Understanding the Mobile Visitor

Over the last month or so we have been conducting a survey with the visitors to the museum on how they engage with mobile technology in the museum setting and what impact this would have for the development and delivery of a mobile tour.

On completing the research we noticed that the Victoria & Albert Museum (hereafter V&A) and the Natural History Museum (hereafter NHM) also recently conducted similar studies. With kind permission from both of these institutions we looked at their results and compared them to our own and were surprised to find that they were startlingly similar in their results and the actions that can be taken away from them.

Both reports produced on their respective surveys by the V&A as well as the NHM show that the majority of their patrons are actively engaged with mobile technology and bring the devices with them to the museum. This was exactly what we saw with our own survey results as well. The key piece of technology that visitors own and bring with them to the museum is their smartphone, this again was the same with the results from our own survey, the NHM survey found that 77% of visitors owned a smartphone and 80% overall owned a mobile internet device whether smartphone, tablet or other device. Our survey too revealed that many visitors owned both a smartphone and tablet but by far the most common item brought to and used in the museum was the smartphone.

All three survey’s analysed have shown with respect to the short term at least, that engaging visitors on their smartphones represents a large opportunity to connect with our audiences. This in turn allows us to look at our museums and then develop new and exciting content and experiences to deliver to these engaged visitors, to turn them into advocates. It was found that this group of visitors are already using their phones in the museums for any number of tasks including but not limited to looking up maps, getting directions and browsing the museum’s websites for information.

However, some facts shown by the survey completed by the NHM was that very few patrons used their devices to download an existing app for a particular gallery and approximately 40% used their devices to look up information on an object that they were looking at. The report produced on the V&A yielded very similar results in this area as well; they reported on a museum related smartphone activities and discovered that out of these looking up facts the visitor was curious about topped the results followed closely by sharing photos or videos. It should be noted that the survey we conducted did not drill quite as deep in this area as the ones done by the V&A and the NHM but we can still see a similar trend in our own results in our questions around social media and app usage.  Our survey revealed that social media played a large part in the digital lives of our visitors in terms of keeping in touch with friends and family and certainly sharing experiences and images via a digital medium is part of that.  The seeds have been planted for us by social media, now we as museums, need to water them providing extra mobile content and watching them grow.

So where too from here?

What we can see as similar trends throughout the three surveys is that the audiences that are coming through our doors are digitally equipped and digitally aware as well. They are hungry for new information and experiences, but where do we start? The recommendations from the survey results for both the V&A and the NHM provide a great model for where we can begin.

We have listened to our visitors and now we need to act.

The recommendation is to begin by focusing in on the basics of delivery of content for mobile engagement; begin with the visitor basics, then move on to focusing on the exhibition basics, from there move to more social engagements and lastly build in interpretive content.

Like many things in life, we need to begin by getting the basics right and the rest, as they say, will follow on.

In doing our survey and then looking at the results of the others it is heartening to see that the digital sphere is gaining a greater foothold in museums around the globe and that they are rising to the challenge, listening to their visitors, conducting research and then hopefully developing and delivering meaningful content to capture the minds of a new digitally aware and engaged generation.

Jonathon Cant.

March, 2014.


V&A Report: http://fusionanalytics.com/news-reports

NHM Report: http://fusionanalytics.com/

Both reports have been used with permission.


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