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How Can Museums Expand Their Audiences in the Tech-Led Age

Rowena Fry, Advertising Consultant at Crafted, shares her advice for museums looking to grow their audiences in the digital age. By testing and trialling new engagement channels and not simply falling back on traditional marketing methods, museums can stay relevant in a world where there’s never been so much competition for attention.

Crafted offers digital marketing solutions for arts, culture, and attractions brands across the UK and abroad. It delivers a powerful mix of digital specialists to prioritise audience growth, ticket sales, and maximum engagement for a range of arts clients.

As part of her role at Crafted, Rowena Fry has worked with some of the UK’s leading cultural powerhouses, including the Natural History Museum, the British Museum, and the English National Ballet. She says that, fundamentally, museums need to be working hard now to appeal to the museumgoers of the future if they wish to stay relevant:

“It’s easy for a brand to become a relic in a world where so much other entertainment competes for our attention. Museums must diversify, not only in terms of their characteristics but also in their audiences and content, to reach as many people as possible. We’re already seeing some brilliant examples of museums using digital to capture audiences’ attention in new ways.”

This means embracing the digital revolution with open arms. By widening their nets, museums can not only boost their audience but also show that they are accessible to people from all walks of life.

Knowing and Expanding Your Audience

Every business has its core audience, and museums are no exception. However, as Rowena explains, experimenting with marketing methods and digital platforms can help museums go beyond the “low-hanging fruit” of their typical, long-standing visitor base.

“You want to use a variety of marketing assets, messaging, and landing pages to tailor to different audiences. Many institutions have readily available audience research that dives into different factors of their users, but they aren’t always utilising it.

“Testing out different images and messaging, using accessible language, and trying out different content variations can all be beneficial. And a test is a test; it might not always work. You might revert to that original strategy, but it’s important to vary your content to discover what works.”

As Rowena states, trialling new channels and reaching out to new groups is an essential part of enhancing inclusivity and working to diversify museum audiences.

The Demise of Traditional Media

As digital platforms rise, traditional forms of news and entertainment are having a diminished impact. That much has been well-documented over recent years. At Crafted, the team encourage museums to diversify beyond legacy marketing and outreach channels because there is great potential in raising visibility across new media. Rowena says,
“We’re at a crossroads of generational thought. Young people are responding to advertising very differently than previous generations. The Financial Times says Gen Z spend seven to nine hours a day on a screen, but very little of that time is spent watching TV or reading newspapers. Museums must ensure they’re present on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, both in terms of advertising and an organic, active presence.

After all, many people use their social media platforms as their search engines in 2024.

“When you look at attractions and exhibitions in London, key searches are done on social platforms. People want to see video content and honest reviews. That feels a lot more genuine than a polished, branded product.

“This is good for reaching out to a young audience, but it is also good for everyone because it comes across as more authentic.”

She continues, “Focusing efforts on platforms like TikTok and Instagram doesn’t mean that older generations are excluded. There’s been huge growth in adoption across many demographics, contrary to the preconceptions around audiences and platforms that museum marketers may once have had.”

User-Generated Content

Speaking of authenticity, user-generated content, or UGC, represents the least orchestrated or moderated content. By delivering this less rigid content style – or, more accurately, encouraging visitors to generate their content – museums can remain relevant and engaging to a new generation of cultural enthusiasts.

“Museums need to deliver the UGC people want to see. Use captions and a fun hook to make it feel native to the platform so people don’t even realise they’re watching an advert. Many of our museum clients have seen such an improvement in online attention by making the shift to organic content and UGC.

“With one client, we tested traditional highly polished assets against a UGC style. The latter cost so much less and gained so much more interest.”

While sticking to long-standing and established marketing methods is tempting, Rowena argues these activities will become less effective over time. Looking ahead means embracing fresh ideas, both big and small: “Simple steps like adding stickers to TikToks to improve click-through rates or taking advantage of AI through Advantage Plus on Meta can help increase conversions.”

Maximising Accessibility

According to Rowena, modern and forward-thinking museums have the opportunity to cater to people from all walks of life by exploring new digital avenues. She says, “It’s important to consider people of multiple races, backgrounds, gender expressions, sexualities, and disabilities when creating content. This will reflect the real world and let people know that there is a space for them. If you’re coming from a genuine place, your content won’t be tokenistic; it will be a natural reflection of the users you want to have on your website and in your museum.”

An example of this is adding captions and alt-text to images and videos.

“It takes very little time, and it ensures everyone can enjoy the content you’re putting out there. Social posts and blog content can also demonstrate that museums aren’t just stuffy old institutions; they’re relevant, exciting hubs that engage with today’s issues.”

The Cost of Living Crisis: A Cultural Hurdle

The cost-of-living crisis has had a huge impact on the UK, affecting businesses and individuals alike. The cultural sector has been no exception, but Rowena says smarter digital marketing investment can actually help museums rather than hinder them.

“We often hear from museums that they have a limited budget, so they can only target their core audience because they want to guarantee a return on ad spend. However, if you make your organic content work harder, that alone can engage your core audience, meaning your paid budget can be used to target other demographics.”

Rowena says people are “finding it hard to justify ticket prices” in the current financial climate. Therefore, it’s more important than ever for museums to highlight just how many of their services and attractions are free of charge.
“We’ve seen a huge spike in free attraction searches. The keyword ‘free museums in London’ alone increased by 132% over the past year. People want free content, and many museums don’t talk enough about how much of their stuff is free. Yes, there are paid exhibitions and events, but most of them are free, and that’s brilliant.”

Advice for Museums? The Time to Act is Now

This is a critical moment for the cultural sector, and Rowena says acknowledging this is the first step to long-term success.

“It’s important to understand this moment in history. We are at a crossroads where it will be sink or swim for museums. Young people are tuned into the fact that many museum histories are dubious, so institutions need to create a strong brand image. They need to say that we acknowledge that our history includes X, Y, and Z, but today, we are doing great things. Show how you are relevant. That’s how you connect with people.”

Rowena Fry has delivered digital advertising campaigns in the cultural sector for three years with a track record of maximising not-for-profit budget efficiency across paid advertising channels. With a strong passion for the arts and supporting cultural attractions, Rowena works with such clients as Natural History Museum, the British Museum and English National Ballet. Leading conversations with her clients about gaining valuable insight from audiences and striving to test the latest tools available for Paid Search, Display and Social Media advertising. Find out more about Crafted on www.crafted.co.uk

MuseumNext hosts a range of in-person and online summits each year, covering topics such as digital collections, sustainability, social impact, learning and XR. Click here to find out about upcoming events.

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