The Art of Working in Social at a Museum
Featuring an interview with JiaJia Fei, digital strategist for the art world.
“Would love a newsletter about working in social at museums!” is one of my most DMed and emailed asks since starting this newsletter. There are A LOT of Link in Bio readers who work in the arts. I had been looking for the right person to speak with about this specific industry when my friend Lauren, who currently works in the arts at A.I.M by Kyle Abraham, texted me about JiaJia Fei. They had worked together on a project awhile back and would be the perfect person to chat with about this topic.
As you might have guessed, today’s interview is with JiaJia! She’s currently a digital strategist for the art world, and previously worked at the Guggenheim and Jewish Museum of New York. We talk about tips for running a museum account, how social can be used to get more people interested and invested in art, and her thoughts on *drum roll* NFTs. Read below for the full interview, plus some very exciting jobs in social media!
Rachel Karten: Can you tell me about your current job? And any previous social (or not) roles you've had?
JiaJia Fei: In my current job as a digital strategist for the art world, I work for myself, but I guess you could also say that I work for about a dozen other people at the same time. I started my career working in museums during the early days of social media—so early that I was the one to establish the first social media channels for museums like the Guggenheim and the Jewish Museum in New York. Today, my company works with a variety of art museums, galleries, arts organizations, and artists to use digital tools (like social media) to tell their stories online.
RK: Why do you love working in social within the arts?
JF: I used to joke that following me on Instagram could give you an honorary degree in art history. By design, the art world is built on exclusion and hierarchy. Objects that end up in museums and galleries have cultural (and financial) value because they pass through a vigorous selection process that basically declare other objects do not hold such value. The power that social media provides in the possibility of opening up the art world and bringing art to more people beyond these structures is what’s motivated me to do this work over the last 15 years.
RK: What are some of the unique aspects of working in social/digital marketing specifically at a museum? I'd imagine that it's quite different than working in social a DTC brand, for example.
JF: For most museums, social media (and other digital channels) primarily function to further an educational mission. Although some museums may set internal KPIs for ticketing or fundraising, the real conversion is really learning (or at least it should be). From my experience, the biggest recent shift that many museums now must face is the reality that they now have to serve a digital audience and physical audience, and need to develop content for that potential digital visitor who may never be able to visit in person. Despite recent efforts by museums to put their collections and exhibitions online, we also know that museums are experiential: going to a museum is a social experience. The digital will never fully replace the experience of seeing art in person, in relation to space, with people to share that experience.
RK: I've noticed a lot of Link in Bio readers work at museums. What are a few tips you have for social media professionals who work in this field?
JF: The most important thing to know when managing social media for a museum is the museum itself. More important than the latest trends or optimal times to post, it is critical to internalize the mission, collection, and program of your institution first, in order to properly interpret that story (in an engaging way) to a broader public online. For this reason, it’s often a mistake to delegate social media to the most inexperienced person (which often happens) at your organization. Think about it: you are handing over the most publicly visible channels to the person who understands your institution the least. For that reason, anyone working in this role should do the work of getting to know every aspect (and person) at the museum first.
RK: Can you talk me through a social media post/campaign/project you are particularly proud of?
JF: For the Jewish Museum, I worked on a series of videos for a fashion photography exhibition called Modern Look that re-contextualized the themes of the show for an Instagram audience. Recognizing that Instagram is now the magazine of our world, I invited artists and curators to comment on a photograph that personally changed the way they looked. With all the emphasis on social video these days, I think people vastly underestimate the labor involved when producing video—for Instagram especially. You can’t just take a video you made for YouTube and upload it as is. Prioritizing the mobile-first experience (fast-paced, with vertical aspect ratios, subtitles) makes such a difference in user experience, as well as viewership.
RK: This is sort of a broad question but how do you think social media can be used to get more people interested and invested in art?
JF: It would be so utopian to claim that social media has democratized the art world, but we all know that’s not true. Much of the art world is and will remain, an IRL experience. As much as we all love sharing memes and discovering new artists on Instagram, the real art world as we know it lives inside the artist’s studio, at the gallery opening, or most of the time, somewhere you’re not invited, behind closed doors. Nonetheless, social media is still an incredible tool for discovery. So many emerging artists and smaller arts organizations now have the power to punch above their weight and reach audiences around the world with social media as their calling card. We are living in a time of unprecedented access to information and images, and art should be at the forefront, as long as we can make it more accessible to more people. People are often intimidated by art because they think it requires so much prior knowledge and experience to appreciate, but I like to compare it to developing one’s taste for music or movies. The more you see, the more you can decide for yourself what you like (or dislike). Art is a reflection of our world, and the more people (of all backgrounds) participate in the discourse of art, the more it will be truly reflective of the world we actually live in.
RK: How do you feel about NFTs, the metaverse, and what all of that means for your work?
JF: I have so many feelings! First of all, I am bemused by the fact that all of a sudden, people think this is all new. Yes, being able to authenticate digital assets on the blockchain is new, but digital art has been around for decades. Museums have also been trying to build virtual spaces online for years, but nobody wants to visit them—sorry. The ability for artists to now earn royalties on works that are resold through NFTs however, can be transformative. The opportunities that Web3 can offer the creative community are enormous, but I also worry that this technology replicates every inequity (in gender, race) that already exists within the art world. Who are the top-selling NFT “artists?” All white male artists of course. I’m interested in exploring this space to complicate it. How can we empower more women and artists of color to disrupt the status quo and use these tools to build new art worlds?
RK: Are you hopeful for the future of social media?
JF: In a time when social media has turned extremely dark, with misinformation, the end of privacy, the threat of global upheavals, I daydream about what would happen if I completely went offline. I then realize that my career would not be possible without it. The future of social media is inextricably tied into all of our lives, but given the pace of how technology naturally accelerates, I consider Schumpeter’s theory of creative destruction: that this constant evolution may one day destroy itself from within, creating something new in the process.
RK: Any final words?
JF: I am often approached by artists to help them improve their social media presence as means of improving their careers. At the end of the day, I’m pretty sure that even if I can get them a million followers, it’s the quality of their work that will end up improving their careers ;)
This week’s featured jobs from the Link in Bio job board are truly great!
PRIOR is looking for a Social Media Editor! TBH I want this job. PRIOR is basically the BFF you would want helping you plan your next vacation. My friend Vanessa works there and it just seems like the most fun, creative place to work. Get more info about applying here.
Active Minds is looking for a Social Media Content Producer! Active Minds is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization supporting mental health awareness and education for young adults. And they are looking for someone to help spread that awareness to the next generation! Get more info about applying here.
Eventbrite is looking for a Senior Social Marketing Strategist! I asked them why social media is a valuable part of their organization and they replied with this, “We're on a mission to bring the world back together through live experiences. Social media is at the core of how, and where we engage our community of event creators and event attendees.” Love that! The benefits they offer are quite generous, as well. Get more info about applying here.
The WNET Group is looking for a Social Media Specialist! If you’re not familiar, The WNET Group creates inspiring media content and meaningful experiences for diverse audiences nationwide—you might be most familiar with THIRTEEN, the flagship public television station of the New York City tri-state area and the most-watched public television channel in the nation. NBD. Get more info about applying here.
Pop Up Grocer is looking for a Social Media Manager! Very cool job for any snack lover. Pop Up Grocer is pretty much exactly what it sounds like—a chic, delicious grocer that pops up in different cities around the country. Look at their Miami store here. Seems like a really fun brand to work for! Get more info about applying here.
View the full Link in Bio job board here! We’ve got some exciting new roles from places like Lodge Cast Iron, The Guggenheim, The ACLU, Patagonia, and more!