As physical doors closed in 2020, digital doors were flung wide open as museums turned to social media as the main means of communicating with the public during lockdown. The Art Newspaper conducted its first global survey of museums’ social media followers in early March last year, just ahead of the online boom that developed as the pandemic hit. We have again calculated the total social media followers (for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) for the 100 most-visited museums in last year’s attendance survey to see what has changed in this most unprecedented of years.
On the surface, it would seem not much. The ten museums that had the most social media followers last year remain the same ones a year on. The only change to the top ten is the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which overtook London’s Saatchi Gallery to claim sixth place. There is some difference, however, in the level of growth among the top ten: the British Museum and the National Gallery in London, and the Musée du Louvre in Paris, have all increased their social media followings by around 12% over the past year, while the Saatchi Gallery and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim Museum all grew by less than 6%.
The most interesting developments lie deeper within the data. Instagram had the greatest growth in terms of social media followers for the top 100 museums. The platform’s numbers went up by 13 million—a 30% increase—compared with a 13% increase in followers on Twitter and just a 5% increase on Facebook. This means that—as we predicted last year—Instagram is now the most popular social media platform for museums, having taken the title from Twitter. The total Instagram followers for the top 100 museums in 2021 is 54.4 million, while Twitter has 51.5 million and Facebook has 36.3 million (although it should be noted that Facebook owns Instagram).
There are social media success stories outside the top ten most popular museums. Italian institutions, for example, appear to be experiencing a social media renaissance, with a boom in followers over the past year for Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia and Galleria degli Uffizi, and the Vatican Museums in Rome. While the social media following at the Accademia is just under 100,000, this is 112% higher than last year, with nearly all of its new followers coming from Instagram. The Vatican Museums has increased its followers by 53%, to 365,000—and has seen more than 600% growth on Instagram. The papal museum now posts daily images with descriptions in Italian and English and regularly uses the platform’s Reels and IGTV video functions. Meanwhile, the Uffizi has increased its social media following by 50%, to 762,000, but its growth is shared between Instagram and Facebook. At the start of 2020, the museum did not even have a Facebook account—now it has 100,000 followers and hosts innovative content including a weekly cooking show.
It is worth mentioning other Instagram triumphs. Numbers at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris have soared: the gallery has gained more than 360,000 new followers (almost 1.3 million in total), which amounts to an increase of more than 40%. In Madrid, numbers at the Reina Sofía grew by 57% to almost 400,000, and the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg has added 45% more followers to reach nearly 700,000. The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, which covers 19 museum buildings in the German capital, saw an increase of 44% to reach 55,000 followers—significant in a country where the museums are surprisingly low key on social media (it is 87th in the overall social media table).
Last year also saw the rise of a new kid on the social media block: TikTok. While many of the larger museums have stayed off the video-sharing platform (none of the top ten museums have a significant TikTok following), some institutions have found huge success. The Uffizi has more than 70,000 followers on TikTok, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has more than 80,000, and the Palace of Versailles has more than 135,000.
Somewhat bizarrely, the Black Country Living Museum in the northern English town of Dudley, which tells the history of industrialisation, has more than 570,000 followers. In 2020, it was named by TikTok as one of its top 100 accounts in the UK, and the Guardian newspaper said that, after extensive searching, it appears to be the most followed museum on TikTok. There is a very good chance that our 2022 survey will include many more mentions of TikTok.
• Read all our Visitor Figures 2020 content here