When Philip Mould tweeted a short video in November, showing the remarkable restoration of an early 17th century painting, little did he know it would go viral.
More than 130,000 ‘likes’ and 53,000 retweets within hours of it being posted – and a final total of many millions of video views or “media engagements” as Mould calls them – were testament to how the right content can promote art and antiques businesses in ways that just a few years ago were simply unimaginable.
Over the past year, whether it is on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, members of the trade have shown themselves increasingly adept at finding ways to bring their businesses to life for new and existing clients and fans.
Based on our observation of art market social accounts, the key ingredients to success seem to be:
• Establish an online profile in keeping with your brand;
• Post regular content consistent with that profile;
• Then try extending beyond these boundaries.
So, Mould’s Twitter account is true to the Mould persona: art lover, restorer, engaging and accessible TV personality. In 2017 he and his staff (who also post to the account) have shared photos of great pictures they have seen, acquired or are restoring.
They have actively replied to and engaged with followers and have run quick art quizzes with the prize to the first correct response being a coffee in the firm’s gallery.
Going beyond that remit this year, the Mould gallery has just welcomed a new member to its team whose profile on social media is already growing. Cedric Mould, the whippet puppy, arrived in December at the Pall Mall gallery. The dog is named after Mod Brit artist Cedric Morris and Mould plans to use him on social media to promote the firm’s stock and profile.
“Cedric will pose with pictures and he will be part of our brand. A connoisseuriel dog,” Mould says.
Followers will be able to catch up with Cedric across the gallery’s social media accounts such as Twitter and Instagram. Mould adds: “Instagram is a way of penetrating conversations.
“The way people buy things is from seeing, hearing and being aware of something, a zeitgeist – a drip, drip. It is best to personalise and to be autobiographical.”
Birmingham auction house Fellows would agree and often uses photos of its dogs – a black labrador, Maddie (a retired guide dog, who also has her own social media account: @fellowsmaddie) and Poppy, a jack russell.
Alexandra Whittaker, communications lead at Fellows, says the aim is to “show the faces behind the company. We want to show we are not stuck up and that we are fun, normal people.
“We demonstrate this through Instagram. We bake unicorn cakes or show our dog on the rostrum.
“We use social media to show we are not stuck up and that we are fun
“We are a family company and want to show this. Whether it is a baby in the office or a dog – we want to show our people as that is our brand. There are great, super-professional accounts but I really think it is about being fun and interesting. It is about connecting people.”
Jewellery is a very popular category on Instagram and with more than 34,000 followers, Fellows’ Instagram account is set to end 2017 with more fans than Bonhams’ account.
Whittaker says success is hard won – you must be willing to put the effort in. “You still have to be creative even if jewellery is popular. You have to work at it. If you post just a cut-out of a ring, that is fine, but it should be on a finger, on a plant or a dog wearing a tiara,” she says.
The auction house knows social media is effective as it gets direct responses that lead to bids and consignments. Whittaker adds: “Social media is an extension of our web presence.”
Find your niche
Social media is not for everyone – the more traditional art dealers are unlikely to emulate Mould by adopting an animal for their gallery and tweeting photos of it – but even those initially more reluctant to adopt new ways of promotion have found a platform right for them.
Jewellery expert and consultant Joanna Hardy describes herself as a bit of a Luddite when it comes to new technology but picked Instagram as her social media platform of choice, as it was perfect for her work in the world of high-end jewellery.
“I only focus on Instagram because it’s best to concentrate on one channel and do it well
She says: “I only focus on Instagram as I believe it is best to concentrate on one channel and do it well. It suits what I do and it is perfect for promotion. I post snippets of videos as teasers to tempt people. I have built a following and have been invited to various events due to that.”
Hardy is launching a course on jewellery with the website learningwithexperts.com. She will post clips of the video tutorials on the social media platform to promote the course, which comprises eight 45-minute masterclass videos.
Hardy is a regular on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow but those who appear on daytime TV shows, such as Bargain Hunt or Flog It!, have found they can also build a loyal following on social media.
“Posting what I am up to on Twitter makes me more accessible,” says auctioneer Christina Trevanion. “It gives continuity between what I do on TV and my auction room. It shows you are a real person. I get huge support from my followers and some visit the saleroom.”
Auctioneer Charles Hanson, also a TV regular, now has three times as many followers (14,400) on his personal Twitter account as his company does on its own account.
“You have to be yourself,” he says. “I thrive on professionalism but we are on a stage as auctioneers. If we are boring and there are no fireworks, then life is boring.”
Hanson posts almost every day of the year. Whether it’s the Christmas charity song he recently took part in or items coming up for auction in his saleroom (script from The Two Ronnies’ four candles sketch, anyone?), it’s all done with his typical style – loved by some, though not all.
We can expect more of the same in 2018, particularly as Hanson opens his firm’s new saleroom in Teddington (see news, page 4). Like it or lump it, it will be worth following.