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Encouraging visitors to photograph artworks – and then sharing them on social media – is just one way the National Gallery of Victoria is growing audience engagement.

The decision to allow photography and image sharing on social media at Australia’s National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) has resulted in a spike in ticket sales at the gallery’s Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei show. 

The exhibition has already attracted more than 140,000 visitors since it opened on December 11, 2015, making it the Melbourne-based gallery’s fastest-selling exhibition in over a decade.

Jane Zantuck, head of marketing, National Gallery of Victoria, credits this success to a digital transformation across the organization following the appointment four years ago of gallery director Tony Ellwood and deputy director Andrew Clark.

In addition to increasing user-generated content on its social media platforms by allowing patrons to take photographs of its artworks, the NGV has also added virtual reality, Periscope and an app to its digital portfolio.


Over 4,000 photos have been uploaded to Instagram alone since the show opened eight weeks ago. Zantuck says allowing visitors to share their experiences and create their own content on social media has increased the word-of-mouth aspect of the campaign.

Over that same period the NGV’s Instagram and Facebook accounts have received more than 40,000 likes and over 2,000 comments on exhibition-related content.

The Instagram account has had the strongest growth over the past month – a 37% increase – taking it to close to 60,000 followers, 3% growth on Twitter (67,000 followers) and 8% growth on Facebook (92,000 followers).

Here is a break down of how the NGV has successfully fused art and digital to increase its audience engagement and ticket sales.

1. Collaboration across departments

Since the appointment of Ellwood and Clark, the NGV has put ‘the audience’ firmly at the center (Read more...) its overall strategy. This goes beyond the marketing, digital and communications strategies, and includes broader plans around engagement and programming.

A full time digital communities coordinator is employed to post daily content across the gallery’s social media accounts.

In addition, she is responsible for running on-site activities, including live Friday night bands and interviews with curators and industry experts for live-streaming on Periscope.

The digital communities coordinator works closely with the marketing and audience engagement teams, but all employees at the gallery are encouraged to share input in the digital strategy.

For example, the gallery curators or the education and conservation staff might share programming or content ideas that are then discussed as part of a weekly marketing department meeting.

2. Innovation: The adoption of Periscope and virtual reality

Periscope is seen as a more informal opportunity to have a conversation with the niche arts-engaged community. This group is considered to be early adopters of technology and ideas, making Periscope an ideal channel to engage them.

How is the NGV using the live-streaming app? First the marketing team decide on an event – an interview with an artist, a panel of guest speakers, or a live event like a concert.

It is then marketed across social media and live-streamed using Periscope. People are encouraged to pose questions using social media in advance for a more active dialogue.

The success of Periscope is being measured on audience growth and engagement through the ‘heart’ feature.

Currently, the audience on this channel is small, but engaged. Zantuck is optimistic that the NGV’s following on Periscope will grow inline with the app’s popularity.

Periscope is also seen as a medium that requires little investment in time or resources.

The gallery is also using Oculus Rift technology in a free exhibition: Wurm Haus by artist Jess Johnson. This is the gallery’s first experimentation with virtual reality technology. In it, visitors wear head-sets in the exhibition space to be completely immersed in the art. The NGV then pushes out content around the interactive technology as part of its social media marketing strategy.

This eye, posted on the NGV’s Instagram account, is quite confronting, but a great example of the kind of content being produced around the gallery’s use of the Oculus Rift technology. Click the play button for a demonstration.

3. Social media platforms: be where your audience is

Instagram is the gallery’s fastest growing platform and has over 60,000 followers – considered a good benchmark for Australian galleries.

One way it is growing exposure of the Instagram account is via its #MyNGV project. A local person in the creative industry is asked to share their favorite piece of work from the gallery with their Instagram followers.

Other social mainstays include a well-established Facebook page, Twitter, Pinterest and Google + for search. YouTube is also a growing medium.

The gallery has a different purpose for each platform.

Facebook for example has an increasingly older audience. The gallery has close to 100,000 followers on Facebook and uses the platform to promote and sell programs – directly linking it to sales.

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Instagram on the other hand, is younger, and more image focused, and quite art-led. This medium helps the gallery talk about the beauty of its content, and is used for brand work.

The NGV is not using Snapchat at this time. While the nature of Snapchat and the way brands are using it has changed, the gallery believes its investment in Periscope provides a similar functionality that fits more with its content needs.

4. User-generated content: encouraging visitors to take photos

Allowing visitors to photograph inside its Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei exhibition is unprecedented.

The gallery was able to demonstrate from previous exhibitions, including its Masterpieces from the Hermitage from St Petersburg, the impact photography has on audience attendance.

“There is a huge opportunity for content sharing and creation through what we have at the NGV. So we are enabling photography where possible,” says Zantuck.

“We had to demonstrate why it’s so important to share the message globally and how it helps the exhibition. Word of mouth – and online [communication] are exactly the same,” says Zantuck.

Here’s a selfie from Hollywood star Samuel L. Jackson during his visit to Melbourne last week. This post generated 16,500 likes.

5. Blending the online and offline

In December the NGV launched its NGV guide – accessible on mobile devices by logging in to a mobile site. It does not need to be downloaded.

Users can learn more about 140 works in the gallery’s permanent collection and search by artist, art movement or color. Users can access audio information, share snippets on Twitter, and even view x-rays of the work. An algorithm gives recommendations for other works.

“It’s about deepening the experience onsite but also being able to access that information when they get home. The in-gallery experience is really important to us,” says Donna McColm, head of audience engagement, National Gallery of Victoria.


The NGV’s digital strategy encompasses everything from its IT infrastructure (such as moving services to the cloud), to thinking more creatively in the ways it can reach more people.

The move to digital gives it a much greater source of data – being able to track whether exhibition tickets are spiking or programs are selling out, as well as being able to measure consistent engagement.

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