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Special Project

Special Project
From the 11th Annual Shorty Awards

de Young Museum Instagram Presence

Finalist in Cultural Institution


Reflecting an active conversation among cultures, perspectives and time periods, the collections of artwork on display at the de Young Museum include American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international modern and contemporary art.

The purpose of the de Young Museum is to provide, through the development and utilization of their collections and exhibitions, as well as education and community outreach programs, a rich and diversified experience of art and culture for all audiences.

Social Media is where we implement this mission digitally. Because of how the visual nature of the channel aligns with the visual nature of an art museum, we have dedicated considerable efforts to Instagram. Ensuring our presence reflects the museum experience as well as the diversity of the community we serve.

This meant changing the foundation of what we post: rather than promotional, special exhibition related content, we took a step back to consider what we can offer our community: inspiring, educational, and diverse content.

The de Young, located in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, is a part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which also includes the Legion of Honor and is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

Strategy and Execution

In an institution like ours, each department has different goals: educate, curate, conserve, promote. Prioritizing these offerings can be a challenge, and content on Instagram may end up feeling disparate and not representative of an in-person visit. At the de Young Museum, we decided to focus on providing the same services online that an in-person experience offers, rather than simply summarizing those services and encouraging followers to visit.

A few highlights of our changed approach:

Rather than simply encouraging followers to visit our Special Exhibitions, we focused primarily on our Permanent Collections.

We shared behind-the-scenes Instagram Stories featuring curator insights, tours of the Conservation Labs, and insights on how to get the most out of a visit.

Rather than assume a baseline of knowledge around art and art history, we explained why a piece of art was important rather than simply calling it important. We did this by creating content that paralleled the experience of a Field Trip -- educating and inspiring rather than describing and promoting.

And it worked, our engagement rate doubled. Instagram Stories were met with dozens of DMs thanking us for sharing and teaching.

Now that we knew our storytelling was successful, we decided to take a step back and look at what stories we were deciding to tell.

Museums have a long and problematic history of featuring white, male artists more prominently than others. Were we reinforcing this with the works we were sharing on Instagram? We decided the onus was on us to take steps towards progress and amplify artworks by previously underrepresented artists. It wasn't a solution, but we believe the artworks and perspectives we choose to feature on Instagram represent a perspective, and we wanted that perspective to be as diverse as the community we serve.

So we shared the below message in an Instagram Story:

"Collections in major art museums historically skew white and male. Ours is no different. But representation matters. We're working to diversify our collections and exhibitions in the long term. So we're changing what we share on Instagram.

Moving forward, the majority -- never less than ⅔ -- of the artwork we post will be by those who identify as: women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and differently abled persons. We can do better. And we will."

It got the most enthusiastic response of any Instagram Story (or post) we had ever done.

Since then, we have been committed to sharing diverse perspectives and artworks. We have diligently been following our pledge of representation as the rest of our institution works towards the same mission of diversity and representation.

In addition to this, we have held ourselves to balanced storytelling: all content is evenly balanced between permanent collections, special exhibitions, and education. We want a follower to benefit from following us as much as they might from visiting us by sharing behind-the-scenes experiences that will foster a passion for the many aspects of art that exist beyond gallery walls.


On Instagram, our main KPIs is engagement. More specifically, engagement accompanied by positive sentiment. We don't want to focus narrowly on how many likes a cute photo got, or how well liked our most popular painting is. We want those likes to be accompanied by shares, direct messages, or, for posts that provoke thought: comments.

A secondary goal is to grow our audience. Rather than reach our existing visitor base, we wanted to reach a new, younger and more diverse audience that might have been previously unengaged by art or art museums.

We began implementing our strategy nearly one year ago. In this time, our engagement rate has doubled. We have gone from zero comments on most posts to an average of 20+. We have increased our following by 17%, which is a 6% higher growth rate than the previous year, and we grew our 18-34 year old following by 12%.


Entrant Company / Organization Name

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco


Entry Credits