Museums and Mobile – a Huge Opportunity for Digital Visitor Service



August 21, 2015

Mobile devices represent a significant opportunity for visitor engagement – before, after and during visits. In a major survey done in 2012-2013, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London discovered that almost two thirds of their visitors own a smartphone and bring it with them to the museum, and the majority of survey respondents said they use their phones to “enhance their cultural visits.

Survey results showed that the use of mobile devices for accessing the V&A website doubled from January 2012 to January 2013, with the “Visit Us” and “What’s On” pages showing the most activity. While it might be easy to think of smartphones as primarily onsite resources, evidence shows that they’re used to support the potential visitors’ decision-making process. Perhaps museum website designers should keep the “no more than 7 seconds to make a first impression” rule in mind as they help home page visitors answer the “should I go?” and “what should I see?” questions – even while they’re on the go.

Responses from a similar survey done by the National Gallery imply that “one off apps and reduced-content separate mobile websites are no longer suited to users’ needs,” indicating that a museum’s web and mobile web experiences should be in synch with each other – a unified approach to your digital presence is key and your website must engage all visitors/potential visitors equally.

Give visitors what they want

Since museum goers are using smartphones to “enhance cultural visits,” it’s important for museums of all sizes and locations to know what that means. For example, allowing photography within the galleries is now considered part of an enhanced experience, and as a great side benefit, it helps with “crowdsourced marketing” of the collection, because people are posting those images to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc., and helping build awareness for you – for free!

V&A survey results show that supporting users’ searches for information about specific objects or curated collections is a “rich area for development” both onsite and prior to visits. If your collections management software is web-based, allows for expanded curation (as Argus does, for example, with file attachments, multimedia and hyperlinks) and is a key component of your digital strategy, you are well on your way to gratifying user needs in this area.

Practical considerations

Museum goers are enthusiastic about free WiFi service in the galleries as a speedy means of accessing expanded content, educational materials and directional guidance, but awareness of the option tends to be low. So if you do offer free WiFi, make sure your connection is robust, and communicate its availability and benefits both on your website and on-premise. This is hugely important for foreign visitors who may otherwise miss out on a complete experience because of the need to avoid roaming mobile charges, and it’s even important for local visitors with limited data plans.

The V&A notes a preference amongst visitors for using their own mobile devices rather than the traditional audio guides. Accommodating this preference not only includes the appropriate audio service, it means that there must be headphones and phone charging options for those who require them. Not operationally too different from providing the traditional equipment, but hugely different from a visitor standpoint.

Are you listening?

It’s important for museums to structure a digital presence and experience around user needs and motivations rather than simply from a technology standpoint, and this is why surveys are so important. If you don’t have the resources to do your own surveys, tap into the results of others like the one done for the Victoria and Albert. While there isn’t a one size fits all approach to accommodating digital visitors, there are many broadly applicable and transferable insights that will help you engage and inspire your growing smartphone wielding, tablet using audience.

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