Museum Marketing Strategy: 4 Digital Approaches

Sometimes, you have no choice but to innovate.

For decades, museums, aquariums, and other attractions have relied on the in-person experience to ‘sell’ their product to potential visitors. Then, everything changed. As the world began to lock down physical attractions to encourage social distancing and stem the spread of COVID-19, an entire industry found itself scrambling for solutions.

The result? Museums, zoos, and other exhibit-based attractions got creative. Social media videos of penguins exploring “their” aquarium are going viral. Virtual tours are everywhere. Cultural heritage becomes an all-encompassing digital event. Below are just a few of the many ways in which museums, aquariums, and other attractions harnessed powerful digital marketing strategies that continue to pay off today.

Museum Marketing Strategy Guide

What are the 6 Components of a Successful Museum Marketing Strategy?

4 Digital Museum Marketing Strategies

  1. Maximize Engagement via Social Media
  2. Showcase Your Research
  3. Take Advantage of Live Streaming
  4. Provide Educational Opportunities Online

Why Build a Long-Term Museum Marketing Strategy?

Work with Us on Your Museum Marketing Strategy

Museum Digital Strategy

What are the 6 Components of a Successful Museum Marketing Strategy?

Digital advertising for museums and other attractions is complex, but it includes a couple of core parts that will always inhere to a successful strategy regardless of your particular approach:

  1. Understand and be able to communicate the value of marketing, particularly if you have to invest resources into your strategy and execution during budget-strapped times.
  2. Build your target audience, which includes both understanding who that audience is and finding different ways to define it through demographics and interests/desires.
  3. Focus on the right digital channels, defined not by hunches or your own preferences but by those of your audience. Even if you prefer Twitter, your audience may be in love with Instagram. Follow them instead of making them find you.
  4. Create creative, visual, attention-grabbing content. That’s what the rest of this guide has been about, but it does need to meet your audience’s needs and expectations.
  5. Run targeted, focused digital ads that ‘close the deal’ by driving your audience to the virtual events you need them to experience.
  6. Continually measure your ROI to understand which of your tactics are working and why. That helps you make improvements over time and build a better marketing campaign in the long run.

A strong emphasis on digital channels is a significant opportunity for both short- and long-term marketing initiatives.

4 Digital Museum Marketing Strategies

Your website or social media might well be the first glimpse that many visitors have of your museum. Here are four ways to make that experience so memorable, they decide to stop by for a visit or donate to your cause.

1. New and Innovative Social Media Tactics

Social media is a great way to engage and build a follower base that can turn into visitors. Over the last few years, museums have developed new tactics that are particularly engaging and innovative:

  • Encourage engagement from the visitors you already have by offering hashtags in your brochures and near your exhibits that they can use to share their experience on social media. Don’t forget to remind visitors to tag your museum in their posts.
  • Attractions across the country have jumped on #MuseumFromHome, where they share their exhibits, ask thought-provoking questions, and build live virtual tours.
  • Soliciting audiences for user-generated content, like the “Getty Museum Challenge.” The J. Paul Getty Museum, among others, are asking their followers to recreate art from their collections at home. The result? People post using the hashtag and the museums, in turn, get great user-generated content that highlights their exhibits and collections.
  • Virtual backgrounds on Zoom or Google Meet can bring your attraction directly to those living rooms and home offices.

It’s not difficult to see these concepts expand and continue to be effective once life begins to return to normal. The expansion of social media content now has led to plenty of content ideas that can keep social media channels fresh and engaging to audiences trying to decide what attraction to visit.

2. Showcase Your Research

Believe it or not, there’s one digital visitor to your website that is incredibly interested in your research: Google. Google is constantly on the hunt for original, helpful content that adds to an ever-growing body of knowledge, and expertly written content ranks highest on their list. Google’s helpful content system combined with its rater guidelines privilege content that is written by experts in order to educate the general public and that makes an original contribution.

Here’s how you can turn your research into organic website visits:

  • Perform keyword research on your topics and construct an outline with meta data based on one or two organic search terms.
  • Include your keywords in your headings, alt text, and throughout the body in order to signal to search engines your intent to rank for a particular term.
  • Embed images and video to increase engagement on the page and offer more material for search engines to include in their featured results.
  • Use clear, direct language and explain complicated terminology in order to inform your audience.
  • Develop information architecture to make it easy for search engines to index your research pages and also guide visitors to other parts of your site (such as toward donations or purchasing tickets).

You can expand the power of your organic search efforts by supporting them with robust social media and email campaigns as well.

3. Live Streaming and Other Virtual Events

Live online events are a great way to drive interest in your organization. Mote Marine, a nonprofit aquarium and research organization in Florida, has shown the power of online engagement:

  • It hosted a #HappyOtter happy hour with a live feed of its otters swimming around, perfect for that late afternoon beverage.
  • One of the organization’s scientists, Dr. Tracy Fanara, is helping children of all ages perform simple science experiments at home.
  • Shark-feeding videos let audiences get a behind-the-scenes look at the aquarium and ask questions about those majestic sea creatures.

Zoos and exhibits around the world are following similar ideas to take their events virtual. Few are better than the Petersen Automobile Museum’s live streams, where kids can learn how to make a balloon car or create their own license plate. Petersen attracted more than 25,000 virtual visitors in a year through its digital model. That shows the value and benefit of going digital, regardless of the situation.

4. Educational Opportunities for Learners of All Ages

Museums and zoos know about the importance of education as part of their mission. As a result, many of them have taken their educational experience online.

Take The James Museum as an example. Its exhibits are now digital, allowing viewers to learn more about the works as well as their larger context. Each week focuses on a different theme, while movies and other media are suggested as companion pieces.

Other attractions have followed suit. The Children’s Museum of Houston, for instance, has a new virtual learning center that can easily be integrated into the daily life of stressed parents keeping their at-home children at bay.

None of that has to be temporary. With school budgets anticipating major cuts throughout the nation, virtual educational experiences will become major focal points in classrooms for all ages. That virtual engineering workshop may not quite replace the field trip to the Children’s Museum, but it does come close.

Why Build a Long-Term Museum Marketing Strategy?

While some of these strategies may have arisen in an acute time of need, there are many great reasons to build them into your long-term marketing goals. Here are just a few:

1. Counteract Existing Cultural Trends

Museum attendance has been in decline for decades, and the same has been true for most zoos. Audiences are more distracted by other, more ‘exciting’ alternatives while many simply choose to stay home. Digital lessons learned during the Coronavirus may well play a major role in beginning to reverse that trend.

Millennials and Gen Z are the least likely age groups to visit museums, finding many experiences irrelevant for them. They also happen to be the age groups most likely to retweet penguins waddling through an aquarium or participate in virtual learning experiences.

The lesson: they’re not opposed to the concept, but look to be engaged differently. Building creative digital strategies will help to keep them engaged, even as the in-person experience begins to become an option again.

2. Stand Out from the Competition

We’ve highlighted quite a few examples of creative virtual marketing and engagement strategies in this article. In truth, though, many attractions have not been able to transition as smoothly. A slight update to the web or a few more tweets per week may be all they’ve done to optimize their marketing presence.

That, in turn, provides a major opportunity for attractions that are making those types of comprehensive digital shifts. They now have a significant advantage over their competition for audience attention, and that advantage is unlikely to go away anytime soon.

Consider the scenario in which a strong digital experience is paired with the returning in-person experience. Combining the two will make your attraction seem more comprehensive, and attract more audiences, than your competition focusing only on one side of the equation. That alone makes building out your digital experiences worth the effort.

3. Enhance Your Physical Visit Experience

Speaking of which: while virtual visits and other digital events are great opportunities now because they’re the only option, they can remain effective even while in-person experiences return. Higher education, another largely non-profit industry reinventing itself due to the current pandemic, has long realized this duality.

Colleges and universities effectively promote their virtual tours, even as they drive to campus visits and enrollments. The virtual tour is more snackable, providing some preliminary information necessary to make the larger and more consequential decision.

On a micro level, the same is true for museums, zoos, and aquariums. A strong virtual tour, or a viral video, does nothing to take away from the actual visit. In higher education, they actually make the physical visit more likely. A continued, strong digital strategy with fun and engaging content, whether it’s education or simply informational, can have the same effect.

4. Make the Case for the In-Person Visit

That, of course, brings us to the last point. Put simply, the right digital strategy makes the perfect case for an in-person visit (once it’s possible again, of course).

Take the educational experiences mentioned above as an example. A parent or teacher may go through them with their child, learning about specific animals. How much cooler would it be if next up on the agenda was a visit to the zoo or aquarium to actually check out that animal? How could a virtual workshop hosted by the children’s museum lead to a physical, communal experience with other children?

Built right, these virtual experiences are the perfect argument to make the visit. They show, not tell, why checking out your attraction in person is so beneficial. You never even have to tell your audience that it’s the right thing to do because they’ll intuitively know it.

Work with an Agency That Knows Museum Marketing Strategy

The good news: you don’t have to build it on your own. In fact, a few of the examples we shared above have been some of our own clients!  Work with us to transition your communication to digital channels during this difficult time, along with building a comprehensive marketing strategy to promote and optimize that content.