New Tools Upgrade the Museum Visitor Experience with Smart Analytics

Posted by Sasha Bailyn on Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Touch screens at museums

Technology at museums is one of the hottest topics on the market today. Yet behind the apps and tablet-based tools are a series of smart analytics designed to help museums collect data and more deeply integrate visitors into their experience and collections. All this comes at an important inflection point for museums, when attendance is down and the need for revenue is up.  A 2012 census on “Adult Participation in Leisure Activities” reports that only 14.5% of US adults had visited museums in the prior 12 months. Museum leaders are using participatory culture and audience engagement methodologies to try to turn the tide. One unexpected tool that’s helping museums reach their goal is advanced analytics.

One of the simplest ways a museum can engage its visitors is by creating mobile friendly applications. According to a recent study by the American Alliance of Museums, 36% of museums offer complimentary mobile features such as “bring your own device.” By integrating these elements into their programs, museums have the ability to engage people with features like push notifications, discounts, and QR codes they can use in the museum. More advanced augmented reality features are using mobile apps as a way to track what guests are looking at in the museum and sharing information that helps them interact with the collections in a more meaningful way.

Museum technology and curation


While a lot of discussion focuses on the front-end development of new apps and tools for museums, a significant amount of innovation has been happening on the back-end. Companies are developing sophisticated tools that are helping museums more effectively understand their audiences. Ultimately, this leads to enhanced revenue streams, improved branding and most importantly a better guest experience. Museums analytics can be broken down into a few key areas:

  • Pre-visit digital analytics
  • Onsite foot traffic monitoring
  • Retail and dining analytics
  • Program participation
  • Customer satisfaction surveys

One level that museums are exploring is website analytics. Studies show that guests often visit an attraction’s website before actually visiting the museum in person. Learning what interests consumers online is a good baseline for providing a powerful in-person experience, as well as refining digital tools and making them more useful.

Another is visualizing what the in-museum experience looks like. For example, products like Dexibit are creating visual representations of museum visits. Visual reporting helps curators to really understand factors such as what guests are looking at, how long they’re spending at specific exhibits, what’s encouraging return visits and what the foot trail looks like throughout the museum.

Incorporating market research data into developing programming at a high level is one way that museums are capturing value from targeted analytics. However, many are using this information to deepen their relationships and ability to engage individual participants on a one-on-one level. Personalization is happening on multiple levels. Museums are looking for patterns among certain kinds of visitors to make more useful suggestions, while also increasing their ability to recognize and serve specific individual stakeholders.

One of the most important set of metrics for museums is that of user engagement. The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) has implemented data collection and analysis through a program called “DMA Friends.”  The program invites people to enroll in a free membership, presents a variety of participation options, and has a credit and award program for visitor involvement.   Members are encouraged to visit the museum and participate in activities that earn them points and rewards within DMA. In the course of enrolling and participating, the back end of the technology is collecting various types of user data, that the museum then uses to measure it’s performance and tailor visitor experiences.

Port Defiance Zoo technology

Improving attractions’ ability to forecast attendance is also an important factor in how analytics are being used. Washington State can prove to be quite a rainy place. During a spring break week at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, a sunny day attracted nearly 5,000 visitors, while the following rainy day saw only 1,200. With 65% of their costs contributed to payroll, over-staffing was becoming an issue. With this type of weather fluctuation, the cultural center needed a system to help them make real-time decisions about staffing and operations. They teamed with IBM and Avnet Services (a consulting firm), and added a system called Cognos 10.

This solution combined real-time weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with admissions data, mobile activity, and previous visitor data.  It also utilized data from point-of-sale transactions and admission control systems. This was ultimately used to predict how many employees and supplies to bring in on any given day. With an accurate forecast, the zoo has increased their ROI and solved the issue of over staffing.

What can museums learn from these case studies?

Use IoT and other techniques to gather audience information: Mobile devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) is providing museums with interesting avenues for collecting and sharing information. For example, IoT devices can track foot traffic within a museum. What attractions and topics matter most to guests? Directionally, this information can help curators better target information, exhibits and collections to their audience.

Focus on personalization: Whether it’s online data collection or in-museum insights, one of the biggest contributions that better information can make is personalization. Museum guests want personalization and individualized experiences. Using insights and technology to deliver that will keep guests engaged over the long-term and continuing to come back for more.

Manage privacy concerns: It’s impossible to ramp up data collection without stepping into the territory of some privacy concerns. Museums can overcome these issues to a large degree by being transparent. What information are you collecting, and how will it be used? Can guests opt in or out of research programs? What security is in place to protect the information that you collect? Some museums retain visitor patterns only in the aggregate, while eliminating individual visit records for example.

For museums that are struggling to find ways to reach new audiences, grow revenue streams and increase their relevance, technology is key. However, the museums that are standing out aren’t just investing in flashy branded apps. Instead, they’re making the longer-term investment in back-end analytics that can help them continuously improve their guest experience and better understand what their visitors are looking for.

Images sourced courtesy of Digital Trends, Port Defiance Zoo, Portnet, KSA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Must Read