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The benefits of taking an audience-led approach to museum programming

You know what they say about assumption… That’s why evidence-based, audience-led programming is essential to long-term museum engagement.

As technology and connectivity evolve at pace, so too are museums’ approaches to data. In particular, audience insights. These tools have the potential to provide institutions with a greater understanding of the behaviours, preferences and interests of visitors in a measurable way, helping to inform strategic decisions and forward planning.

So, what does this data look like and how can it be applied? Let’s take a closer look.

The value of data collection for museum engagement

Audience research is invaluable to the future of cultural institutions. So much so that many museums, including the Natural History Museum in the UK, employ designated Audience Research teams whose role it is to continually improve visitor experience and ensure that the museum’s activities benefit a wide range of audiences. Reflecting and responding to the needs of an audience allows museums to change, evolve and grow into better, bolder and more exciting spaces to discover.

Digital channels are often utilised as a way to engage new, perhaps younger, audiences, but investing in the right technology is necessary in order for this to be successful. From social media management tools to website analytics software, there are many metrics that can be analysed and assessed along the way.

Rather than building a digital strategy based on what we assume audiences to enjoy, making time to monitor and map user journeys through a museum website, or track which posts on Facebook attract the most comments and positive reactions can prove valuable in the quest for better content and greater engagement.

The best approaches for data collection

In many cases, the most valuable feedback gathering exercises involve seeking critique directly from the mouths of museum visitors – and high-tech solutions aren’t always required. The Manchester Jewish Museum, for example, features a designated feedback blackboard where visitors are encouraged to share their views about their visit, highlighting aspects they enjoyed and offering suggestions. This allows the museum to make smart changes to their exhibitions in direct response to what visitors are asking for.

However, while anecdotal feedback is useful, there is also a need for quantitative as well as small-scale qualitative data. By assessing broader trends and interests across larger groups it’s possible to ensure that the entire audience is ultimately considered.

Within this larger pool of data it fan then be useful to segment into relevant categories. Segmentation can involve grouping visitors together based on similarities in the way they engage, their interests and habits, and their specific needs. This allows museums to think more carefully about the kind of communications and activities being shared.

The four main types of segmentation are:

  • Demographic: exploring similarities and differences between audiences based on age, gender, marital status, household size, education, occupation, income, race, nationality, religion and more.
  • Psychographic: while similar to demographic segmentation, psychographic methods may also consider emotional involvement and motivation. For example, did they travel specifically to reach the museum, or were they in the area anyway? How high were their expectations before entering, and what kind of experience were they looking for?
  • Behavioural: referring specifically to the way audiences engage with the museum, and their buying habits. This involves asking questions such as whether they shop online or off-line, and what experiences/products are they most interested in.
  • Geographic: grouping audiences together based on their location – local, regional, national or international.

By grouping audiences together, museums can improve the way they communicate and advertise, both online and offline. It allows venues to establish new or improved ways to cater for interest groups through events, products and services in order to maximise availability and appeal to a wide set of interests.

Being audience-led gives museums and other cultural organisations the opportunity to focus their attention on the most important aspects of what they do, creating a clear vision for improvement and growth.

The MuseumNext Digital Summit 2022 kicks off on the 6th June, and will feature inspiring ideas and case studies from those championing the latest and greatest digital innovations in museums and galleries. Click here to book your tickets now, to make sure you don’t miss out.

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