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Why is a digital impact report important and how can it shape the future of museums’ online efforts?

There’s incredible value to be gained from collating data and investing in the right digital tools

Digital engagement can feel like a guessing game for museums looking to boost their profile and grow their audience, but it is in fact a measurable, trackable data source that can be used to advise future plans and strategies.

Evaluating the engagement data of digital marketing activity allows museums to measure the impact of their marketing and communications. Effectively planning, implementing and responding to digital activity allows information to be turned into actionable insights that can be used to help museums reach their marketing goals and drive future growth.

But what does a successful digital impact report look like, and how can the data gathered be turned into decisive action?

What does a digital impact report look like?

Digital impact reports will look different for every venue. Through visual storytelling, an impact report can provide key information about where digital budgets are being placed, and how digital initiatives are moving the needle in relation to the museum’s overall growth and success.

The right report can reveal what kind of content is preferred by social media followers, website visitors and email subscribers alike. It offers a framework for cultural institutions trying to navigate the notoriously fast-paced and ever-changing landscape of digital marketing.

Tyne and Wear Museum Archives in the UK produce an annual impact report which covers progress and communications across many of the North East’s leading cultural hubs. The report also assesses fundraising and charitable efforts within the community. Similarly, Cleveland Art Museum in the US provides an Art Museum Digital Impact Evaluation Toolkit for other museums to utilise for themselves.

What are the benefits of turning data into action?

A digital impact report takes time, effort and dedication, yet many museums are seeing the value of investing the necessary resources in this task. This is due to the long-term benefits that effective digital data gathering can provide for cultural venues. Gartner’s Ranjit Atwal outlines nine key reasons why museums are turning their data into actionable insights.

  • Being data driven: the removal of ‘gut feelings’ and acting out of habit, as decisions are determined purely by what hard data and insights are saying
  • Efficiency: more focus on where to put time, budgets and resources
  • Effectiveness: using channel-specific performance data to analyse goals and objectives
  • Developing better performing campaigns: adjusting activity for better digital performance, based on data
  • Making content that engages audiences: using data to determine the most popular kinds of content, allowing for evidence-based decisions
  • Making the most of the website as a hub: using website metrics to optimise relevant content and decide whether certain pages are of more value
  • Segmenting audience approaches: applying a set of characteristics to audience data and tailoring messages to certain segments for higher conversion rates
  • Creating user personas: articulating audiences as character types, with names, faces and personalities all born from data
  • Better pricing decisions: the use of data discovery tools to identify accurate price points for work, trends and variables

Creating and achieving goals for a focused plan

Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery is one such museum which has benefited from using data and insight in order to develop a digital content plan and engage new audiences. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the museum to take a fresh look at their sporadic social media presence, at a time when digital visitors were becoming vital to the success of cultural venues around the world.

Curator at the museum, Liz Taylor, commented on the venue’s efforts to utilise digital platforms, saying:

“We really thought about our digital objectives, such as promoting the museum services to help people understand what we do and why they should visit, and increasing access to the museum’s collections. We’ve got so many objects in storage as there’s a limited number on display, but digital gives you that opportunity to share more objects and vary how you share them. You can go into a lot more depth online whereas information in a physical space can be limited.”

Further efforts included a digital survey for visitors to complete in order to gather data, the setting up of a museum blog – Behind the Scenes at the Museum – and making use of Google, Instagram and Twitter Analytics to measure what kind of content is performing well.

A digital impact report stops digital content from being a guessing game, allowing museums to take active, confident steps towards their digital and overall growth.


MuseumNext offer online learning for museum professionals striving for engaging, relevant and flexible professional growth content. Learn more about our virtual museum conferences here.

About the author – Tim Deakin

Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.

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