How to Use Instagram to Engage Audiences

Carly Syms


VIP + Marketing Manager

While museums attempt to connect people to the past, we don’t want to lose sight of the present and future. While a big part of the museum experience traditionally requires visitors being physically present to see exhibits and collections, audience engagement is no longer dependent on actually being in the museum. Social media gives organizations the freedom to extend the museum experience to a digital space and break down the physical walls, offering the opportunity to create their own communities of museum-lovers. 

Instagram is one of our favorite choices to help bring the museum experience to life outside the museum. Museums typically rely on visual storytelling to present their collections to visitors and Instagram mimics this same ability to communicate visually with followers.  With over 300 million daily active users, Instagram is a key outlet for reaching out to existing and potential audiences. Even better? 18-29 year olds make up the largest demographic of internet users who also use Instagram, which makes it a great option if you’re trying to draw in younger visitors.

Looking for some digital inspiration for your own museum? There are tons of examples of museums who are using Instagram to engage audiences. Let’s take a look at four Instagram accounts from museums around the world who are doing it right when it comes to engaging audiences online.

Harn staff taking pictures with a cutour of Instagram frame.
Harn Museum of Art staff experimenting with using Instagram to engage audiences.

Royal Ontario Museum (@romtoronto)

The iconic Michael Lee-Chin Crystal facade of the museum was inspired by the institution’s gem and mineral collection and reflects the Royal Ontario Museum’s mandate: “to build bridges of understanding and appreciation for the world’s diverse cultures and precious natural environments.” It’s also a great metaphor for the merging of the old and the new.

The Crystal was officially opened in 2007 and is attached to the original structure that dates back to the museum’s founding in the early 1900s – it’s a physical embodiment of a traditional institution welcoming the new. It also provides an Instagram-worthy entrance to the museum. Photos of the Crystal dot the ROM’s Instagram feed and give visitors a prime photo op to share with their own followers before they even walk into the museum.

An Instagram post showing a DJ spinning an event at the museum.

Strength: One thing that the ROM does particularly well through their Instagram account is highlighting special events that appeal to millennials. Friday Night Live transforms the hallowed halls of the museum into a event space with drinks, DJs, and the opportunity to interact with the exhibits in a more social, relaxed environment. This event turns museum expectations upside down and provides plenty of opportunities for audience engagement that translates well to social media.

Events like this are great fodder for social media as they liven up your feed and show a non-traditional museum experience. If your institution hosts special events, encourage participants to share their own photos with a designated hashtag and be sure to take the time to document and share the event with your Instagram followers. It’s a good way to inspire new guests to come out to your next event.

Philadelphia Museum of Art (@philamuseum)

Understandably, the Philadelphia Museum of Art focuses their Instagram on highlighting their impressive collection of art and artifacts. With over 3500 posts and nearly 155,000 followers, the PMA has an active Instagram presence and provides followers with a glimpse into what you would see on a visit to the museum. While fantastic art is reason enough to give them a follow, the PMA also understands the importance of hashtags and relevant captions to draw people in.

An Instagram post featuring fun art facts alongside a work of art.

Strength: Relating their collections to current events and using hashtags to make their content more discoverable, the PMA’s feed pushes back at the idea that museums are only focused on the past. Through clever captions and hashtags, they succeed at making a connection between art and contemporary events – like a slideshow of dozens of paintings with relevant Gilmore Girls references to celebrate the return of the show.

If you are searching for broader appeal through your Instagram, take notes from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and find ways to relate your collections to current events.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (@lacma)

An interesting mix of art, artifacts, and a dash of celebrity characterize LACMA’s Instagram. Scrolling through their feed, there’s a real focus on highlighting how exhibits are presented in the context of the museum itself, giving their followers the experience of seeing the exhibits as if they were actually visiting LACMA. Also, in true LA cinematic fashion, they frequently use Instagram’s video feature to give a more dynamic view of pieces in their collection.

An Instagram post showing an LACMA Instagram Takeover to help boost engagement.

Strength: LACMA does a great job of engaging followers by pairing their photos and videos with fun facts about the pieces they post about, adding a dash of education to their Instagram feed. They also excel at getting their visitors involved in their Instagram feed by reposting photos taken by LACMA visitors as they enjoy and interact with the exhibits. Occasionally, they even post follower-submitted art related to pieces at the museum.

Consider including calls-to-action such as follower-submitted photos or art as a unique way to reach out to your followers and get them involved. It’s a great way to build a connection between the audience and your museum!

Tate (@tate)

With one account for all four galleries–Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool, and Tate St. Ives–Tate has over 1.2 million followers and does a good job of living up to their mission outlined in their Instagram bio: “We aim to increase everyone’s enjoyment and understanding of art.” With a good balance of art, education, and entertainment in their feed, Tate is a worthy model for museums of any size who want to use Instagram to promote their institutions.

An Instagram post showing one of Tate's social media features.

Strength: Diverse and balanced, Tate combines the strengths of the previously discussed institutions with a mix of photos and video, informative captions, dedicated hashtags (check out #TateWeather for an artistic take on weather forecasts), and visitor regrams to engage with their large follower base.

Using Instagram to engage audiences at your museum doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming! As you get started, take your cues from those who are doing it right and soon your museum’s Instagram will evolve into a reflection of the museum all while engaging current visitors and fans – and attracting new ones.

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