Ask CI: Where Do Arts Buyers Search?

August 17, 2023

23-08 Paid Search-01

With social platforms like Instagram and TikTok transforming into search hotspots, is investing in Google paid search (SEM) still a savvy move?

It’s a common question we get from clients, and we completely understand why. Social media is where consumers predominantly spend their time, and search is baked into the UI of these platforms, so it’s easy to assume people are gravitating away from traditional search engines.

If you’re stuck in a query quandary and wondering where to put your advertising dollars, don’t worry—we analyzed CI client data to help you better understand arts buyers’ search preferences. The short answer: Google still reigns supreme, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook other search methods; it all depends on your organization's goals and resources.


First, let’s get the basics out of the way: Google still dominates the search landscape. Around 85% of global online searches take place on Google, and the company primarily exerts its power on mobile devices, most of which feature Google as the default search engine. According to a Harris Interactive poll, around 80% of all online activity begins with a search engine.

Compare those numbers to TikTok usage: while it’s true that TikTok users tend to spend a substantial amount of time on the app—global monthly usership hours jumped from 13 in 2019 to 25.7 in 2021—TikTok’s overall usership of 1 billion is much smaller than that of the other social media behemoths, like Facebook (2.9 billion), YouTube (2.6 billion), and Instagram (1.5 billion). Google boasts more than 8.5 billion searches per day.

Let’s also keep in mind that purchasing arts tickets is a distinct experience. There’s a lot of talk about social media potentially usurping Google’s prominence, but we often find that what works in marketing for many other industries doesn’t necessarily translate to our field. Even if a user discovers your programming via searching on social media, they will likely turn to a Google search to buy tickets, and you want to ensure your site is as easy to find as possible. (Investing in branded SEM is a great way to help!)


We typically find that SEM campaigns have the strongest results of any platform, with returns reaching massive heights. Don’t just take our word for it—check out these recent results from our clients.

American Ballet Theatre
Across all 2023 programming

23-08 Paid Search-02

Bravo! Vail Music Festival
SEM results across all 2023 programming

23-08 Paid Search

The Santa Fe Opera
Across all 2023 programming

23-08 Paid Search-Update


There’s no denying that TikTok and Instagram post impressive numbers—and as a result of their active user bases, the way people search online is starting to change. Gen Z in particular has leaned into using social media platforms as a discovery tool. A Google exec shared research that found that around 40% of users ages 18-24 go to TikTok or Instagram for their searches. But let’s put that in context for arts organizations.

Much as we in the arts would love to see a strong increase in audience members ages 18-24—or even ages 25-40, let’s be honest—the reality is that these age brackets make up the minority of our attendees. Our 2021 Performing Arts Ticket Buyer Media Usage Study indicated that only 11% of arts ticket buyers were using TikTok. And while 43% were using Instagram to some degree, that number paled in comparison to larger platforms, especially when we looked at daily usage.

In an ideal world, we would be devoting time and money to vertical video placements to make some headway with these younger groups. But arts organizations have limited resources, and the focus often needs to be on high-propensity visitors—who still haven’t returned to pre-pandemic attendance levels. 

That’s not to say you should ignore these fast-growing social apps. On the contrary, we highly recommend leaning into vertical video if you have the resources. At the very least, you should consider how your content appears in searches on these social apps. But we will always recommend that organizations focus on an intentional and sustainable digital strategy that will make the most significant impact rather than chase something shiny and new, given how limited resources are in our field.


If you have the resources, TikTok is an excellent platform to tap into right now. But if you need the most bang for your buck, Google SEM has our recommendation every time. You can feel confident that paid search will yield significant results for your organization and help you reach the greatest number of future ticket buyers.


Talk to us about using search engine marketing to fuel audience growth year over year.

Social Media Strategy, Google Ads/Search Engine Marketing


Ali Blount
Capacity Interactive

Market Smarter
Boot Camp 2023: Anchored in Impact

In a time of perpetual change, this two-day conference will help you build a holistic foundation to become a stronger arts marketer, leader, and champion for our industry.

Register Now 

Market Smarter
CI to Eye Podcast

From arts leadership to organizational culture, digital marketing deep dives and cutting edge innovation, CI to Eye is your one-stop shop to help you market smarter.

Listen Up

Market Smarter
Social Content Calendar for Arts Marketers

Create content that’s thumb-stopping, relevant, and thoughtful to connect with audiences—all summer long!

Take Me There

Market Smarter
The Performing Arts Ticket Buyer Media Usage Study

Based on a survey of over 17,000 ticket buyers, this report sheds light on the shifting media consumption and buyer behavior of your core audience, with marketing insights to help you turn data into strategy.

Download the Study