How to leverage the power of influencer marketing as an arts organisation

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The silhouette of a hand holding up a smartphone and taking a photo or video of a live event with pixellated lights in the distance.

How can influencers add value to your marketing efforts?

We often think of an influencer as someone with huge social following who charges high fees for brand posts, and yes – they do still exist – but influencers don’t have to have a big following. In fact, what we’re most interested in as arts marketers, is those who: have an engaged online presence; have built trust with their followers; and can act as an advocate for an organisation.

Below are some statistics that demonstrate how working with influencers can support your marketing aims.

63% of consumers trust what influencers say about brands more than what brands say about themselves, Edelmans
Influencer marketing campaigns can increase brand awareness by 82%, Mediakix.
71% of shoppers say they’re more likely to buy a product if it’s recommended to them by a social media influencer they trust, Traackr.

Paid or organic?

When talking about influencer marketing, the approach you can take falls into two main categories: paid and organic. Paid is when you pay an influencer in exchange for a promotion of your organisation. Organic is when you don’t pay them, but may offer a product or experience and encourage them to promote it. Some organisations take a joint approach, and there are benefits to each.

Paid influencer marketing offers organisations more control and a guarantee on what you’ll get from an influencer in the way of a promotion. This generally means that you get more creative control over the messages being shared about your organisation and the thing that you’re promoting.

With organic influencer marketing, you’re not paying the influencer, so even if you’re offering them a free ticket to a performance or exhibition, what they post about it is entirely out of your hands. This might sound scary, but it can lead to more authentic advocacy for what you do. If they’re willing to post about your organisation, product or experience, without being paid, chances are it aligns with their values and will resonate with their audience.

Authenticity is key

86% of consumers agreed that authenticity is a key factor when deciding which brands to support, Stackla.

Influencer recommendations, whether paid or organic, need to come across as genuine – or it’ll switch your audiences off.

Identifying the right influencers

As with most of our marketing efforts within the arts, it all starts with audiences. Whether you’re exploring influencer marketing as an evergreen promotion for your organisation or as part of a campaign, we would recommend starting by mapping out your target audiences.

Who are they, and what are their interests and priorities? What platforms do they use, and what kind of conversations are they having?

Once you have your target audiences, you can identify the categories of influencer they are likely to follow, based on their interests. For example, are they interested in events and going out, a specific art form such as dance or sculpture, in lifestyle inspiration, in mainstream media outlets, or in learning about business? Break these down into categories of influencer.

Once you have your categories, set up a spreadsheet with a tab or different colour code for each of them, and spend time on social media exploring accounts within each category to populate your list. Building your list isn’t a one and done kind of activity – ideally, you want to follow a range of influencers and explore the content over time, to identify if what they post and who engages in their content aligns with your organisation and your aims. If you have an event coming up, we recommend building in ample time for influencer research.

Finally, you want to make sure that the influencers on your list can actually help you achieve your aims. Whether it’s building awareness or generating engagements, define your target metric – this could be followers, reach or video views, engagements per post or engagement rate – and measure each influencer on your list to narrow it down.

How to collaborate

You have your influencer list – now, how do you approach them? As with most marketing efforts, a blanket approach may not be the most effective. Some influencers will prefer an email, some will respond better to a direct message. Take a look at each profile, and note whether they have an email address in their bio or not. Those who do have emails, use that method of contact. Those who don’t, send them a direct message.

In your first message, you want to make sure that you:

Your message. 1, Inform them about your organisation and campaign. 2, Pique their interest. 3, Let them know how you’d like to collaborate. 4, What’s in it for them - payment, product or experience.

Influencers receive a lot of messages from brands wanting to collaborate, so you want your first contact to be succinct, personal and impactful.

Case Study 1: The Barbican, by Becks Turner

A screenshot of a search for 'MyBarbican' on TikTok.

#MyBarbican campaign

We launched the #MyBarbican campaign to increase visibility when people were searching TikTok for ‘things to do in London’. For Gen Z, TikTok is the new search engine, so it’s important that the Barbican is visible. We want audiences to engage with our own content on the platform, but also find out about us from user generated content which shows everything we have on offer. To encourage more content like this to be shared, we worked with influencers. They created content which showed them spending a day at the Barbican. They used the hashtag #MyBarbican, encouraging others to also share videos of their time spent here.

Alongside wanting to appear in people’s searches and for #MyBarbican to gain popularity, our aim was also to increase the Barbican’s followers on our new TikTok account.

We decided to work with influencer marketing company, Bambuser on a campaign with a £30,000 budget. Working with Bambuser was great, as it meant:

  • They would research the right influencers for us to work with, depending on the type of content we wanted made and the audiences we were trying to engage in the campaign. Some influencer marketing companies might have talent they represent, but working in a research-based way with Bambuser would ensure authenticity.
  • Bambuser would develop a brief which outlined the types of content we wanted to be captured and the aims of the campaign. Influencers could then respond to this showing their interest to be involved and sharing ideas for content.
  • Bambuser then created a longlist from those who responded– making their decisions based on our aims, budget and the influencers audience demographics.
  • We then selected a final 12 influencers to work with.

Below is an overview of the kinds of influencers we engaged in the campaign.

An overview of influencers engaged in the Barbican campaign.

Making it happen

We invited our influencers to specific events at the Barbican, with clear instructions on what we wanted them to capture during their visit, while also ensuring they had creative license on how they wanted to share the story of their day at the Barbican. We provided them with free tickets to events, and food and drink vouchers. The influencers then shared 2-3 video options for us to choose from and provide feedback or amends. We agreed a date for the videos to go live, and Barbican owned the content for 1 month – so we boosted each video’s performance with paid ads, linking back to our TikTok page. Below are a couple of examples of TikToks that were made.

  • @londonxploring – Chaotic London bucket list. 55k followers, 2.1M likes, 166.3k views. Watch here.
  • @girlandgallery – Unlocking the art world for you. 168.7k followers, 4.4M likes, 116.5k views. Watch here.

Was it worth it?

The campaign resulted in over 1.7 million video views, over 36,000 likes and over 500 new followers for the Barbican’s TikTok profile. We had some really positive feedback from audiences, with comments on content including:

  • “Definitely taking a trip here, looked amazing!”
  • “I got a membership a few months ago – it’s worth it!”
  • “Need to get back there asap!”

After the content went live, we gave each influencer a year’s Barbican membership, to help continue to build our relationship with them and increase our chances of generating organic content further down the line.


  • A lot of money to spend, but guaranteed amazing and authentic content that highlighted everything we have on offer.
  • Working with Bambuser was great, as they managed the relationships, brief and overall campaign.
  • It’s important to set clear goals on who your target audiences are, and what you want to measure.

Case Study 2: Tate, by Sarah Osborne

Some screenshots of Instagram posts about the Olafur Eliasson exhibition.

How it all started

I wanted to first share an example of a campaign that I learned a lot from – Olafur Eliasson at Tate Modern in 2019 – an experiential, immersive exhibition. This was before the rise of user generated content and influencer marketing, or certainly before Tate had an influencer marketing strategy.

The show was interactive and lent itself well to socials, because it looked beautiful on camera. Our tagged content increased, and the hashtag for the exhibition and our location tag started flooding with posts – audiences were essentially doing the work of marketing the show for us. Visitors to the exhibition were 30% new audiences, who had never been to Tate before. They skewed younger, they skewed more diverse. We realised then that there was potential in our audiences, and that word of mouth on social media was a powerful tool at our fingertips.

From there, we started to set up influencer meet-ups, where we would invite 20-30 people, via social media, to visit an exhibition before its opening day. Off the back of Olafur Eliasson, we had a whole host of influential accounts – photographers, artists, family bloggers, students, ‘culture vultures’ and media outlets, such as Visit London, Time Out and Secret London – who were interested in Tate’s activity.

Four years on, we create a bespoke list for each large-scale exhibition, based on the audience targets outlined within the marketing strategy – 50% common attendees (those we have great relationships with, who love Tate and continue to support and promote our activity, which tend to be more arts, museum and cultural accounts), and then 50% new accounts (who we’ve never messaged before and who may never have been to Tate, but we think they’ll love the show). And that’s the key really – inviting people who we think will have a genuine interest in the exhibition.

Influencer meet ups

We do lots of hashtag deep diving to find these accounts, researching on themes, artists, subject matter. We opt for a mixture of followings – from nano influencers with 500 followers to high profile TikTokers with a million plus followers, who are used to creating paid content. It’s not really about the follower counts for us though, it’s more about engagement and authentic connections with a new audience. Typically, through an influencer meet up, we’ll extend the news of the show’s opening by around a million accounts, which means the hashtag is pre-populated from the time the exhibition opens and there’s a buzz generated on social media.

The exchange with influencers works because they want to be seen to be in the know, especially arts influencers who promote events and exhibitions around London – and they get a free ticket and the chance to see the show before the public. Even if they’re not posting, they might be talking about it – so all’s not lost if nothing shows up on the feeds. We also introduced goody bags this year, which has increased the retention rates of invites because the value of the exchange is higher. This has helped with revenue in the shop, which is something to consider if you have specific shop products to push.

So at a meet-up, the influencers arrive, we greet them, often host a curator talk, give them a hashtag, and have a chat, so that we get to know them and they get to know us. Sometimes they might ask to be walked into another show while they’re there, or show interest in an upcoming event, so you are able to start learning their interests.

Building relationships

We try to create individual relationships which naturally evolve, as you discover each influencer’s offering versus your need. One photographer for example produced a suite of stunning imagery on his feed, and since then we commission him for most of our shows to create promotional images which we use across email, press and socials.

A selection of Instagram posts about the Anni Albers exhibition.

We’ve also commissioned content that has come out of influencer meet ups – an influencer might create a really stunning reel or TikTok and then we’ve either commissioned it for our own feeds, or put spend behind their content to the audiences we want to reach.

One thing I would focus on if you’re starting out with organic influencer marketing is to start building a community of people based on trust and experience. They trust they’ll have an enjoyable time and you know you love their content. I’d also reassure you that it’s rare that influencers post anything negative – their feeds are generally a positive space and they’re interested in promoting positive experiences. Often, they won’t post if they don’t like it, but will message you privately instead – which is great, as you get direct feedback from your audiences and can work to improve the experience for future.

One more example that I’d like to close with is Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms which you may have seen on Instagram and TikTok – another immersive show at Tate Modern. We invited over 100 influencers for an exclusive viewing prior to public opening. We only posted about the exhibition once on our own channels and tickets sold out in 2 hours. Not just down to influencer marketing of course, Kusama has exceptionally high name recognition for an artist and it was a super popular show. But we had no marketing budget for that show and it’s been open for two years now, so we continue to rely heavily on influencer marketing, and our visitors, to sell tickets. So make sure where possible you have an open photography policy for the experiences that you’re marketing.

Sarah’s tips

  • Retention rate from invite to posting is quite low – you’ll have some drop outs prior to the event – and not everyone will post, so I’d recommend inviting double.
  • Follow up and engage – send them a personalised message, thank them for coming (whether or not they post anything) and interact with their content.
  • Have a mechanism in place for if they can’t attend – are you able to give them a free ticket for another time? Something to consider to avoid losing out on attendees just because they can’t make one date.
  • Stay in touch and nurture your contacts – you never know when there might be another opportunity to work together.