Case study: a-n artists Instagram takeover

This case study, from our Let’s Get Real action research program, looks at how a-n, as very new users of Instagram at the time, went about collaborating with an artist to ‘take-over’ their account in an attempt to better reflect artists’ voices and practices. From developing a partnership with another arts organisation and selecting the artist to boosting the project through other channels, the article also explores how a-n ‘let go’ of their control by handing over the password to their account to the artist they worked with.

About the participant:

Name: Stephen Palmer

Organisation: a-n The Artists Information Company

Jump to:

What was the research question behind your experiment? | Why was this important to your organisation? | What did you do to implement this? | What happened? | What were the personal challenges you faced when carrying out this experiment? | What did YOU learn? | What did YOUR ORGANISATION learn? | What next?

What was the research question behind your experiment?

How to ensure that artists’ practices and voices are better reflected in a-n’s content, and that members are involved in creation of that content.

Why was this important to your organisation?

We want our content to inform artists, but in a way that enables artists to create and inform the content.

We want to deepen engagement with our members, to stay relevant to artists so that they continue to be members.

What did you do to implement this?

We worked through several ideas – initially thinking about an idea to encourage artists to share images, videos, and ideas about what happens in their studios, and then thinking about whether we could get members and other artists involved in the creation of an ‘Artist-led A-Z’.

As part of this thinking I set up an a-n Instagram account thinking that as a ‘visual’ platform it would be a better place to encourage a-n members to get involved in these projects than twitter or facebook, and that it might be good place to create visual content (whilst our membership is made up of people who work in visual media, much of our content is text-based).

In my first meeting with my project mentor Abhay, he suggested we could run a member ‘takeover’ of our Instagram account, pitched as a chance for an artist to gain exposure through our channel (although at that point we only had 130 followers) – but also as ‘help us to develop our Instagram channel’. Abhay also gave advice on how to run the takeover. I thought it would be good to coincide this with a specific event so it had a clear angle/purpose.

Coincidentally, Sluice – an organisation that runs a biennial artist/curator led art fair in London – got in touch and asked if a-n would be interested to be media partner of its 2015 edition. We were and thought this would be a good chance to run the ‘takeover’.

What happened?

We posted the opportunity on Instagram and also as an opportunity on our own jobs and opps site, plus promoted it through our email digest. We received nine responses and selected Marion Piper (@marion_piper) as she was using Instagram in an interesting way and had a similar number of followers to a-n (around 200 at the time of writing).

I put together terms and conditions for the takeover – I tried to keep these fairly loose but as we decided the best approach was to hand over our login details for Instagram we needed to have some contractual conditions to back us up. I had a brief Skype meeting with Marion to ensure everything was clear and to see what support she needed.

During the week leading up to the takeover we published a news story to publicise it and other a-n activity at Sluice_2015.

We asked that Marion could attend the art fair for one day and post at least 15 images. She was keen and able to be there more, so she attended the preview and two subsequent days. On the morning after the preview we published a follow-up story with highlights from Marion’s first day. Over the three days of the fair Marion posted over 50 images.

  • No of likes: 611
  • No of comments: 15
  • Around 50 new followers – 281 before takeover;
  • 334 at end of takeover.

The images looked great and gave a real sense of the event.

Marion’s comments: I really enjoyed the Instagram takeover! I felt I was able to engage more with the groups there and perhaps ask more probing questions because I mentioned the a-n takeover, which always received a warm response. I had in mind that I was there not for myself but on behalf of other a-n members and wanted to show the set-up, people, activity and work on show for those unable to attend.

What were the personal challenges you faced when carrying out this experiment?

Ensuring the terms and conditions covered a-n with regards to what is suitable to post on a general interest social media account without interfering too much with the takeover artist’s ability to post.

Concern about allowing a non staff member to use a-n’s social media – should we give them the password or should we find another approach?

Making sure the offer was an enticing one – did we have enough Instagram followers – what fee should we pay to the take over artist for this sort of opportunity?

Ensuring that in the lead up to and during the takeover we gave enough coverage through other channels (a-n.co.uk, Twitter, Facebook).

What did YOU learn?

That content can take different forms – that content can exist in a social media platform.

That we can use social media in a different way – Twitter has always been good for directing users to content but this was about using social media to produce content.

That members/artists probably do feel more comfortable using a visual medium as opposed to writing a review.

That some events are much better covered in this way – a review of an art fair after it has happened is not particularly interesting whereas producing content as a thing is happening is much more lively!

What did YOUR ORGANISATION learn?

That content can take different forms – that content can exist in a social media platform.

That we can use social media in a different way – Twitter has always been good for directing users to content but this was about using social media to produce content.

As a team, I think using Instagram has helped us to think differently about content, and particularly about how content can develop across several platforms to produce something greater than if it were on a standalone platform.

What next? 

More takeovers – maybe getting back to the original idea of focusing on artist’s studios.

More focus on member’s projects working across Instagram and the a-n site.

Think about how to use Instagram in a less formal way to promote member’s projects.