Float’s sister company, The Iona Group, has a long history of creating award-winning museum exhibits and media. In those projects, content they’ve created has been produced to educate and entertain. From videos to kiosks to full-blown experiences, Iona has really seen a wide variety of great work put into world class institutions. As forward thinking and devoted to education as most of these organizations have been, one critical aspect of their ongoing health and financial security has always revolved around getting patrons in the door and donors to send in checks.
Various mechanisms over the years have materialized to assist in this quest to fund the institution by adding souvenir merchandise, promoting up-sells to enhanced experiences, charging for docent-led tours, or via “mobile technology” (aka AudioTours). All of these have really relied on the museum itself to provide the resource or media to enhance the visitors overall learning. Audio tour hardware and content costs money, tours guides have salaries, gift shops need to be manned and take up additional space for items on the shelves as exhibits open.
In Float’s view, one thing that hasn’t really quite hit the museum crowds yet is the use of mobile technology to add value to the visitors’ experience, engage the visitor both before and after the visit, and just maybe… add an opportunity for new revenue streams to fund their educational missions. This could increase the visibility of their institution, possibly bringing a new crowd in the door. There are world-class museums like MoMA, Musée du Louvre and the Smithsonian that have created rich, deep, collaborative apps and mobile sites that reinforce their brand and mission. However, once you get past that exclusive top-tier, though, it’s a big drop off. What about the community Science and History Museum in your town? The Regional Children’s museum just off the interstate you pass every day on your commute? The historical society for your state or county? Do they have a mobile strategy? Are they extending their mission to the thousands of people driving past their establishments every day? How do they reach the mobile passerby?
Chances are, they aren’t. Why is this the case? Tough to say. It could be a lack of vision, fear of jumping into the unknown, misreading their audience’s real desires or most likely, budget. Technology in museums can get very expensive, very quickly. Your average interactive kiosk costs well into the five-figure range. Industrial strength speakers and video equipment is manyfold the price of the home electronic versions you are most familiar with. There may be misconceptions on the ramp-up time and cost to provide simple, mission extending mobile learning into the community. Technology in the museum world usually means high costs and lots of maintenance. Small museums and organizations take note. Mobile doesn’t have to be overly pricey.
When you start small, say, by making your website mobile, accessible, you can test the waters and keep your costs low. You can also experiment inexpensively via QR codes with your exhibits and space, or maybe hosting self-run audiotours and podcasts on your website or via sites like MuseumPods. Pay attention to the devices people are bringing into the museum with them. What types of phones are they using? What’s the connectivity in your space like? Do you offer public WiFi? Are there ways to brand your sign-on screens, promote your mobile content and engage your visitors with discussions and extra content? Understanding the context of usage is the key to delivering successful mobile learning content to your visitors. What about tried and true mobile technology like RFID, Bluetooth, and SMS in your space? Museum-goers are most definitely “local”, (meaning they are in your space already), right? Take advantage of this circumstance. Provide maps, guides, assets and more. Measure this. Ask for their email address and provide an opt-in for more info. Use this information to connect with them after the visit is long over.
A baseline mobile experience does not have to break the bank. Want to know one other great thing about using the museum-goers’ devices to deliver “extra” content? Those that are engaged already become more engaged. They share their newly found knowledge with their fellow museum-goers. They, in essence, become docents themselves. On top of that… You don’t have to replace their phone if they drop it since it is theirs, not yours. 😉 Toozla, and AudioGuidia are making some inroads into this marketplace. Additionally, there is a lot of room for augmented reality APIs like Layar to make waves in this space.
After you have a solid base and have been measuring and adjusting your content for your visitors, consider some ways you can offer more advanced services and enhanced content. New technologies like NFC seem promising for the museum world in terms of adding an interaction between visitors and exhibits and even amongst other visitors. The tools will create new ways to connect or provide valuable just-in-time information like emergency alerts, availability of “enhanced tours”, scheduled admission for travelling exhibits and much more.
Nancy Proctor from the Smithsonian is a visionary expert in this realm. I had the privilege of seeing her present last year at D4M2010 in Chicago. She has an excellent video available from a keynote she delivered at the Tate Handheld Conference in 2010. I highly recommend you watch this video:
Lots of insight there from someone that undeniably knows what is going on in the industry and has seen it firsthand. Revenue streams, engagement, and specifics of technology implementation… It’s all right there for you. The deck for that presentation is available here:
Float is interested in hearing from the museum crowd. What are you doing in the mobile space to engage your visitors and extend your presence beyond the Acropolis? As your crowd becomes increasingly mobile, are you prepared to serve them?
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