Friday, December 07, 2007

Locals visiting museums

After my excellent lunch the other day with Rob and Gillian, I got inspired (or was that instructed!) by Rob to re-visit his 2005 paper The "Museum Constant": One-third plus or minus a bit (Visitor Studies Today!, 8/2, pp1, 4-7). Rob reports on an analysis of museum visiting data collected over a 13 year period with Australians asking about their leisure activities, demographic profile and personality/self-description items. Generally it was found that around 35% of the Sydney population visit museums, with the interest in museums more noticeable in those who agreed with the statement "I am interested in abstract ideas", then followed by education level.

Four things struck me from that as we struggle here with thinking about our general exhibitions and program offer:

  1. There is a limit to the audience for museums (knew that but good reinforcement)
  2. The limit '... appears to be driven by people's preferences for conceptual cognitive activity' (p.7)
  3. Although education is a strong predictor it acts as an enabler in people participating in the museum experience
  4. 'It may be that museums in large population centres cannot hope to reach all the people in their catchment, but perhaps over time, they can reach about two-thirds of them' (p.7)

In my recent survey of what Australians do online, I found that while those who visit museums undertake the same kinds of online activities (such as read blogs, comment on sites, use RSS feeds, etc), they were more likely to use a wiki; listen to a podcast; tag a web page; comment on a blog; post a rating/review; participate in a discussion board/forum; read a blog.

I'm wondering in future whether these kinds of stats will be affected by the online world and the new kinds of relationships museums will have with their audiences that visit them both virtually and physically? I'm becoming (surprisingly) more interested in how we then develop closer relationships in these aspects as we our rebuild our website and deeply think about our physical offer. To me, the conceptual aspects that Rob talks about are ripe for the picking in those who will interact with us online too.

Maybe time for some targeted research in this area??


Seb Chan said...

Hi Lynda

I always have the same two questions to this research and others like it.

Question 1 (physical museums) - what do these audiences think museums are? if they thought (and were appropriately marketed to) they were also places where gigs might occur (eg MOCA), or where parents could network and share parenting advice (eg informally in our kids spaces) etc, could the market grow beyond its traditional borders?

Question 2 (online) - whilst we all know that on the web in general users are engaging in a lot of 'participation' (at least around interest nodes), are we sure that they will want to participate in the *same* ways on a site branded as a 'museum' website?

These questions both tie together around how museums are marketed and promoted, and how their image, brand and identity circulate in the minds of consumers.

There will always be a portion of the community for whom the indoors and often quiet spaces of a museum will not appeal, but i do think that we aren't capturing the rest of the community in our always budgetarily constrained marketing campaigns.

Gillian said...

Seb, you seem to suggest ("we aren't capturing the rest of the community") that museums SHOULD be able to capture everyone.

Visitor research suggests that this is unrealistic. Some people just aren't interested in the content and experiences that museums offer.

We don't expect that everyone SHOULD be interested in car racing. Why do we expect that everyone should be interested in museums?

Just as car racing has a potential audience, so museums have their own potential audiences and visitor research has gone a long way in describing the characteristics of those audiences. Museum marketing should aim to attract the natural audience -- it would be very inefficient to try to capture 'the rest of the community'.

In addition, there are little-recognised dangers in attracting wrong audiences. For example, exhibitions that have missed the mark with their marketing are likely to get bad word of mouth which can be very damaging.

So, good marketers seek to find the best audience for their museum. That may not be 'everybody'.

Gillian said...

Ooops... I just have read Seb's comment again and note the acknowledgement that 'there will always be a portion for whom museums will not appeal'. So I see Seb recognises some limit to museum audiences.