourselves internationally, nationally and locally as a world class destination; on the other hand, we also want to establish the Barnes’ thought leadership in arts education. Why was Van Gogh’s The Postman a confidant? Why was he a socialist? The full story exists on our website.
Q: How will you measure success for your #MeetYourMasterpiece social campaign?
Early on, when we first launched the campaign on social media, we found that our #meetyourmasterpiece Van Gogh post on Facebook was one of the most liked, most shared, most engaged with post of all time. It was really exciting to see that people that people were connecting with the art and the stories behind them.
In terms of analyzing our social media campaigns, we measure success in terms of impressions, awareness (likes, reach, etc.) and revenue. Part of the story is determining how the campaign supports our business goals.
Q: Recently, the Barnes has begun to introduce designated hashtags around specific exhibitions that encourage interpretation. Have you found this successful in encouraging engagement?
We have found that introducing designated hashtags for our special exhibitions—and now our collections—has been a creative way of making our collections and exhibitions relevant to contemporary audiences.
For example, for our 2015 special exhibition The Order of Things, we used the designated hashtag #MyOrderofThings. One of the campaign goals was to extend the conversation around the interpretation of the Barnes collection on social media. During this exhibition, we found that engagement drastically increased across social channels.
In the same way that the artists Mark Dion, Fred Wilson, and Judy Pfaff interpreted Dr. Barnes’ ensembles through installations, we then asked the public to interpret Dr. Barnes’ arrangements. We rolled out different themes each week on social media to encourage participation. For example if it was a garden theme, we asked people to send us garden arrangements that related to Barnes’ sense of symmetry. This is just one of the ways that we are making our collections relevant to today’s audiences.
Q: What is some advice that you would give to your #musesocial colleagues at other art institutions?
I advocate for the importance of listening on social. When we first launched our social media committee in 2015, it was a huge undertaking to get content that represented all the different departments scheduled cohesively. In 2016, per our strategic vision for the Barnes Foundation, our new undertaking is all about participation. We have all of this great content, but how do we get our followers and visitors to talk back to us? We should be asking more questions. We should be listening for opportunities to leverage our stories.
— Barnes Foundation (@the_barnes) March 28, 2016
One great example of this is the story of Olya Krasavina that we recently shared during our #MeetYourMasterpiece campaign. I found Olga via a post on Instagram in which she shared how her experience of viewing Modigliani’s “Redheaded Girl in Evening Dress” and visiting the Barnes served as a catalyst, inspiring her to follow her dreams and transition to pursuing art full-time.
What an opportunity for us to be able to share such a powerful visitor story! We search not only our hashtags, but also other hashtags that people are using to post around the Barnes, in order to identify brand advocates. Your brand advocates are already there in your pool of fans and followers on social media, so the challenge is digging for those stories and sharing them.