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What It's Really Like to Be a Social Media Director

In our 9–5 series, we ask boss babes what a day in their work lives entails. This week, Amanda Hadi, who manages social and online media for the Art Gallery of Ontario, gives us a glimpse into her daily grind

be a social media director

Age: 27

Education: Bachelor in Humanities & Art History from Carleton University; Master’s in Art History from University of Toronto

Length of time at current gig: Nine months

Instagram: @samandawich

When did you first discover your love for art?
I think my first memory would be looking at the oil paintings in my childhood home in Ottawa. My dad, a retired surgeon, had a side career as an artist, and our walls were—still are—filled with his canvases. He’s an incredibly talented painter, and it was a joy to explore his studio and play with his paint brushes and oils. He even set up a little paper pad on an easel for me so I could work next to him.

Did you always want to work in a gallery?
I always wanted to know what it would be like to work surrounded by centuries of iconic art. To my 12-year-old self: It’s pretty cool!

What makes your job as social media director unique compared to other, more traditional gallery roles?
Every traditional museum or gallery role has in some way evolved to adapt to a digital environment. Conservators use new technologies every day. Art Education Officers design tech-friendly courses. Customer Service reps answer questions on email. Curators talk about their shows on Twitter! Every role at the gallery uses digital and social media in some way; mine is just the most explicitly stated one.

What is the first thing you do when you get to the AGO in the morning?
I usually check art news and developing Twitter trends to see if there is something that would be interesting to share or connect to the gallery.

What does your average day look like?
It all depends on what’s happening at the gallery. There might be exhibition installations I sneak into to document for social; media previews or exhibition openings I livestream; meetings with other departments to figure out a new social media extension for a program or tour; First Thursday or Friday Night Live events; Instagrammer tours; celebrity sightings, like Steve Martin, who I briefly met (i.e. I shook his hand nervously and mumbled “It’s a pleasure!”) while he was in town setting up The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris, which he co-curated.

What constitutes a social media win for you?
I love when conversations we start, questions we ask online, or initiatives we work on become trending topics and engage our communities. Those are great moments. Our #CanArtists Twitter challenge, #emptyAGO pilot event and #ArtSelfie tour at Pinch Social’s Toronto Social Media Week were all profiled in online media and started some big conversations about digital behaviours in museums and how social media can help spread awareness about Canadian art. 

Are there any platforms you just don’t bother with?
I use them all and love them all, including PokemonGO! And I’m excited by new developments in wearable tech, like VR in museums, and livestreaming trends like Facebook Live, which is opening new doors in sharing the AGO experience with fans across the globe.

Who is online in the art world? Is there a growing trend in new and noteworthy artists joining the online community to expand their reach?
Pretty much everyone is online! On Instagram, I follow artists like Eugenia Loli, JR, Duane Linklater, Caitlin Cronenberg and Ness Lee. Millions of artists are using platforms like this to promote, sell and share their artwork, and they’re reaching an unprecedented number of audiences, potential buyers and even collectors, who’ve also jumped online. (According to a recent survey of collectors on Instagram, an incredible 51.5% have purchased works from artists they originally discovered through Instagram.) This is noteworthy because it’s completely overhauling traditional methods of artworld exposure—and just reinforces the fact that social media is making an incredible impact as a discovery tool.

What’s your personal take on whether photography and social media should be allowed at the gallery?
Regarding in-gallery photography, I adore it. Encouraging personal photography in the museum allows visitors to become creators, and take a more active role in their visit. The public isn’t just in a space experiencing art; they are making their own art at the same time. So I am all about removing barriers to appreciating and sharing art—and art appreciation in this century involves a digital memento, or act of image-making, for the visitor.

For many people, the first time they encounter an artwork is through Tumblr or Instagram. So right now there’s an opportunity for museums and galleries to guide the visitor experience before they step into the space. With social, you can educate and help draw people into an artist’s work or a show through a really well-crafted post or video. Which in turn can lead to a visit. Basically, where there might have been one road to get to a museum, now there are millions. Our approach has been to use social media to draw connections between our exhibitions or artworks and current political, social or cultural movements in the world. Sometimes we even use art to make observations about social media trends and apps like, most recently, PokemonGO.

be a social media director

Do you ever worry that the availability of art online will discourage people from visiting in person?
Social media and online art will never replace an in-person visit. We know that, and audiences know that. But social media and photography can enhance that experience. It can lead to a visit. It can promote awareness of that artist. You might see a lush landscape by British-Jamaican artist Hurvin Anderson on Instagram and say, “Who is that? How can I see that painting up close?”

How has welcoming visitor photography impacted the dynamic of the AGO and its visitor demographic?
I think the number of visitors and the demographics are the same, but the dynamic and atmosphere of the museum is different. We’re seeing more people engage with art through their smartphones and cameras and have fun while doing it. And we’re creating in-gallery experiences that encourage you to use your devices as well, or stage photo-ops.

What are #ArtSelfies?
#ArtSelfie is a term that was coined by New York’s DIS collective in 2012, and it refers to a popular social media trend and a kind of art-tourism. Unlike the basic #selfie, which might be shot in your home, when you’re at a restaurant or just about anyplace else, the #ArtSelfie is defined by your proximity to an exhibited work of art. Sometimes the art itself creates the conditions for the selfie, because it’s built with mirrors or reflective surfaces; but mostly it refers to any photo where you stand in front of or are framed by a work of art. I like to think of it as “art, interrupted.”

What is your #ArtSelfieTour?
I noticed that gallery visitors were flocking to the same six or seven artworks/installations to take #ArtSelfies—and taking them in the same poses!—and I thought it might make an interesting tour for industry professionals to visit these hot spots during Pinch Social’s Toronto Social Media Week. We looked at works including Thomas Ruff’s Sterne, Claes Oldenburg’s Floor Burger and Hurvin Anderson’s Backdrop exhibition. We discussed the evolution, popularity and impact of the #ArtSelfie at the AGO, how #ArtSelfies create a second life for the artwork online and how this visitor behaviour drives engagement, exhibition awareness and visits. It was a hugely popular tour and along the way, members of the public started to wander over and join the conversation, so I think we’ll have more that open to the public!

be a social media manager

What do you think drives visitors to take #ArtSelfies?
This is one of the questions we discussed on the tour—what is the motivation? I think it depends on the person taking the #ArtSelfie. It could be driven by self-promotion and FOMO (“Look where I am! Maybe you should be here too?”); or reflect a trend towards creating decorative or highly aestheticized images of everyday life through social media. I like the idea that these images help us personalize and appropriate public art. Sure, we can’t own that million-dollar artwork, but it can become a personalized part of our Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat accounts. But one of the best reasons is explained in the words of Marcel Duchamp: perhaps it’s because, after all, “The observer completes the work of art.”

What are three key pieces of advice you’d give to people taking #ArtSelfies?
This advice applies to anyone taking any kind of photo in the gallery:
1. Wait for the right moment (when you won’t be blocking anyone’s view) to snap your photo.
2. Be conscious of your surroundings and keep a safe distance between you and the artwork (we recommend a metre).
3. Use hashtags, location tags and descriptive captions to let people know what they’re looking at, so that they can find the artwork on their next visit.

What is #emptyAGO?
The #empty museum tours have been around since 2014, beginning with the very first #emptyMet, which gave NYC Instagrammers an all-access pass to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When I joined the AGO, I knew this was a project I wanted to recreate immediately. Our online audiences have an incredible eye for detail and capturing that “It” moment in their photos. I knew these content creators, photographers and bloggers were already visiting the Gallery, hunting for gorgeous images for their feeds. So this past May, we hosted our very first #emptyAGO, giving Instagrammers early-bird access to the AGO before we opened to the public. I led them on a “shoot and share” tour around the gallery, and offered insight into the architecture and artwork they were photographing. 

What is your must-see piece at the AGO currently?
From the permanent collection, I love Christi Belcourt’s “The Wisdom of the Universe.” My favourite exhibition on right now is Hurvin Anderson’s Backdrop.

What can we look forward to in terms of AGO exhibitions for the rest of 2016?
We’ve got a really stellar exhibition lineup for the rest of the year. We’ve got a retrospective about Lawren Harris and his influence, co-curated by Steve Martin; Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates is transforming the fifth floor of the Contemporary Tower into an exploration of the house museum; and this Fall, we’re teaming up with the Musée d’Orsay to present Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh and more.

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