The 21st-century museum is constantly looking for new ways to attract a wider audience and be competitive with other leisure organizations. In recent times, in fact, museums have been trying to shift their identity from exclusive, elitist institutions to more democratic and accessible ones. Given their definition of ‘difficult brands’, they need to find creative and innovative strategies to trigger people’s interest in what is happening behind their imposing buildings. Within the rise of Web 2.0, Instagram is a visually-rich platform that provides a more direct line of communication with other users, along with various tools to engage the audience in different projects, for instance through the use of hashtags and content creation. However, in spite of the huge traffic on social media and the social effects of networks, as well as the opportunities to create, comment, and edit that they offer, this kind of active participation only pertains to the minority of the users. Research has been investigating this ‘participation inequality’, trying to identify the reasons behind the different ways people participate on social media. Among these factors, differences in cultural capital and use of technology affect the ways in which audience members engage with museums’ narratives online. This problematic vision of audience engagement has led this research to look into how art museums use social media and how does the audience of art museums engage with the content created by them on Instagram. To do so, an embedded and sequential multi-methods design was employed through the means of two sets of semi-structured interviews. The first set of interviews was conducted with marketing professionals of two Dutch museums, Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum and Dordrechts Museum. The findings that arose from these interviews were used as guidelines for the second part of the research, the interviews with the audience of the aforementioned museums. Having identified three frames within which museums operate online allowed looking into how they use social media in terms of marketing, inclusivity, and collaboration, and what their audience expects of them. The findings highlight that museums use social media to attract a wider, more diverse audience and interact with their followers through likes and comments. However, the analysis retrieved limitations in the ways in which institutions adapt educational, informative content to the immediate, catchy communication of social media. This may hinder the audience’s experience when it comes to enjoyment and satisfaction, as they have high expectations of how museums should employ social media, in particular concerning co-creation projects. In fact, followers of museums showed high levels of cultural capital and digital proficiency that make them engage meaningfully with Instagram’s content and functions. Thus, a negotiation between what the audience expects and how much the museum is willing to let go of its authority to endorse participation should take place.

Additional Metadata
Keywords media, culture, society, museums marketing, audience engagement, Instagram, cultural capital, digital and participation divide.
Thesis Advisor M. Willekens
Persistent URL
Series Media, Culture & Society
B. Fadini. (2018, June 14). Engaging with art museums on social media - An exploratory study on the interaction between Dutch museums and their audience on Instagram. Media, Culture & Society. Retrieved from