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5 Tips for Involving Teenagers in Your Museum Using a Chatbot

In a previous article we told you how we tried to build a Museum chatbot in 2002, and why we failed.

Our story does not end there, so having spoken about the key reasons for the 2002 failure we’re going to share with you a few tips from a more successful experience we recently had with developing a chatbot for a museum and why now is a great moment to experiment with them.

Last year we were involved in an audience development project in Milan. Our goal was to find new and interesting ways to engage teenagers in visiting 4 house museums in Milan. House museums are beautiful, but teenagers are the most difficult audience in the world, as every museum educator knows. They get bored quickly, they’re far more interested in social interactions between themselves than in cultural content, and they have a challenging attitude. Moreover, a XIX century house museum is, well, not exactly appealing for them.

Teenagers Museums Chatbots

Since research (and empirical evidence) shows that online chatting is one of a teenager’s favourite behaviours nowadays, we decided to develop a chatbot to engage them in the museum visit. Our preliminary interviews showed that teenagers were not inclined to download any specific museum app on their smartphones, while they were open to try a chatbot, since they already had the chat app installed (Facebook Messenger in our case) and knew how to use it.

The chatbot was built and succesfully launched. It proved successful in engaging our target teenaged audience, even beyond our expectations. Here are 5 takeaways from our project we want to share with you.

  1. Use Design Thinking. Design Thinking is a creative process developed at Stanford University and made famous by Design Agency IDEO. It puts an emphasis on empathy with users and on cross-discipline teams prototyping and testing many different solutions in order to find the best one. It enabled us to understand the needs and values of teenagers in terms of cultural experiences, especially their deeper and unexpressed ones, and to adapt our product towards these findings in iterative cycles. If you want to know more about how Design Thinking could help your Institution’s creative processes, get in touch!
  2. Gamify it! Chatbots are usually used to develop a virtual guide to the museum, which can answer visitors’ questions about the museum collections or history. In our case, we decided to go for a game instead of a virtual guide. Our chatbots simulated a teenaged girl asking users to help her in defeating an evil character by solving mysteries in the galleries. Not an amazingly new storyline, but it proved effective in its simplicity! Gamification allowed us to focus teen visitors on the accomplishment of a task rather than on challenging the chatbot in a conversation, which it cannot endure without failing sooner or later. By engaging teenagers in an exploring game, we were able to direct their attention towards the most commonly overlooked aspects of the collections. Moreover, we discovered that the chatbot was most succesful when used in a group (such as a class) because the teenagers could work with or against their peers, thus enhancing social cooperation and/or competition, factors which are very important at their age.
  3. Study real human chats. On one hand, you want your chatbot to be realistic; for example, use emoticons like used in text messages, but you have to find the right pace, tone and balance. This can be done only by studying real human chats; after all, the fact that they are saved on the smartphone gives you plenty of data to chew on!
  4. Use only objects the user can see “here and now”. When creating museum apps, curators and educators often want to show images of connected objects or artists even if they are not physically present in the galleries. That is a legitimate desire to use the smartphone capabilities to show connections between objects. Problem is, in the case of a chatbot, people don’t want to be “taken away” from the context they’re in. Keep them engaged with objects around them, or lose them!
  5. Care about physical tiredness. While we initially tended to underestimate the physical effort involved in chatting when wandering around the museum, we quickly discovered that chat games lasting more than 30–40 minutes tend to wear out users, so plan your chatbot games accordingly.

We think this is a great time for museums to experiment with chatbots. Their momentous recent technological evolution means they are now easier to create and more efficient. Combining them with good interactive storytelling can really make users effectively involved in gallery explorations, reaching out to audiences which wouldn’t be engaged otherwise.

Are you working with chatbots in your Institutions? Let us know, and share your findings!

Find further reading on Museum Chatbots here 

About the author – Stefania Boiano and Giuliano Gaia

InvisibleStudio co-founders, Stefania Boiano and Giuliano Gaia, have been working for 20 years in Cultural Innovation and Human Centered Design.

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