10 Digital Solutions to Common Problems Faced by Museums

January 8, 2023

Museums, historical and heritage sites, and other nonprofit or not-for-profit attractions face unique challenges that for-profit attractions often do not. It isn't uncommon for the staff at a nonprofit attraction to have to wear several hats. Sometimes an attraction might have a limited supply of funding, or human resources, or both! How does an organization solve the challenges of engagement - donor retention, getting the word out, making your resources work for you - under budget and on time? At Twothirty Media, we are all too aware of the challenges you face. The answer is this – you must embrace technology. Tools and services that digitize and automate your work are available, but you need to learn about them first. This may mean changing or updating your operations. In this article, we recommend tools and services that help an organization empower its staff.

1.) Digitize Your Collections

Did you know that larger museums typically only display 5% of their collections? It often comes down to space limitations or concerns about preservation; it's just not feasible to have every item 'out' in an exhibit. In the past, museums would photograph and create books of their more popular pieces or constantly cycle collections into public displays. But 'unviewed’ (or ‘unviewable)' items do not generate support or returns from the general public. In many cases, things that are important to preserve but too delicate to show are sitting in a drawer in the archives, quietly taking museum resources. Digitizing your collections allows visitors to see current collections during off hours or if they cannot access the space, and allows them to see items that are not currently on display for space or conservation concerns.

The digitization process requires two things: a way to document the item (photography, scanning, etc.) and a way to display them to visitors. There are many options for integrating a digital exhibit into your website, but we always suggest that clients choose an option they will be comfortable maintaining themselves.  

Historical sites and non-museum attractions can benefit from digitization as well! The public now has easier access to augmented reality than ever, using their smartphone cameras and a WiFi connection to view notations on real-world items over a digital overlay. At home, you can provide your users with 3D tours of select attractions and facilities, giving users a taste of what you offer virtually, or offering a way for users to explore experiences that are currently closed for maintenance or the season.

2.) Automate Membership Renewals

Convenience for your members and your processing team – automating the membership renewal process lets you cut down on emailed and mailed reminders and renewal solicitations to a minimum. This helps to preserve member communications about news they are interested in, like new exhibits and events.

But your automation can continue beyond renewals. You can send automated reminders to registered attendees about events, automate review requests, make tour reminders with schedules, donation requests, and more. In the hands of a trained marketer, automation tools can feel like superpowers! If you or your staff spend a lot of time responding to similar questions over the phone or email, manually managing a database, sending outreach messages, or offering live chat support, then  automation tools could help you save considerable time.

We can almost always recommend an automation tool that will integrate into your current processes. The trick is finding the right ones! We talk more about how automation can help your business or organization on our Business Solutions page.

3.) Integrate Ticketing into Your Web Presence

Every nonprofit attraction has unique ticketing needs. Changing exhibits, seasonal events, classes, reenactments, or presentations have their requirements, such as age, group size, and tour duration. Many attractions want to offer memberships and coupons, and indoor venues have to worry about syncing ticket capacity between online and at-the-door sales.

Digitizing your ticketing process eases your life by allowing flexibility for visitors and workers. You can control things like scheduling tour times, limiting event headcounts, and making your visitors' ticketing process as painless as possible. It also allows you to automate receipts, reminders, and payment processing.

The problem is that – well, every nonprofit attraction has unique ticketing needs. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Just like with automation, you may need to consult with an expert who has a better understanding of the lay of the land before charting your own ticketing solution. If you want help setting up a new ticketing solution or think you could use some automation to alleviate your daily routine, reach out and talk to us about it.

4.) Make Donations Easier

While visitors are the lifeblood of nonprofit attractions, they often overlap with your donors. Some sites allow visitors to 'pay' for their visit with donations. Many museums can run because of a network of donors that want to support the preservation or cultural aspects of the organization. Making the donation process as smooth as possible is common sense; after all, happy users make purchases. So having the whole process – from first communication to charitable bequests - be painlessly digital allows for that donor relationship to be tracked, maintained, and built upon with minimal effort.

The benefit of this goes beyond increasing the availability of your donation forms. Electronic forms can be made to collect information about your user's habits on your website to improve their experience the next time or enroll them into your email marketing campaigns, ensuring your donors return as visitors!   

5.) Automate Your Emails

That brings us back to automation! The king of all digital communications, email marketing is a very influential tool for interacting with engaged visitors and donors. Email automation is perfect for the following:

  1. Segmenting your email list to help personalize a person's experience
  2. Quantifying the level of engagement a person has with your organization
  3. Marketing directly to people who have already self-qualified themselves as leads
  4. Developing buy-in interest for specific events
  5. Spreading the word about opportunities or news with email advertising

6.) Expand Events and Fundraising to Online Experiences

If we have learned anything from the post-2020 world, it is that there may be a growing community of supporters who may never want to attend a physical event. This is a chunk of potential visitors and donors you would normally engage with, but you may be missing out on. Having an online event allows for more personal experiences for patrons like interactive courses, presentations, summer camps, etc. Here is a fantastic article by the American Alliance of Museums that outlines a way to take your events online: How Museums Can Generate Revenue Through Digital Content and Virtual Experiences

7.) Make Your WiFi Access Work For You

If you have a venue that gets a lot of foot traffic, your visitors will likely use their phones in your building. Increasingly, interactive exhibits include everything from QR codes to augmented reality to provide guests with an interactive experience. If your attraction needs to upgrade to an interactive experience, or just suffers from cellular signal dead zones, you may already offer free WiFi to your guests.

But does the cost of the WiFi routers and service have to be shouldered by you without any returns? Many organizations have chosen to provide WiFi access to users while also accepting the user's email or phone numbers and asking them to opt-into discount offers or event alerts via text or email. These offers should be very up-front about frequency and content and never betray the customers' trust. By having the user opt-in while they are signing into WiFi or in an email immediately after their trip, you enjoy the benefit of catching them while the enjoyment of their experience is fresh; it is more likely that they will agree that they want to come again.

Having a list of users who have opted-in to hearing from you is great, but you need to think about more than capturing that list. Do you have software in place to make sure you are following your users’ antispam regulations? You will need to provide meaningful content on a fairly regular basis, so it’s a good idea to have an email marketing plan in place before you begin.

8.) Reach Potential Patrons Socially

People are social by nature - they want to share something to enjoy and take part in with their community. This is why colleagues love to share photos of their trips or new experiences. As a nonprofit attraction, you can successfully use social platforms and tools to engage with your potential audience!

  1. Reviews: Much like someone will review a good restaurant; reviews are a great way to show your message and quality. You can harness the power of good reviews by soliciting your happy customers to share their thoughts on Google, Facebook, or your website, but once again, the savviest marketers use automation.
  2. Social Profiles: Having a profile on every social media platform is helpful for SEO backlinks and google ranking, but it's also a free way to engage your audience and get the news out to potential visitors.
  3. Claim Your Listing: Claiming and controlling any online listing for your organization is essential to keeping misinformation at bay. Claiming your Google Business Listing gives you access to a treasure trove of tools to promote, advertise, and curate the image of your museum, but that's just the start.

Being proactive about your listings and reviews is the best way to make a good first impression on a digital audience. Like physical therapy, listings and reviews management is preventative medicine for your organization. Believe me, this is work you do not want to do have to do in a rush. Especially without the right tools! You may not even know how many listings and review sites your organization is on, let alone how to get on them. We help organizations take control of their online presence and then help them develop a plan to tend to it early and often. If this sounds like something you might need, reach out today and ask for a listings consultation.

9.) Bring Your Giftshop Online

In the past, a visit to a museum was only complete with a trip through the gift shop. Choosing a souvenir after a visit to an art, history, or cultural museum is one of childhood's joys. So why is an online gift shop so important to museums today? Simply put, it's an additional way to engage your visitors, support your exhibitors, and save time! In many cases, it is possible to store and ship items from a third-party location instead of housing everything in the space of the museum store.

Many website platforms come with some e-commerce capabilities. If you are acquainted with WordPress, you may already be familiar with the very popular and effective WooCommerce plugin. However, some museums have decided to host their stores on a separate server altogether, such as Shopify.

In 2021 we helped our friends at the Fallingwater Museum Store optimize their Shopify store, aligning it with the Fallingwater brand and enabling staff to emphasize the season's featured products easily. The Fallingwater Museum Store chose Shopify – the Shopify platform is fast and secure and can be updated independently from Fallingwater's WordPress installation. This "split basket" approach simplified the optimization process because we never had to get on the WordPress site at all. Managing store inventory is simple and isolated from other online content processes. This might not be the right solution for everyone, but it was suitable for Fallingwater. If you need help finding what suits you, feel free to reach out!

10.) Leverage Your Organizations Status for Help With Google Ads

Ads can be an important outreach tool for any business, and nonprofit attractions are no exception to the rule. But with a the tight budget, how do you effectively get the word out to potential visitors through paid advertising? Google recognizes these needs and has provided a tool to help organizations like yours get up to $10,000 per month of free search ads each month via Google Ad Grants. These grants are available for entities considered nonprofit, or not-for-profit, as many museums are. Applying is pretty simple, but getting the most out of your Google Ads experience can take time and effort. There are many restrictions on what you can and cannot advertise. An agency with experience in the Google Ads Grant process is beneficial to guide you through the process and make the most of your ad budget.

I hope this helps get you started down the road with a few ideas of how you can solve a few of your nonprofit attractions' problems. As you can see, you can do much on your own. However, your time is limited, and if you work at a nonprofit, always at a premium. You may need some help setting up a marketing plan that lets you take hold of each of these problems in a more manageable way. If so, or if you have questions about anything in this guide, feel free to schedule a 15-minute consultation with us!

We're looking forward to helping you solve your marketing problems!

Written by Allison

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