Does coverage of Sotheby’s Freddie Mercury sales show that auctions are perfect TikTok fodder?

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The show-stopping Freddie Mercury sales at Sotheby’s London last month exceeded all expectations. At the evening auction on 6 September, objects taken from the collection of the Queen frontman’s Kensington home smashed the presale estimate of £4.8m-£7.2m and landed a final total of £12.2m. The fan frenzy also meant a surge for Sotheby’s TikTok account—the resulting videos from the sale meant that the auction house doubled its TikTok followers in less than a week, according to Anne Johnson, Sotheby’s head of social media strategy.

Several videos relating to the musician’s collection were posted on the social media app—which has more than a billion active monthly users—in the run-up to the auction. But it’s the clips captioned “Bidding Battle” and showing footage live from the saleroom that have racked up the most views—a seven-minute shot of bidding for a bangle worn by Freddie Mercury in the video for “Bohemian Rhapsody” has been viewed 4.8 million times. “Exciting bidding moments from our live auctions are by far our biggest videos on TikTok,” Johnson says. “These extend the life-cycle of some of the most incredible moments that take place in our salerooms around the world, bringing the exclusive experience of our live auctions to millions of viewers.”

What makes these high viewing numbers for auction house content all the more remarkable is that Sotheby’s has a following of only around 153,000 users. “Because of TikTok’s unique algorithm, virality is far more attainable than other social networks where your followers account for the majority of your engagements,” says Johnson.

A spokesperson for Christie’s auction house—which has 200,000 TikTok followers—says that it’s not only live auction shots that capture users’ attention. “A content mix of storytelling around extraordinary objects led by our specialists, trend-led content, auction footage and behind-the-scenes access is delivering results,” they say. “Original content and authentic storytelling are two of the most compelling factors in any successful organic TikTok campaign strategy.” One of Christie’s most popular posts is a 42-second video capturing the 2017 sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi for $497.8m, which made it the most expensive work of art ever sold.

The slow take-up of TikTok by the art world is a topic that has been discussed in this column before. Museums—which, like auction houses, also have exceptional objects and knowledgeable experts—have been tentative in creating video content on TikTok, with a few notable exceptions. So why are the auction houses in particular so keen to use it? A Christie’s spokesperson says it’s not about sales. “It’s difficult to track TikTok’s conversion rate, however our viral content has certainly increased brand awareness particularly with a younger generation who may not have been previously exposed to the auction world.” Johnson agrees, saying that there are limited opportunities on TikTok to link back to site or track traffic.

Particularly interesting is the fact that Sotheby’s says it collaborates directly with TikTok to create its content. According to TikTok’s website, the lifestyle and education content operations team “is dedicated to empowering content creators and publishers within specialised niches by offering comprehensive support, fostering strategic partnerships, and leveraging data-driven insights to bolster organic success on the platform”. Who knew? Finally the social media support that depleted communications teams have been looking for! Where do we sign up?

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