Going viral: creative social media campaigns to inspire museums

In this article from Blackbaud’s sgENGAGE series, Devon Rose Turner looks at some recent social media campaigns that could provide inspiration for others working in the cultural sector.

Written by
Devon Rose Turner
December 16, 2021

Note: This article first appeared on sgENGAGE’s website here. We are grateful to them, Blackbaud and Devon, for letting us reproduce it on SOFII.

College friends, grandparents, colleagues, even the kids you used to babysit can all be found using social media in our current day and age. Facebook – aka Meta – Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok have become integrated into how people communicate with one another and access culture. According to Pew Research Center, 72 per cent of the American public uses some type of social media. This figure represents a massive adoption of this connective tech with only five per cent of American adults using social media in 2005 and 50 per cent in 2011. 


Playing dress up isn’t just for kids anymore. In 2020, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) challenged visitors to ‘twin’ with works of art in their vast collection and then share their creative ensembles online using the hashtag ‘MetTwinning’. This innovative campaign was launched prior to the coronavirus lockdowns but exploded in popularity across social media platforms once quarantine came into effect.

Dogs with paper cones masquerading as medieval unicorns, trash bags artfully assembled to create Rococo headdresses and hot water bottles standing in for Renaissance caps can all be found under the #MetTwinning hashtag on Twitter as the public really took to this campaign and had a lot of fun with recreating Met masterpieces. The authenticity that came from this public challenge really helped to ‘warm’ the Met brand. Posts from visitors and/or followers about museums always appear more genuine than organisational marketing messages. Consumers are also more naturally driven to trust other consumers and so a campaign like this can yield fantastic results for social media numbers as well as a museum’s brand.

Art Fund ‘See Everything’

It’s no secret that video is a very strong marketing tool. Moving visuals paired with compelling audio are inherently more interesting than a stagnant image and text and worse, just simply text. Social media has become more and more saturated with video content as marketers are realising video’s real potential. In 2016 UK charity Art Fund harnessed the power of video to create the successful campaign ‘See Everything’. 

This engaging video campaign was introduced to promote their National Art Pass which includes free/discounted entry to hundreds of museums across the UK. Their marketing team hired American filmmaker Alex Gorosh to undertake the herculean task of seeing ALL the art in London in one day. Gorosh took on this challenge with a chipper attitude and filmed his whistle-stop tour of 13 museums that resulted in a powerful three-minute video. In his one jam-packed day, the American filmmaker saw a total of 140,000 works of art and walked 22 miles on his expedition yet only saw 1 per cent of the art in London. Art Fund knew what they were doing when they set Gorosh on his task and through ‘See Everything’, they were able to highlight the great value of the National Art Pass to see the seemingly infinite number of artworks residing in museums across the UK.

When the video was circulated via their social media channels, they challenged viewers to share their thoughts and comment on artworks they recognised using the hashtag, ‘#ArtWalker’. This inspiring campaign had other cities ready to take on the challenge of ‘seeing everything’ in their own backyard. If your museum has a vast collection that you are looking to highlight, this type of strategy could be a great fit to spotlight ticket value and draw in visitors.

Alex Gorosh

Black Country Living Museum TikTok

Black Country Living Museum (BCLM) located in the West Midlands of England experienced a very difficult time during the multiple UK lockdowns which resulted in furloughing most of the 270 staff and a whopping 147 days of museum closure. Despite these bleak circumstances, BCML became the most followed museum in the world on TikTok in 2020/21 (above other more famous museums like the Uffizi in Florence!) which led to a boom in visitors when lockdown ended.

This open-air museum utilized the rebuilt historic buildings and costumed interpreters on-site to create original video content that was both educational and just trendy enough to go viral and engage TikTok users. Volunteers who were unable to interact with visitors due to quarantine were suddenly able to reach thousands of people online due to Black Country Living Museum’s eager adoption of the social media platform. With 1.3 million followers and 21.1 million likes currently, BCLM’s TikTok account provides a shining example of how to utilise social media to make lemonade of out lemons.

Key Takeaways

One thing that all these stellar campaigns have in common is that they are based within their collection(s). The Metropolitan Museum of Art challenged the public to recreate their collection works, Art Fund highlighted the collections of their participating institutions and Black Country Living Museum bases all their TikToks on the history of their open-air museum. For a museum social media campaign to truly succeed in increasing follower numbers and ‘go viral’, it’s imperative to remain true to the collection and organisational brand. Keeping an eye on popular platforms and trends is also key to increase your chances of pulling off a viral campaign.

Take note of these inspirational social media strategies and think about how some of these tactics could be adopted by your museum and reworked to fulfil your marketing and audience engagement goals. Now, go forth and get creative with platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok to expand your audience base and find new virtual visitors for your museum.

About the author: Devon Rose Turner

Devon Rose Turner

I currently work for GEM Group for Education in Museums as Communications Manager whilst managing my freelance business.

I enjoy sharing big ideas and making meaningful connections both inside the arts sector and out! My blog is filled with museum-heavy travel posts, subscribe if that is your thing.

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