Insider Tips from the Art World's Social Media Pros (Part 3 of 3)

Insider Tips from the Art World's Social Media Pros (Part 3 of 3)
Clockwise from top left: Todd Florio, Bret Nicely, Victor Samra, Emma Reeves, Susi Kenna, Kathryn Jaller

To get a better sense of how museums and art organizations are adapting to and embracing the increasing centrality of social media to their missions, we spoke to the experts: The people behind some of the art world’s richest and most rewarding social media accounts.

For this third and final installment in our three-part series (read part one here and part two here) we put some questions the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s indefatigable Kathryn Jaller; art PR firm FITZ & CO’s Susi Kenna, who presides over one of the most active social media portfolios among art PR companies; Bret Nicely and Emma Reeves, who head up the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s social media and YouTube channel, respectively; and Creative Time’s social media czar Todd Florio; and Victor Samra, who has the daunting task of overseeing the Museum of Modern Art’s many, many, many social media activities.



New Media Manager, Contemporary Jewish Museum (@Jewseum)
What are your duties? What does a typical day of your job involve?

As the possibilities of digital have evolved in the nearly five years I’ve been working at the museum, so has my job. There are daily community maintenance tasks, such as responding to any incoming messages. Any opportunities to have non-templated one-on-one interactions are really important to me.

And then there’s content. It’s a word that means a bit too much, anything from the microcopy that goes on to graphic design to video production, and overseeing or producing these projects has become part of my job as well. I find it useful to think of it as “creative” instead of content, which focuses on the final product (which can be of quite diverse scope and quality), instead of the digital box that it fits in. For example, in the same week I recently worked on a short documentary about how a Barnett Newman sculpture was moved from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to our lobby, and photo-edited a blog on cats as Beat Generation poets. Pretty different. I just want to make sure I’m working from a perspective of making something new and of value, and not just feeding our publishing channels.

And oy the reporting! There are a lot of tools for measuring the resonance of our social efforts, so the labor becomes determining what data is meaningful, and collecting and interpreting it. It’s nearly impossible to find one tool that presents all the data that would be useful, as each organization is different. So translating stats into information about how our goals are being met becomes an important and time-consuming task. So you see, we’re not just goofing off on Twitter all day (or when we are, it’s goofing off effectively).

Did you set out to become an art social media professional? How did you end up in this position?

The position didn't exist when I started at the CJM, in my institution or museums at large as far as I know. I founded much of our social media presence, and as this created more responsibilities, the job followed; first as a part-time split with graphic design, and then as a full-time position. I’ve grown the position as social media has become a more important communication tool.

My background is in studio art and art history, and I’ve always had a blend of pride and bashfulness about being a generalist. Before working at a museum I worked in other kinds of arts nonprofits, did two years of AmeriCorps, and spent some time doing web development and Silicon Valley recruiting. My role has helped me make some sense of myself professionally, since every day I write, design, manage relationships, and think both big picture and small implementation. It’s a diverse set of responsibilities, and it really suits my brain.

Do you have any advice for other institutions?

Museums and social media move at different paces, and have different languages and even aesthetics. This can cause friction, but the more you can tie your actions back to shared goals, and build trust around those shared goals, the better. But there’s also a utility to a social media team having an outsider approach, as a user advocate within the museum.

Also, I’ve found myself occasionally struggling with the inclination to retweet and repost and otherwise celebrate every visitor voice, and the instinct to chose more carefully which visitor voices to include. It’s another one of those healthy struggles, and at the moment with the question is that I think there is a way to make everyone feel heard and appreciated, but more carefully selecting what gets shared respects user submissions because the goal is to make them look great. And if they look great, others may feel more inspired to share.

And social media managers, please take vacations! I’m sure I’m not alone in checking and updating while I’m supposed to be relaxing. Or at least spend thinking about what's keeping you on the clock, and if it’s a good enough reason.

Does your job ever interfere with your social life? Are you on call, via smartphone, 24/7?

This took some time to figure out. While I am not required to be on call all the time, that hasn't mattered as much as figuring out a good workflow for when I am on duty, since communications come in all the time. I’ve had to learn to be very careful with my alerts, being selective of when they are allowed on my personal devices. Mindfulness has been useful for making me pause and consider if pings are worth my time, instead of reacting to every prompt to action. It’s amazing how similarly urgent they all can feel, from a donor email to a like on an Instagram photo. And it’s Jewish tradition to unplug on the Sabbath, so that’s always a good content-sensitive excuse, and just a really good idea.

Although recently John Barrowman from Dr. Who came into the museum on a weekend, and if I know anything about the Internet, it's that one had better post such news IMMEDIATELY.

And a shout-out to fellow introverted social media types. We're out there, and some of really need to unplug to recharge.

What are the most important social media platforms for your museum?

Facebook and Twitter definitely lead, but our Instagram community is also quite strong. Google Plus, and Tumblr also have potential, though we aren’t focusing on them at the moment. Sometimes I daydream about what it would be like to just manage a single platform and go really deep. One of the most challenging things about this job is deciding where to put my attention, and how long to hold it there.


SUSI KENNA (@susikenna)
Social Media Strategist, FITZ & CO (@fitzandco)
What are your duties? What does a typical day of your job involve?

I’m the (first ever) Social Media Strategist at FITZ & CO, and for the past year I’ve focused on building the division, growing our platforms, developing our voice, forging relationships, and discovering the most authentic ways to share who we are as a company, and the results we achieve for our clients.

Being that FITZ & CO is the link between so many leading museums, art fairs, galleries, and cultural organizations, and the media, one aspect of my job is sharing client “news” from the minute it’s “released” through the completion of every project. Another aspect is absorbing all client coverage — from articles, to television segments to Twitter and Instagram mentions — and creatively adapting it into content crafted specifically for our platforms.

I also consult with clients about their social media strategies on topics ranging from “How to Master Instagram” to “Live Event Coverage” to “Social Media Analytics” and organize/participate in panel discussions on the topic of art and social media, such as “Art World 2.0: A Conversation Among Art World Influencers” presented at Internet Week New York 2013.

In addition, I work on developing special projects; such as the collaboration we’re launching with Tumblr and Pixel Union later this month (stay tuned!), and mixing in the real-time happenings on the art world, which I cover through the @fitzandco Instagram and Twitter channels.

Did you set out to become an art social media professional? How did you end up in this position?

Long story short, no, but mainly because of timing. Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all launched around the time I graduated, and art social media positions were in their infancy.

My path to becoming an art social media professional was perhaps a little untraditional. I started as an artist, earned a business degree from Parsons the New School for Design, worked at a design firm, a Chelsea gallery and Christie's New York up until 2010 when I founded a creative agency. From 2010 to 2012, I produced and curated art exhibitions, built websites, lectured on social media, and started maintaining a dedicated art-focused online presence. Then, everything aligned last year! While in the pursuit of an art/social media position, FITZ & CO launched their social media division in the fall of 2012.

Do you have any advice for other institutions or organizations?

Do you (or the person who’s in charge of your social) think in 140 characters? Know the pixel size difference between a Facebook Cover Photo and a Twitter Avatar? How to customize a Tumblr page or read Google Analytics? Do you know how to track what’s being said about your brand on social media? Or the meaning of the words: hashtag, handle, and hangout? If you answered yes, you’re in great shape! If not, investing in social media expertise and education (having an intern run your social doesn’t qualify!) will provide your organization with the tools to successfully participate in the evolving media landscape.

Does your job ever interfere with your social life? Are you on call, via smartphone, 24/7?

Yes and no. In a lot of ways my job is very social, but because I do the social media, there are times when it does interfere. It’s ironic; I can’t socialize if there’s social media to be done. In order to capture what’s happening, and share significant moments in real-time, I have to stay glued to my phone and completely focused on the experience at hand.

I’m on call, via smartphone, more like, 24/5.

What are the most important social media platforms for your organization?

Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr (coming soon), and Facebook.


BRET NICELY (@nicebretly)
Associate Director of Digital Media, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (@MOCAlosangeles)

Creative Director, MOCAtv
What are your duties? What does a typical day of your job involve?

EMMA: MOCAtv doesn’t really exist on its own. We work very closely with Bret and a little team of people for every single film. Essentially we're a production company. There are two of us, and our mission is to create content around the actual programming of MOCA itself. So we will analyze and talk to people about making content, we will make a range of content about those shows, some of it we make as accessible as possible and some of it is more esoteric. For example for the Urs Fischer show we had everything from an over 10 minute introduction from the curator Jessica Morgan all the way through to a sort of lyrical little film that showed members of the public coming in to make the clay sculptures, and that was very accessible filmmaking. We post three or four films a week, so we're constantly in production.

We can’t do any of this without them. Every time we post something there’s enormous analysis about how we can get people to see this film. We don't sit and expect people to tap into on a daily basis, or our MOCAtv Tumblr, because we’re not an editorial site. We constantly reach out to many different people, and each film has its own different ecosystem, so we'll analyze it and just not stop — the pressure’s on. If anyone makes a film with us or does a film about someone we would really expect them to help promote it. Obviously that’s not the easiest thing in the art world. If you compare it to the music industry or other industries, which are totally naturally happy to promote themselves, the art world has a certain resistance, a certain reticence about that side of things.

BRET: What I do at the museum, I’m the Associate Director of Digital Media, and I’ve been here for about eight years. When I log in at my desk really I am the one who fires up Sprout Social and is thinking about the overall editorial calendar — what MOCA’s going to be posting about that day, that week, and that month. MOCAtv takes a very central place in what MOCA, the institution, is doing online because the bandwidth that they take up within our overall programming is great, and it's such high-quality content that we’re putting out multiple tweets, multiple Tumblr posts, multiple Facebook posts that link straight to the channel, to the video content. That is balanced with the typical and I think best practices in museum activity on social, which are supporting events happening at the museum, being aware of what your audience is talking about, responding to what your audience is doing online, and just acting as much as you can like an actual person on social.

EMMA: We’re also really interested in the democratic approach in the sense that we create content that will appeal to a really broad audience, and hopefully that audience who comes in for a music video, which is created by an artist, will also then naturally stick around, they’ll have a recognition that, essentially, the brand that is MOCAtv will always deliver something interesting of quality. And that way you’re not just preaching to the converted, the people who would naturally come to the museum, you’re actually reaching a much broader audience. Yes, it’s a global audience that might never actually visit the museum, but we also make huge efforts to actually have events and reward our MOCAtv subscribers where we do premieres of our content, we do panel discussions, we do all sorts of things so it is important that it goes all the way, that it goes the 360, that it has this voice. But we’re also aware that we want to create more activities around our audience and bring them into the museum.

BRET: I think that MOCA’s overall social and online core values are really about being generous with the content and with the art that we support, and that’s part of our mission. And really MOCAtv multiplies that belief by 100 because it’s putting out so much high-quality content all the time, so we’re not left with posting .jpegs of our paintings and linking to some blog post. What MOCAtv enables is a rich, truly incredible experience with art, and that is a unique thing.

EMMA: And it’s also a generous engagement with artists. We don’t have formulas, our programming is very wide-ranging and very experimental, so often I’ll be thinking with artists in the initial stages of talking about doing a film, and there is a resistance. A lot of artists don’t want to be on the camera themselves, and a lot of artists don’t necessarily want to talk about their process, so every different artist has a different approach. I’m really sensitive to that and often form relationships: I’ll introduce an artist to a filmmaker and the filmmaker will create something absolutely exquisite, a narrative piece — if you look at the Chris Johanson piece, that’s a five-minute narrative musical love poem. Is it also a film about an artist’s work? Yes it is, it’s an artist film, but it’s certainly a much more cinematic, exquisite experience, which was really collaborative. Chris Johanson and his wife Jo put so much work into that and it’s there now in perpetuity. That’s a really beautiful thing. And often it’s really just in response to what artists want to do. It’s not dictatorial. There’s no set formula. We do as much as we can with and in collaboration with artists and the institution.

Did you set out to become an art social media professional? How did you end up in this position?

BRET: My job description has not changed in all the time I’ve been here, and I’ve been here since MOCA first got on MySpace and we were thinking, boy, what is this going to be about? And you’re just bringing art to audiences online. Over the years social media is where our audiences are. Those are the platforms you need to bring the art to, so it’s kind of by default. If the internet and digital culture had evolved to take on some other form, that would be what I do now. It began with that simple mission of bringing art to our online audience.

EMMA: I’ve been involved in the creation of content for a long time; I used to be in print media — I worked for several magazines in London — and then moved to New York and worked in branding. But prior to that, way back in the day, I used to work in advertising and documentary, so I’ve ticked a lot of boxes. And I think it’s very important to know the art world and have relationships in the art world. So I’ve touched upon many things, and I came here from New York to run the MOCAtv YouTube channel. It was a startup, if you like, it was a funded startup funded by Google, so it had a certain remit, it had to come out of the gate and it had to produce a certain amount of content. We’ve got a pace which is two or three or four films per week just because we can do that. Other YouTube channels only do one posting a week, but we choose to have this slightly frenetic pace because it breathes life into things. It’s not necessarily the entire institution — how could it be? — but we enjoy it. We’ve got a great little team of people. Every week is some new thing we have to engage in or consider whether we’re going to engage in it. But it’s a great dialogue, it’s really interesting.

Los Angeles is changing a lot, there are a lot of young creative people coming here, so I think MOCAtv is the perfect thing to have as part of the museum because we will be able to evolve with the new waves of creative communities coming to Los Angeles. We have so many contributors, there are so many people in the MOCAtv family now. Ninety percent of the content on there — obviously the most important is the content that reflects what’s going on at the museum — but all the things we do beyond that, the music videos, the events, the broader spectrum, that’s all made here, that's all in dialogue with people here in L.A., so it becomes a kind of club that people belong to.

BRET: I want to echo what Emma said about MOCAtv being this amazing catalyst in Los Angeles that creates conversations and relationships, and generates all this goodwill and great content for our audiences. That activity is absolutely paralleled online. When a video’s going into production we're planning the launch, we’re thinking about who and what are that contributor’s social media audiences. You’ve probably seen this on Twitter, when everybody’s talking about the same thing, when there’s a shared conversation among institutions and individuals about something, that’s really a great time. I think MOCAtv has given us the ability to speak to people on social media and share ideas and exchange our beliefs in ways that weren’t possible before the channel.

EMMA: But I would hate to convey that we’ve got it all locked down. We are just figuring this out. On a daily basis we’ll all come up with some other hairbrained scheme to reach a wider audience. It’s actually fascinating in terms of promoting the channel. We don’t have a million-dollar promotional budget, so we’ll do everything we can to get people to know about MOCAtv, even down to me going to give a talk to students at UCLA. Whatever it takes, every single thing is relevant to get more audiences, it’s not just in the digital realm. It has to be also face-to-face conversations. Most recently I’ve realized that the only way to really harness audiences at art colleges here — and the academic ecosystem here is very, very important — I’ve been to a lot of the colleges now and I’ve realized that the only way to actually get them to know about MOCAtv is to put printed posters up in these universities, which is absurd to me in the 21st century, but there isn’t otherwise a way of getting a collective audience to see what you’ve got to promote. So we’re now going to go old-school and create some posters, and get students to put them up for us and represent the channel. To me it’s hilarious; there’s no standard approach to any of this.

BRET: We’ll probably Instagram the poster too, which is a ridiculous thing to think about. I think that’s a lesson that everyone you’re speaking to will likely say: Social media is a place to take risks. There’s very little downside to just trying something.

Do you have any advice for other institutions?

EMMA: I don’t think we're in a position to give any advice really. It’s just the beginning of all of this.

BRET: We should be less afraid to retweet one another. Just more shared goodwill is always a great thing; it’s happened in the past and it’s always wonderful. The numbers really change; the demographics are really interesting. We have almost two million followers on Google Plus, which is just amazing. When Google or Tumblr, the companies that actually run these platforms, reach out to museums for collaborations, that’s one of the most special things too. So it’s wonderful that the social media giants themselves see the value of what museums do in the space. We’ve collaborated on things from  Google Art Talks to Google Maps projects to projects with Tumblr.

Does your job ever interfere with your social life? Are you on call, via smartphone, 24/7?

EMMA: It’s just constant. All of us are working all the time, whether it’s on a social front representing MOCAtv and MOCA, you just can’t sleep on it. It’s relentless, but great!

What are the most important social media platforms for your museum?

EMMA: It’s like a crazy hodgepodge of things. Some things do better on some platforms; it’s like plates in a room, you just have to keep spinning all 25 of them.

BRET: If we have an amazing opening happening at MOCA, Twitter is the best because you can live cover it. If you want to put incredible assets up — images, animations, videos — Tumblr’s incredible because it supports a broad set of things. In terms of raw numbers, you know where the biggest number of people are, Facebook and Google Plus.

EMMA: But it’s also about engagement. Numbers are one thing but it’s also about how many people are really engaging with it. Another thing we really need to be proactive about, we’re tentatively moving in this direction, is much more audience interaction, is actually having a dialogue. Once you engage in that you really have to keep it up. We’re taking baby steps with that kind of thing. We’ve had content on MOCAtv that is user-generated submissions, so we do have a dialogue, but that’s definitely something we need to think about more thoroughly and be confident that we can keep up because there’s not much point running with something and then dropping it.

And you know, some of these social media platforms will fall off. We’re already wondering about Pinterest. Plus we have to consider that we’re taking care of an audience that ranges from youths all the way through to engage the older generation, so we can’t only focus on the next Snapchat. We’ve got to be generous and make it accessible to all, but also try to stay apace with the latest thing.


TODD FLORIO (@ToddFlorio)
Social Media and Digital Communications Director, Creative Time (@CreativeTimeNYC)
What are your duties? What does a typical day of your job involve?

Posting to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, and Foursquare for both Creative Time and Creative Time Reports represents a much smaller portion of my time than you might expect. I’m very lucky to have some face time with the artists we work with. One of the most rewarding things I ever did was grab a beer with Trevor Paglen and try to convince him that social media didn't have to be just marketing BS. I don’t know if I can take any credit, but he's since gotten about 1,500 Twitter followers and started a brilliant Instagram account. Creative Time can be super exciting. Meeting Werner Herzog was pretty amazing, as was getting Kanye West to tweet about Tom Sachs MARS, but a huge slice of my time pie is less glorious: emails and meetings.

Did you set out to become an art social media professional? How did you end up in this position?

Not at all. I was doing it on the side at Brooklyn Historical Society. Started their Twitter feed and built it up to be the second most followed historical society in the U.S. Also started a great secondary feed of intern researched fun facts about Brooklyn for teachers and students and really anyone who's into Brooklyn history. I loved museum education, but was itching for a way to reach a larger audience, share knowledge with more people, and make more change. I did some consulting in social media for the likes of crocheting savant Olek, the un-fair SEVENmiami (Winkleman, Postmasters, Pierogi, etc.), and the great 20x200. That set me up with enough experience to apply for my current job at Creative Time which was a major career sidestep and has been an exceptionally rich and rewarding learning experience.

Do you have any advice for other institutions?

Social media shouldn’t be overwhelming. Take on what you can and give a platform to someone who’s already good at it and excited about doing it. Twitter should be just one person. Facebook can be several. Don’t tweet and post solely asking for things, like “Come to this...” “Buy tickets for this...” “Come to our gift shop for 3% off this Sunday!!!” Give things like art, knowledge, and genuinely useful stuff! Try to use social media to directly fulfill your mission. Educate people about what your museum is all about. That way you have huge fans and advocates around the world who’ve never even visited. Eventually funders will see the value of this and sponsor it.

Does your job ever interfere with your social life? Are you on call, via smartphone, 24/7?

Let’s not talk about it.

What are the most important social media platforms for your museum?

Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook are the BIG three, but Creative Time’s Instagram, managed by a single specially trained intern at a time, is growing by leaps and bounds. Currently Dylan Stilin has been killin’ it on CT's IG!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Shortly after responding to our questionnaire, Todd Florio left his position at Creative Time, but his answers — written just days before — remain valid and invaluable.]


VICTOR SAMRA (@vsamra3)
Digital Marketing Manager, Museum of Modern Art (@MuseumModernArt)
What are your duties? What does a typical day of your job involve?

I oversee various digital marketing efforts at MoMA, including our e-newsletters and social media, as well as our search engine marketing, site analytics, and other projects. My day is a mix of developing strategy, managing, and implementing, be it with our e-news, which can include everything from coding and testing, gathering content and writing posts for social media, analyzing digital metrics, and attending meetings. Recently, I have been working on getting MoMA’s main Tumblr ready for launch.

Did you set out to become an art social media professional? How did you end up in this position?

Not at all. I started working on the web in 1998 in front-end production. I went back to school for a masters in arts administration, and found this position at MoMA after school ended, right as social media was really beginning to emerge. The position is a great mix of what I studied at school and the work I was doing before going back to school.

Do you have any advice for other institutions?

In terms of social media, I think it’s important to realize that people “follow” your organization not solely due to their interest in it, but because they are passionate about its content, be it photography, film, painting, or literature. Because of this, we're all in a great position to be a real resource for our communities, in that we should not only offer information about our organizations but also about what’s happening in our fields outside of our organizations. I think that someone might follow MoMA not just because of what’s in our collection, but because he or she is passionate about design or sculpture in general. I think people really appreciate it when you recognize that your content doesn’t live solely within the walls of your organization. Because it doesn’t!

I think finding the right “voice” for your institution is very important. People can see through a voice that is too driven by internal agendas. It's also important to recognize that social media is more about quality than quantity. It doesn’t matter if you have thousands of followers if they are not engaging with you.

Does your job ever interfere with your social life? Are you on call, via smartphone, 24/7?

I try to plan ahead as best I can so that it doesn’t. I do check in when I’m not at work, but I try to make sure it doesn’t take me away from what I’m doing at the time.

What are the most important social media platforms for your museum?

They are all important for different reasons. Facebook and Twitter do stand out at the moment, particularly Facebook for people who are outside the New York area and may not have the opportunity to visit the Museum.