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Museum Audiences: How do you find yours?

One of the very first steps in developing a successful marketing strategy is identifying your target audience. Who can benefit from your collections? Who is visiting you already? A target audience can be made up of multiple subsets, varying ages, interests, ethnicities, levels of engagement etc…Evaluating existing datasets is something you can do to learn more about your visitors which we will speak about in this article. However, the key to dynamic marketing is being customer-focused. If your messaging isn’t speaking to patrons and visitors of the museum, then who is it speaking to? There’s no room for redundancy in the arts and culture digital marketing game. It’s essential to make sure that your messaging is targeted and precise in order to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive market and to entice and appeal to the end-users.

In this article, we will discuss several methods for discovering your target audiences including  re-evaluating existing data, creating a visitor persona, learning from competitors, surveying patrons/followers and the “Field of Dreams” approach.

1) Re-evaluating existing data

This is a good time to look comprehensively at visitor figures, google analytics and social media followers. If you’re working for a bigger institution that has a record of visitors numbers and figures over the years then take advantage of that and take a closer look at WHO is visiting/engaging with your organisation, and how frequently.

There are many powerful tools that you can use to get to know more about your existing followers. Facebook Audience Insights is a tool that you can you to find out more about people on Facebook who are connected with you and/or follow your business page. We’re including images here of the first steps you’ll take when setting up your Facebook Audience Insights page. There are loads of filters and categories to choose from. Do play around and explore all of the tools for yourself!


audiences for museums

It’s possible to explore categories like age, gender, employment, location, relationship status and education level. There’s also an option to save your audiences for future uses. After attaining all of this valuable information, Facebook Audience Analytics prompts users to create an ad that directly targets the audiences that was just identified. 

There is an analytics program for almost every major social media network. There’s Instagram Insights which provides information on followers to business account holders (it’s easy to register as a business if you’re not already!) Social Rank is another free tool to use to analyse Instagram followers. It can provide business account holders with the following:

  • Gender distribution
  • Highest number of followers by location
  • Trending bio words
  • Popular hashtags
  • Optimal posting times 

Twitter has Twitter Analytics which we will talk about in more detail next week. It’s accessible right to the left-hand side of your home screen – you can find it by clicking on the three dots on the left sidebar. 

Twitter Analytics It is super useful in monitoring the success of your posts and campaigns, but it can also provide information on the following characteristics of your followers: interests, occupation, buying habits and gender distribution. It can also reveal much more – this is just a jumping off point! 

LinkedIn and Pinterest also provide platforms for their users to learn more about their audiences. If those are platforms that you are using regularly, then be sure to check this feature out and sew what your audiences can tell you about themselves and their habits.

2) Creating a visitor persona

Creating a physical profile of the audience that you most want to engage with can be useful is visually assessing your target audience. Sussing out the key characteristics in either current visitors, or future hopeful visitors will aid in defining your audience and is essential for intuitive marketing. 

Important identifying factors (these are also key categories for surveys!) include: 

Age – It’s best to use age brackets in this instance. Commonly used age brackets are:

  • Under 18
  • 18-24 years old
  • 25-34 years old
  • 35-44 years old
  • 45-54 years old
  • Over 55

Language – Look up current language statistics in your area. These should be available from your local council. Tailor your questions to fit the most commonly used languages in your area.

Education – This question is subject to your global location. If you’re surveying people that are located within a different education system, it’s important to be aware of that. Also, if you are in a particularly diverse area, the equivalent educational degrees may not be known to some. Therefore, it’s necessary to provide lots of options – take the following categories for example. 

  • Degree or equivalent
  • Higher education
  • A Level of equivalent
  • GCSEs grades A+-C or equivalent
  • Other qualifications
  • No qualification
  • Don’t know

Hobbies – Besides coming to your museum/organisation, what else is your visitor doing? Finding out more about their habits is useful in knowing what kind of activities they might be involved in and where to advertise. This all ties into the “Field of Dreams” approach that we will discuss later on in the article. 

Relationship  What is the relationship status of your idea visitor(s)? The following categories are most popular when using this question to survey audiences.

  • Single (never married)
  • Married
  • In a domestic partnership
  • Divorced
  • Widowed 

Gender – It’s important to employ sensitivity when broaching either labeling a

  • Male
  • Female
  • Other (please specify)
  • Prefer not to say

Locality – Are your followers local to your organisation or do they travel to come see you? The options presented in this category should be reflective of the immediate regions around the physical location of your organisation. This information can be really valuable for future programming. Is is better to offer all-day programmes for people who travel from a distance or would a regular 1-2 hour lunchtime programme be better to reach out to local visitors? Find out by researching the locality of your followers. 

Nationality – In England and Wales there are 18 ethnic groups used by the government for classification. Now that’s a lot, so they are often grouped into 5 broad categories

– English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British

– Irish

– Gypsy or Irish Traveller

– Any other White background

Mixed / Multiple ethnic groups

– White and Black Caribbean

– White and Black African

– White and Asian

– Any other Mixed / Multiple ethnic background

Asian / Asian British

– Indian

– Pakistani

– Bangladeshi

– Chinese

– Any other Asian background

Black / African / Caribbean / Black British

– African

– Caribbean

– Any other Black / African / Caribbean background

Other ethnic group

– Arab

– Any other Black / African / Caribbean background

If you’re completing audience research for other countries, look up the commonly used ethnic groups and tailor them for your audience. It’s important to provide an ample amount of variety and never to make assumptions about who your target audience might be. 

3) Learning from competitors

Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer, right? Not to say that our competitors are our enemies, we can actually learn a lot from them! However, this expression has an air of truth to it as it is necessary to stay updated on what competing organisations are doing to reach out to their target audiences. 

Make sure to do the following to keep an eye on what similar organisations to yours are doing:

  • Follow their social media accounts
  • Subscribe to their newsletters
  • Subscribe to their mailing lists
  • Attend their events
  • Connect on LinkedIn
  • Get together for a friendly coffee

There is more friendly than competition in the arts and culture sector. Organisations are becoming more open and honest about best practices and what has, and hasn’t worked for them. There are also lots of support networks for arts and culture organisations around the world that produce interesting news and case studies on the latest and greatest in digital marketing and audience research. 

Arts Council England has put together a great list of sector support organisations in the UK. Definitely check it out and connect with them to explore their resources and offerings.

4) Surveying visitors/followers

You’ll hear us say this a lot on MuseumNext, but it’s essential to understand WHO your audience is and WHAT they are looking for. There is no better way to do that than to ask them directly. While re-evaluating existing data sets is helpful in creating an initial impression of your audience, this can always be reinforced with the collection of updated visitor data. For most museums, there are two captive audiences, physical and digital visitors. 

Physical – These are the people who physically visit your museum space and engage with your mission and collections. 

Digital – This audience is accessed through social media or through your website. Perhaps it’s someone who has stumbled upon your website or it could be a dedicated Twitter follower – either way, they fall into this category. 

In regards to physically surveying audiences, there may already be experts on this subject residing in your organisation. Education departments constantly have to evaluate their programme and report on progress and outcomes. Before re-inventing the wheel on surveying for your organisation, be sure to check with them to see what has, and hasn’t worked for them.

We recommend the following methods to survey physical audiences:

Questionnaires – They can be handed out at events or placed at the front desk of your organisation.

  • Dedicated survey staff – Employ a visitor services assistant to specifically gather feedback from museum/organisation visitors through completing mini-interviews or handing out questionnaires to visitors. 
  • Mini-interviews  – These can be conducted with regular museum/organisation visitors as well as at events. 
  • Focus groups – If you are interested in getting an opinion about a specific project/object from a diverse group of people, then bringing in someone from each of your target audiences to participate in a focus group is a bang-on idea. 
  • Comment cards – These are apt to provide very open-ended feedback, so not advisable if you are looking for specific answers, but this is a great way to stay in touch with your visitors and capture their immediate impressions about your organisation. 
  • Feedback buttons – Useful for larger organisations that was an instant answer as to whether something has been successful or not. 
  • Show of hands – This is also called “body-polling” and is a very basic way to instantly attain feedback at an event. 
  • Feedback wall – This is very useful in a highly trafficked area of your museum/organisation. Creating a physical space for feedback also shows your visitors that you really care about their opinions. This could be designed to capture feedback about the entire organisation, or a specific exhibition. 

Follow-up email survey
(bridges physical and digital)

We recommend the following three methods to survey digital audiences:

  • Online surveys
  • Twitter polls
  • Call-to-action

For online surveying, there are lots of popular websites and platforms that are extremely popular because they work quickly and efficiently in a very user-friendly way. We’ll tell you a bit more about our favourite website/platforms for creating effective surveys to send out to your audiences.

SurveyMonkey – This website is one of the most popular survey platforms and is used by organisations all over the world. The basic plan is free, and then upgrades are set at £25 per user, per month, starting with 3 users. 

This platform is very intuitive and even gives users the option to have their survey created for them by answering a few simple questions. 

In the images above, the process of a survey being created through SurveyMonkey is demonstrated. If you are using SurveyMonkey is find out more about your target audience, then select the options above: 1) My target market 2) Understand my market or competitors

Market segmentation or sizing

When you first begin creating a survey, it’s possible to customise colours and fonts. It’s advisable to choose colours that are related to your organisation’s brand and fonts that are similar to fonts that are commonly used. We look at brand consistency in this article, and give you the tools you need to uniquely define your brand. 

Google Forms – If your organisation is already using G Suite, then this is an included application. This versatile platforms offers hundreds of customisation options. 

Moving onto settings, there are loads of options to consider such as if you’d like to collect the email addresses of survey participants (which is great for gathering participants information) as well as response limitations and respondent restrictions. 

It’s also possible to adjust how the respondents will experience the survey and will view it as they fill it out. Take advantage of these customisable options and think about the experience that you want your respondents to have when they fill out your survey. 

It’s important that the survey is as user-friendly as possible so that respondents don’t get frustrated. Completing a survey is something that most people are happy to do, especially if it’s short and there is some type of motivating incentive. This inventive could be anything from a discount in your shop to a free visit to your museum. Get creative with what you can offer people and make sure that it’s easy for them to offer up their time to provide your organisation with valuable feedback. 

We LOVE interfaces that are user-friendly and I’m sure your organisation does as well. The Google Forms interface is very easy to user with lots of drag and drop options which will be navigable for even the most novice survey-creator. 

If you choose to use Google Forms to create a survey, take advantage of the opportunities that the platform offers such as inserting video & images. You can assess which images audiences best respond to, trial new video techniques on survey respondents, and make your survey just a bit more interesting than the run of the mill templated version. All of this will capture and keep respondents’ attention and make them all the more likely to start and finish your survey to provide your organisation with valuable data. 

5) “Field of dreams”

Ever heard of the “field of dreams” approach? Basically, it involves Kevin Costner hearing voice in a corn field (which is strange, yes,), but what the voices were saying had a ring of truth to it. “if you build it, they will come” is what the voices were saying and this turn of phrase has turned into a quite credible approach to marketing to a specific customer base. 

The key is to do the following:

  1. Connect your content to your organisation/mission
  2. Build-up a dedicated audience who are interested in your authentic story/mission

If your content is received as being authentic by your audience, they will naturally gravitate towards your brand. Audiences crave to see themselves in marketing. How would this make their lives better? How is this content and mission directly related to their own core beliefs? If you perform high-quality audience research and know how to speak to your audience’s interests and needs, they will come! Create a space that your audience wants to habitate and you can convert those who were interested, to those who are invested. 

Wrapping it all up 

By now you have a better idea of who your audience is and what kind of content they are interested in seeing. The next task is to produce content that is intimately connected to your organisation. If you are an organisation that has a collection, they make sure your posts highlight unique and interesting aspects of it. If your organisation works with diverse communities, then share that work with your followers. Take content that you know is interesting and connected to your organisation, and share it through methods that you know will be successful with your newly identified target audiences. 

Now that you have all of the necessary tools to understand your audience better, it’s important to take that knowledge and turn it into content that your audience will gravitate towards. Build THEIR field of dreams with content that is relevant and engaging to them and just like the strange voices said, they will come. 

To recap, we went over the following ways to get to know your audience on a deeper level: 


  • Re-evaluating existing data
  • Creating a visitor persona
  • Learning from competitors
  • Surveying visitors/followers
  • “Field of Dreams”


Now go forth and research! 

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