A gallery is both a cultural ambassador and a storefront, which is needless to say a unique position. In this series, Cory and I will tackle how galleries use (or should use) social media to make this duality work for them and not against them, how artists can network with galleries, and how galleries can help artists with social media.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: consumers want to be educated about the thing they’re interested in buying, and nowhere is that more true than in a gallery setting. But the fact is, many galleries struggle with the very basic challenge of getting people through the door. You’d be surprised how many of my clients have shared that with me, along with stories of passersby who think they need to pay to even come in and look at the art! Why is that? Why, when art is such a universal gift to the world, do so many people feel alienated by it? For those of us with backgrounds in art history or studio art, the gallery is a place to be inspired and the conduit to connect our art with the public. We know that gallery staff are on hand to answer our questions and show us examples of what we’re interested in, even if we have trouble putting it into words. But if art isn’t a part of your daily life, it might be embarrassing to ask questions and not know the right terms for things. Beyond First Thursday, which is more about wine and socializing than actually looking at artwork, why would you make the effort?
Art Galleries Must Embrace Social Media
Online marketing and social media, for galleries that have been around for decades building up a loyal list of clientele, can seem like a strange use of time or a flash in the pan. But it’s these strategies that can break down barriers and make new customers feel more confident about buying art. If someone doesn’t feel the pressure to dress up, talk in artspeak, and buy what they see in front of them, they might be a lot more open to the process of building a collection. Consumers with disposable income that love to buy handbags and fashion online might also see a connection between commodity art objects and other high-ticket purchases.
However, the fundamental difference between selling art online and in a gallery is the lack of tangible education – you can’t physically see the work or hear from the gallerist about it. While some galleries are great about updating inventory online, it’s not enough to simply show what they’ve got. The key, just like with any other kind of online store, is to give as much information as possible.
A great example of this: You know how when you go to buy a piece of clothing online, you want to read all of the customer reviews to get an idea of fit and quality? Galleries can utilize the same principle through posting links to reviews, essays, and articles written about certain artists and works. Do people feel alienated by certain kinds of art, like abstract or minimal painting? Why aren’t there more gallery blogs that break down art history and theory for the uninitiated? Why aren’t there discussion forums on a Facebook page, so that people can ask questions with a step of removal and avoid embarrassment? I know I wouldn’t want to buy a car or a computer unless I knew all the features and stats and could explain them to my friends when they ask why I bought this particular model. I certainly wouldn’t buy artwork without the same information!
These are tough times for the art market, everybody knows that. The best way for a gallery to stay afloat is to find new demographics, and if those demographics won’t come to the space to see the work, the space has to be brought to them. Keep in mind, however, the aforementioned duality of the gallery. If social media campaigns are skewed too far towards the commercial at the expense of the cultural, a gallery can lose its caché as a representative of fine art, and then it might as well sell Picasso posters for dorm room walls. Again, the key is education. Taste can’t be totally changed, but it can be manipulated through information. If a gallery takes the framework of the cultural ambassador and uses it as the foundation of their online marketing rather than trying to super-impose it onto an online store, the sell will suddenly become authentic and genuine, and the customer will feel that radiating out from their screen.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Galleries and Social Media, where Cory will delve deeper into how galleries can help artists in the digital age!