Social Media and Cultural Institutions


In the age of Web 2.0, Social Networking Sites around the word has experienced a rapid development, both of user scale and market side growth explosively. The increasing numbers of users build or maintain the social relationship through the SNS. Therefore, SNS has become one of the most modern web applications. More and more commercial activities and interpersonal social behavior conduct in the cyberspace world as the rapid popularity of Internet. Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjorth (2013) have indicated “Galleries and museums have begun to focus more heavily on their audiences”. The purpose of this paper is to examine how and to what extent cultural institutions are using social media to create a culture of participation in their social network applications and services. And this paper investigates the use of social media at Art Gallery NSW as a case study.

Why galleries and museums want to use social media

It seems that the social media has changed the way galleries and museums connect and communicate with their audiences and visitors. The physical spaces and locations were no longer the issues because the social media has changed the way of galleries and museums showcase exhibitions and engage with audiences (Kelly & Smith, 2009). Culture institutions have always been part of their patron life trough using a variety of social network platforms and applications. The social media makes a contribution to galleries and museums’ culture communication framework.

The connection between culture institutions and their audiences are a one-way approach, before the appearing of the new social network. During the visit of gallery or museum, the audiences and visitors receive information and knowledge passively and have almost no opportunities for output. It seems that the gallery and museum were paid more attention to promotion and increasing awareness to passive their visitors than actively engaging them (Kidd, 2011).

But due to the new social media platforms, audiences can change from being passive to being active to communicate with the galleries and museums. People actively using the social media platforms to research, interact and engage with artists, arts events or arts organizations represent significant opportunities for communication and marketing by arts organizations. Thus, audiences can do an active dialog with culture institutions by using new social media.

Based on the research of Australia Council for the Arts, if people are interested in an event then they will searching more information online first and then decide whether to go or not. More importantly, the number of “likes” and “followers” in the social network, for instance, the Facebook and Twitter becoming a significant standard to evaluate values for audiences. For example, if someone see an event on Facebook and check the likes list to see how many his friends are going, he will want to go.

Therefore, social media as a communication tool play a significant role in art organization and knowledge exchange. Due to using the new social media, the physical spaces and locations are no longer the issues for visitors and audiences. Audiences can change from being passive to being active to communicate with the galleries and museums. And the galleries and museums communication was broken in a networked world, doing more on social networked will attract more audiences.

The ways gallery and museum can use the social media to engage audience

One of a useful way to engage the audience is having a conversation on social media. Digital technology and social media platforms are rising evidencing to be primary resources for audiences, becoming part of their visitor experience at cultural institutions. At present, people are not only using social media to research exhibition information or book tickets. They are also using the social media platforms to express their views for the exhibition and event. Hence, having a conversation on social media will engage audiences.

Working on improve audience’s experience is also important. The smartphone provides new and interesting ways to enhance an audience’s experience during their visit the exhibition. For example, Art Gallery NSW has a Gallery Insameet activity on 29 April 2015, encouraging visitors bring their smartphone to join the event, and it also allowed visitors print a favorite photo on Canon Lab.


Connecting all the multiple social media platforms can hold the audiences’ attention more effectively. That is, providing a respective link such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube link to the gallery and museum’s home website. Thus, the gallery and museum provide a functional means of easily reaching their social media presence and improve their brand credibility for their audiences (Australia Council for the Arts, 2011).

A case study on social media uses at Art Gallery NSW

Art Gallery NSW is one of Australia’s important public gallery and the culture organizations that it provides an essential example of how social media can be used to increase visitor engagement. The main social media platforms used by Art Gallery NSW are Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.


The Art Gallery NSW has 83,027 page likes on Facebook, 37,987 followers on Twitter, by May 27th, 2015. Comparing with the data from May 14th to May 20th there were six posts with 97 comments increased by 97.97 per cent. And the Art Gallery NSW is the top three most engaging Facebook content within seven days from May 22nd to May 28th with 582 likes and 25 comments in Sydney (Museum Analytics). The Art Gallery NSW also has 65,117 followers on YouTube and 19,333 followers on Instagram.



The Art Gallery NSW’s social media presence is not limited to its official websites and accounts. The gallery also makes use of supplementary social media that engage and interact with their followers and community. For instance, it has Art Sets for audiences to create their gallery for themselves or share with the public. People can save artworks, videos and blog posts with their text and photos or pictures.  Therefore, the Art Set helps Art Gallery NSW communicating with an extensive audience who may not be interested or aware of its official platforms.


Art Gallery NSW’s social presence has developed a lot. According to Summerhill, new social media platforms are constantly being trialed and assessed whether those platforms can integrate into the culture institutions’ social media strategy effectively (2011). The first social media platform used by the gallery is Facebook in 2008, in April 2009 Art Gallery NSW opened its Twitter account. Also, it also created visit app for iPhone in 2011. The Instagram was the newest social media platforms used by Art Gallery NSW in 2012. As a result, the gallery now has completed networked communities.


The increasing numbers of social media users affected the galleries and museums ideology as popular social network applications are used increasingly for culture communication between institutions and audiences. Such as the physical spaces and locations are no longer the issues, audiences are more being active to communicate with the galleries and museums. And the social networks also help the lot to engaging audiences. Therefore, the development of social media presents both opportunities and challenges for the galleries and museums. Having a conversation on social media, enriching audience’s experience, and making a simple connection involved all the multiple social media platforms can help to engage the audiences.


Australia Council for the Arts (2011). Connecting:// arts audiences online. Surry Hills, N.S.W:   Australia Council for the Arts Print. Retrieved May 25, 2015, from http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/workspace/uploads/files/research/connecting_arts-audiences-onli-54325bda24842.pdf

Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Art and Cultural Production. Understanding Social Media (pp. 77 – 99). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Kelly, L.& Smith, S. (2009). Revisioning the Physical and On-line Museum: A Partnership with the Coalition of Knowledge Building Schools. Journal of Museum Education. 34. (4): 55-68.

Kidd, J. (2011) Enacting engagement online: framing social media use for the museum. Information Technology & People 24(1), pp. 64-77.

Museum Analytics. (n.d.). Retrieved May 27, 2015, fromhttp://www.museum-analytics.org/artgalleryofnsw


3 thoughts on “Social Media and Cultural Institutions

  1. Social media exists everywhere in human lives. Museums using social media is a good way to make the relationship closer between tourists and museum itself. Before tourist visit museums, they can use its website and mobile apps to have a basic knowledge of the museums. Also, they could know exactly opening hours and each activity from social media, so they do not need to call museums to ask. Moreover, social media, especially mobile apps would lead you to museums directly by using map.

    Another advantage that museums use social media to solve language problems to tourists. Not all visitors have good understanding in English. Some museums using tour apps to give visitors a tour of museums by using their mother languages. I remembered in some European museums, visitors could borrow a tool when they visit the museum, and this tool have the different language to be selected.

    Not only museums are using social media, but also many universities have their social media apps. For example, USYD has many mobile apps, such as Lost campus, and Mobile learn. Students and visitors could use “Lost campus” as GPS to visit the whole school. For mobile learn, students could view each course details and course material easily by using this app.

    So, I think social media make our lives more convenience.


  2. I really dig this post – I think it’s a really interesting read to see how traditionally established institutions are approaching the adaptation to the social & digital media revolution. You present some really interesting topics backed up by some quality research.

    I really liked how you talked about the visit of a gallery changing from a ‘one-way interaction’ wherein the gallery essentially ‘paid more attention to promotion and increasing awareness to passive their visitors than actively engaging them (Kidd, 2011)’ and is evolving into a ‘two-way dialogue’ between curator and public wherein ‘people actively us[e] the social media platforms to research, interact and engage with artists, arts events or arts organizations.’ It is not hard to realise how absolutely true this is.

    It is also very true (yet a little bit disheartening in my opinion) how an event’s worth and interest can be gauged by social media activity – people actively search the events they want to go to and decide whether to go or not based on the ‘social media buzz’, so to speak. Personally, i’m not overly keen on the social media revolution (I know, why did I take MECO6936: Social Media), so I don’t really like how everything now is essentially a popularity contest. I think you summarise this nicely by saying ‘the development of social media presents both opportunities and challenges for the galleries and museums.’

    ‘Transaprency’ (above) makes a good point how social media can solve any general enquiries or certain language barriers, however I feel the galleries and museums already make a conscious and respectable attempt to resolve any of these problems outside of social media.

    What do you think?


  3. I found that we chose the same concept for the discussion. It could be hard to explore the relationship between cultural institutions and social media frequently. But I am interested by the argument. I agree with you that the connection between culture institutions and their audiences are a one-way approach, before the appearing of the new social network. And I have a similar idea in my critique, I think the cultural institutions need to focus on social media more than before, because the use of social media brought the two –way communication for organizations and audiences. It would be helpful for the development of media strategies today. It is very important to achieve more interactive experiences during the cultural communication. I also noticed that you suggested the gallery to use variety of media platforms there, for example, put all links on the official page. I think it do strength the relationship and relevance of cultural institutions. Anyway, I also would like to know more information about the history of dominance of social media, and how social media changed the media strategies of the gallery. I supposed to find more discussion about the positive and negative impacts of social media.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s