Museums are now using digital technology to understand and build better customer experiences to help curate and customize a specific journey for each individual during their visit, while enhancing the institution's relationship with each individual user.Since as early as the sixth-century BC, museums and their curators have been careful keepers of culture. They have provided a sanctuary and destination for the general public to experience art, history and science that aren't accessible anywhere else. In the digital age, however, where every fact or research report and every image of the world's greatest works of art can be instantly accessed on the web, what is the role of museums?
Just as libraries have been transformed through electronic media, museums are having to re-examine their mission in light of new technological possibilities and figure out how digital connections can further that mission. To remain sustainable into the future, museums have to be freshly relevant and engaging to every new generation.Additionally, with today's digital tools available in everyone's pocket, every person is an artist. This means that infinite quantities of content are simultaneously competing for our attention on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and so forth. Given this saturation in the market, how do museums successfully capture the attention of their audience? Many cultural institutions are looking to digital for the answer. In a recent research report by Museums and the Web and Axiell, 60 percent of museums report that they are creating a digital strategy to attract and keep their users. Furthermore, these strategies are bearing fruit, as 50 percent of museums have seen their website traffic increase and 82 percent are seeing greater numbers of users engage with them on social media channels.
The value of museums will always center on direct experience. Being up close and personal with artifacts you can look at, and in some cases touch, is a distinctly different and more powerful experience than viewing content online. No amount of digital technology is ever going to replace real life. It makes sense, therefore, that as museums define their strategy for digital transformation, they are focusing on ways of using technology to enhance the experiential aspects of visiting the museum. The museums and the Web survey found that 50 percent of the institutions that responded are prioritizing ways to enhance the visitor experience using mobile apps, 30 percent had digitized at least one-fifth of their collections and 86 percent are prioritizing creation of new educational opportunities.
Much of today's digital enhancement of customer experience is based on an understanding that people almost universally bring their own devices (BYOD) everywhere they go. Where museum-goers once only pulled out their phones to take photos or communicate with friends, personal devices are now recognized by museums as being key portals through which to reach out to and connect with visitors. Based largely on the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, museums are now using digital tools to create an omnichannel customer experience. This experience is made up of interactions in four categories: Personalized Experiences, Directed Experiences, Educational Experiences and Ongoing Experiences. Here's an overview of each of these channels and of the way in which digital is deepening and intensifying them:
Museums are using digital technology to understand user preferences and help curate and customize a specific journey for each individual during their visit. This interactive dialog with visitors is particularly valuable in museums with collections so vast that they can't be covered in one day. Extensive collections can feel overwhelming, and visitors will feel happier (and thus more likely to offer financial support) if they can select the exhibits that mean the most to them personally. These personalized apps also make use of Bluetooth beacon technology to answer immediate visitor questions such as the location of the nearest restroom or cafe.
Once visitors decide what to see, the next big challenge is to find it, which can be particularly tricky in the crowded acreage that make up some of the world's most important museums. Museums are using mobile and Bluetooth beacon technology to help visitors find their way in between exhibits (wayfinding), recommending where to go next depending on visitor preference and even unlocking special content depending on the user's location.
Augmented Reality powered by mobile devices adds an additional layer of engagement onto museum exhibits.
Museums rely on donations, so they want to enrich visitors' experiences and keep them coming back for more. When exhibit content comes alive, even outside the museum, then the excitement and curiosity of the audience connect them to the museum. Making large portions of museum collections available online has increasingly become a way that museums claim their place among the world's storehouse of culture. It also happens to be a way that Google chose to showcase its platform's capability with the Google Art Project in 2011.
New virtual reality tools and partnerships are proliferating, as the digital world continues its leap out from computers and smartphones into the 3D real world. One VR tool that's just at the beginning of its life is Google Cardboard, which offers inexpensive and DIY headsets that work with various apps to deliver an immersive VR experience.
It requires skill and judgment to provide a digital user experience that encourages more visitors to come through the door of a museum. No matter how immersive and real a virtual exploration may be, museums exist to preserve and display the physical objects that make up our cultural heritage. For a museum, going digital must transform and enhance the institution's relationship with each individual user so that each successive generations finds fresh excitement in the irreplaceable treasures of the past.