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  • Writer's pictureKate Talbot

Sotheby's: Why Instagram Matters

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

Sotheby's is celebrating its 275th anniversary this year. As the world's largest art business, Sotheby's is a broker of fine and decorative art, jewelry, real estate, and collectibles. 

As their success relies on finding global buyers in each generation, Sotheby's leverages the power of Instagram to connect with millennials and Gen Z. Instagram allows Sotheby's to share the vast range of the art and objects with an audience that is eager to see behind the scenes at Sotheby's. 

Because of its focus on digital storytelling, Sotheby's has reached one million Instagram followers. I spoke with Sotheby's Worldwide Director of Communications, Lauren Gioia, about their Instagram strategy which peels back the curtain of an elite world and introduces it to the masses.

What is the overall essence of Sotheby’s Instagram account?

We are very fortunate to work in such a dynamic environment, and there’s something very special about stumbling across a never-before-seen masterpiece or a rare recently discovered object in our offices and galleries.

The spirit behind our account is that it’s the feed of a friend of yours that works at Sotheby’s – someone who takes you behind the scenes each day to one of our many locations around the world.   Our aim is to share the excitement of our world with the widest possible audience – from established collectors to casual observers.

How were you able to accrue one million followers?

 We are lucky because we work in a place where we get to see some of the greatest objects in the world – from the collections of legendary names or works of art that have gone unseen for decades, such as the collections of David Bowie and Robin Williams or the masterpiece by Jean-Michel Basquiat that sold in 2017 for $110 million, setting the record for a work by an American artist, to a group of stunning diamonds offered in a recent jewelry auction.

These cushion, emerald, pear and step-cut diamond rings are highlights from the Jewels auction in ... [+] COURTESY OF SOTHEBY'S

Tapping into holidays and cultural moments is a great way to drive engagement and growth: Halloween, Christmas, Easter, New Year, Diwali and Pride.

It’s fair to say that the most important thing is the quality of our imagery – clear photographs showing an artwork or object in situ, with a reference for scale.  We try to infuse each image with the personality behind the account – organic, creative images that aren’t too professional or staged. 

Influencers are such a large part of Instagram, can you speak to a few special collaborations? 

In March of this year, Oprah Winfrey and Agnes Gund signed on as Honorary Co-Chairs of By Women, For Tomorrow’s Women, a charity auction to benefit Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut. The event marked the first-ever all-women-artist benefit auction at a major auction house, with proceeds to support financial aid for students at the prestigious all-girls school. 

We first worked with Victoria Beckham on a collaborative exhibition of highlights from our July Old Master Paintings sale presented in the contemporary setting of her Mayfair store in London.  Her passion for art and Old Masters made her an ideal partner – and who better to understand self-presentation and portraiture than one of the most photographed women in the world, and with an Instagram following of over 25.7 million people?  

How have Sotheby’s worked with Instagram influencers?

Thirty-five of the most influential UK-based Instagrammers came to our David Bowie exhibition in 2016 London exhibition ‘after hours’, and their posts reached over 2.2 million users. Zoe Timmers, the prominent Instagrammer behind the #empty events at Tate and the British Museum, described the event as ‘the best of its kind’. By the end of the exhibition, a record-breaking 55,500 visitors had come through our doors.

What’s the relationship between the Sotheby’s auctions and Instagram execution?

As an auction house, Sotheby’s is made up of many different specialist departments, each of which has their own branded hashtag.  Just as our business is made up of many microcosms of activity and interest, our branded hashtags effectively link related specialist content and reflect the multifaceted nature of the auction world. See: #SothebysContemporary, #SothebysImpMod, #SothebysPhotographs, #SothebysMasters, #SothebysBooks, #SothebysDesign.

Pablo Picasso’s ‘Golden Muse’ Marie-Thérèse Walter from the 1930s – painted in the same year as ... [+] COURTESY OF SOTHEBY'S

Our auctioneers and specialists are central to our business, and we often feature them in our Instagram Stories to share insights from upcoming exhibitions. One of our top-performing videos shows the moment Pablo Picasso’s Femme au chien was hammered down for $54.9 million by auctioneer Harry Dalmeny this past May in New York.

Has it been hard to integrate social media into a world that has primarily been viewed as elitist?

Not at all. If anything, it has been welcomed. An important goal of our Instagram account is to throw open our literal and digital doors to everyone.  You don’t need $1 million to shop at Sotheby’s, in fact, 60% of items we sold last year were sold for under $10,000. And all of our exhibitions are free and open to the public.  

Our followers are passionate about the art and objects we are fortunate enough to handle and one of our goals is to serve as a source of information.  Instagram is a great way for passionate collectors and art enthusiasts to learn about and share their love of art, jewelry, watches, wine, cars and more.

Gauguin's The Noble Woman COURTESY OF SOTHEBY'S

What have been some fun ways you’ve created Instagram Stories?

As stories only stay up for 24 hours, we find they’re a great way to experiment and to present art in new ways – quizzes, polls, and gallery tours with our specialists and just a few of the ways we use stories.

Instagram’s Q&A feature, where the floor is opened up to our followers who can ask anything they want of our specialists, has proven to be very popular. We have hosted Q&As on topics including wine, whiskey, jewelry and cars.  From ‘what’s the right way to hold my wine glass?’ to ‘what is an inclusion in a diamond?’ – we try to answer as many as we can.

We have also tried to encourage user-generated content.  One campaign we ran asked users to send in the best street art they’ve seen from around the world. We had some great submissions, and geotagging these new locations also allowed us to harness an audience beyond our physical gallery locations, as well as communicating with an audience who may not have ordinarily thought to engage with Sotheby’s.

What has been the impact of going live for your Instagram community?

Live-streaming our big auctions means that everybody, no matter where they are in the world, can be there in the room when art makes history.  Our auctions and galleries are open to the public every day but a handful of our flagship evening auctions are ticketed, so not everyone has the chance to watch in person.  

We use social in tandem with major announcements.  Last year we used the Facebook and Instagram Live feature to announce the sale of Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu Couché – an important painting that had recently been shown at Tate in London – with a live stream.  The painting was unveiled at an event in Hong Kong, but sharing it Live meant that everyone in the world, regardless of their location, could join in the excitement of the announcement.  

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