France’s Versailles Palace has taken its first careful steps on TikTok to get more young people through its doors when it emerges from lockdown.
The vast former home of France’s kings is one of many venerable institutions grappling with how to reach the social media platform’s predominantly young users when most of them use it to share pranks, challenges and dance moves.
Florence’s Uffizi, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, Madrid’s Prado and the Museum of Senses in Bucharest have plunged in head-first, turning galleries into dance floors and offering hip-hop, animations and irreverent jokes inspired by Bosch, Botticelli and Rembrandt masterpieces.
The risk is that the campaigns will seem gratuitous and cheapen their image. For now the formula has been a hit for the Uffizi, attracting more than 420,000 engagements, proving that TikTok has marketing potential well beyond youth-focused fast food or sportswear brands.
“The Uffizi was brave enough to hand over complete control to an individual who gets the channel, and the result is they’ve smashed it,” said Ben Mason, director of social marketing agency The Tom Sawyer Effect.
Versailles has lost four-fifths of its visitors this year and launched an emergency campaign for donations, with the palace buildings still closed to visitors.
It’s the first major French institution to go on TikTok. Other famous museums like the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, London’s Tate Modern and the Whitney in New York are still holding back. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art opened an account this year but hasn’t posted yet.
The palace near Paris has a history of blending contemporary art and pop culture from the likes of Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons with the estate’s 17th century style. Its media managers say they’ll defy museum convention again to generate the kind of content that goes viral.
“It’s all about not having a media plan,” said Versailles community manager Thomas Garnier. “If you’re not intuitive and spontaneous it can’t work. I don’t even have a schedule for the month ahead.”
Garnier’s last post was a 20-second lightning trip around the palace at dusk, filmed with his phone. Future posts are set to explore themes like fashion, health and “gossip” about the palace’s history of pomp and revolution.