9 Museum Marketing Ideas to Attract More Visitors

Museums are pillars of culture and learning where people can explore different traditions, new ideas, and unique art forms. They’re also engaging and constantly changing. Curators know this, but potential visitors often don’t. That means many museum marketing strategies are missing out on attracting repeat visitors and new visitors who don’t know about upcoming exhibits and events.

Museum Marketing Strategy

1. Embrace smartphone culture

For years, museums fought against smartphones, encouraging visitors to put away their technology and focus on the images and artifacts in front of them. However, the top institutions across the world have embraced modern technology in their museum marketing, and are reaping the benefits because of it.

New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has a mobile-focused website and app to guide visitors through its exhibits. People use their smartphones to learn more about the pieces they see and discover other works like them.

Sree Sreenivasan, the Met’s Chief Digital Officer, says the museum’s biggest competition isn’t the Guggenheim or the Museum of Modern Art, but rather Netflix, Candy Crush, and a desire to stay home rather than explore the city.

User-generated content is one of the most cost-effective ways you can boost your museum marketing.

2. Encourage visitors to get social

Another way museums like the Met increase attendance is by creating exhibits specifically for fans to promote on social media. Instead of denying visitors a chance to share what they saw with friends, museums can encourage people to snap selfies and share the museum content online. These photos promote museums as cool places to be and make online users wonder what the exhibits would look like in person. User-generated content is one of the most cost-effective ways you can boost your museum marketing.

The Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg recently hosted, “This is Not a Selfie,” an exhibition featuring photographic self-portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Guests were encouraged to engage with an interactive portion of the exhibit and share their selfies on social media with the hashtag #notaselfieMFA. 

Obviously, we had to check it out.Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg instagram post from “This is not a selfie” exhibit

The Museum of Ice Cream in New York gained Instagram “cult status,” as people flocked to the exhibits to take photos with the various displays. Everyone wanted a photo in the sprinkle pool or on the ice cream sandwich swing. The $18 tickets to the museum sold out within five days in New York, and then the entire six month run in San Francisco (with $38 dollar tickets this time) sold out in ninety minutes.

Your fans are your biggest marketers and can bring more people to your museum.

3. Make your website as inviting as your exhibits

These days, your website might well be the first glimpse that a new visitor has of your museum, so why not make sure it’s as stunning as your exhibits? When we relaunched Tampa Bay History Center’s website, we wanted to create an online experience that captured some of the awe and beauty that visitors to the museum might experience.

Our goal with museum websites, which we think should be yours as well, is to capture the story you want to tell to visitors about your museum. Great website and content strategy is built on the same kind of storytelling that draws people in via email, social media, and other campaigns. Your website should

  • Put a face on your museum and the experiences people have there
  • Tell a story about your your exhibits
  • Extend your museum’s mission of education
  • Provide an opportunity to interact with exhibits online
  • Check out these 16 great museum websites for inspiration

If you think it’s time for a new website, reach out to us! We specialize in a number of platforms, including WordPress and Hubspot, and we’d be happy to guide you to the right foundation, design, and user experience.

Work with an agency that knows museum marketing 

Tampa Bay History Center Museum Website snapshots from launch

4. Turn your research into organic website visits

A lot of museums don’t just educate through exhibits. They also perform research, and write incredibly informative articles and blogs. This means that your website could be an hidden organic search gold mine. One of Google’s predominant algorithms for page ranking is called the helpful content system. Part of the goal of this system is to identify expertly written content that provides useful information to visitors. Museums are uniquely positioned to provide exactly this kind of content to search engines.

To transform your research or storytelling into organic traffic, you need search engine optimization. At a bare minimum, you will need:

At Big Sea, we are experts in nonprofit and museum SEO. Drop us a line if you want help with your organic search strategy.

5. Host immersive events for more engagement

If you want new visitors to become repeat visitors and repeat visitors to become members, then you have to give your visitors reasons to come back. Immersive experiences provide exactly that incentive by helping visitors become active participants in museum activities. The team at TripSavvy curated a list of 10 unique museum events that focus heavily on immersive experiences, from Night at the Museum sleepovers to public art exhibits. You can use these events as jumping-off points to bring visitors in multiple times per year — and even monthly.

If you’re not ready or don’t have the budget to create immersive exhibits or activities, you still have options for engaging visitors. In St. Petersburg, the Museum of Fine Arts has a monthly book club with picks related to various exhibits, while the Museum of History hosts Happy Hour with a Historian at regular intervals. These events aren’t expensive to host, but they cater to a base of regular visitors who appreciate the work these institutions do.

Leverage Facebook to create events and add an additional channel to your museum marketing. When people say they’re interested or going, that will show up on their friends’ timelines.

Start building your donor pipeline. Download our nonprofit storytelling guide. Download now.

6. Use your (brand’s) voice

Museums are no longer just stewards of history and art; they are cultural hubs with the power to shape community dialogue. That means developing a strong brand voice that stands for something. This voice should reflect your museum’s mission, be authentic to your collections, and align with the core values you prioritize. For instance, when you visit the Mote Laboratory and Aquarium in Florida, you learn that they’re more than just an aquarium: they are a cutting-edge research institution on a mission to save the ocean. They achieve that by expressing their mission clearly and consistently throughout their messaging.

Your brand voice can be an essential tool for advocacy. Whether it’s championing social justice initiatives, highlighting underrepresented perspectives, promoting environmental causes, or advocating for increased cultural access – your voice can be powerful. Be strategic: select topics with a clear link to your collections and values. Let your voice ring out through website content, social media posts, press statements, and even subtle additions to exhibit or gallery text.

Audiences today crave authenticity. Avoid token gestures or jumping on trending causes without genuine investment. Your advocacy should be rooted in the very soul of your museum. This is more than just marketing; it’s a core element of the cultural experience you offer. When you stand for something, visitors not only remember your exhibits, but they are more likely to become long-term supporters and advocates for your institution.

7. Bring exhibits to the community

To get members of the community to visit your museum, then it helps be to be recognized as an active part of that community. Look for ways to bring your exhibits to life and encourage people to visit your museum after they experience your traveling exhibits, local camps, or classroom presentations.

For example, the ArchaeoBus is a mobile archaeology classroom in Georgia that travels around to schools and communities to engage kids with the science behind human history. Meanwhile, the Nomad Art Bus visits schools around Tampa Bay and lets kids express their creativity through paint.

While you don’t need a bus to be active in the community, these are two strong examples of organizations laying a foundation for archaeology and art appreciation which can turn into future museum exhibits.

8. Leverage local influencers and publishers

Many museums have a strong public relations arm to their museum marketing where they send out press releases and reach out to local newspapers and TV stations. While these outlets are useful for mass broadcasting, museums may be ignoring groups who learn about events and activities in different ways.

Look at local blogs and websites (like I Love the Burg here in St. Petersburg, Florida) that promote community events. Consider testing ads through online radio like Spotify instead of traditional radio broadcasts. Invest in social media ads for your event promotion. If you want to reach new audiences or connect with old ones, find out where they get their information.

9. Put some pennies into programmatic advertising

Programmatic advertising allows you to reach highly-targeted audiences on a shoe-string budget. From re-targeting visitors to your website, to hitting folks looking for something to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon, to sharing new exhibitions or events with your members, programmatic offers platforms to gain awareness and even measures those who walk through your doors as a result.

Start by creating some great campaigns that address the early and later stages of your potential visitors’ journeys – those who don’t know a thing about you and those who know and love you might be influenced by different messaging, so consider that.

Then, set up audiences and tools that share those campaign assets across their myriad devices, on relevant websites and platforms. Be sure to use a DSP (like the one we mostly employ) that measures lift to get a true count of the number of visitors who’ve interacted with your ads – you’ll be surprised how your foot traffic correlates with your ad reach!

Museum Marketing FAQs

Why Do Museums Need Marketing?

Museum’s need visitors, donors, and an engaged public to carry out their missions. Museum marketing promotes growth in all of those areas so that your directors, curators, and experts can focus on your goals of education and conservation. Building a website that works 24/7, automating engagement and outreach through email campaigns, giving your organization a chance to grow through word of mouth via social campaigns, and running programmatic and other advertising all work together to draw more people into your community.

Another way to think about it is that education, outreach, beauty, and storytelling are all crucial components of outstanding marketing strategy. When you have so much fantastic material to work with, why not take advantage of it to draw more interest in your mission?

What Makes Museum Marketing Different?

Good museum marketing isn’t just advertising. It’s an extension of your mission both online and in the real world. Engaging your visitors through fun, creative, and informative content is central to what you do. And in the process, you not only draw more supporters and raise more funds, you further your mission to educate the public. We’ve assembled these 7 tips that go beyond traditional content marketing advice to help you boost your museum’s marketing strategy.

It’s time for museums to reconnect with their communities and bring people back through their doors. Not just once, but multiple times per year. Use these seven museum marketing ideas and tips to promote your museum and fill your halls with curious and eager visitors. Feel free to explore our digital marketing services.

How to Think About Museum Marketing without Losing Sight of Your Mission and Vision

Whichever direction you take with your marketing, the first step is to know your audience. You probably already have a rough idea who the ideal guest is at your museum: do more research to put together a complete visitor persona profile with information about who she is, what she cares about, where she spends time online, and what brings her in the door.

With that in mind, you can start to formulate a marketing plan for how to reach your ideal visitors. Create a series of specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for your marketing plan. You know who you’re trying to reach; now you can take discrete steps toward reaching them.

Depending on where you’re starting from, the first step might just be awareness. People have to know you exist before they can consider whether to visit. Just a small investment in targeted programmatic advertising will get your name out there.

Art gallery marketing is similar to museum marketing, but there are some crucial differences. Press releases and a strong PR strategy are important tools for art galleries seeking to attract more customers. You can also start with many the tips here, such as developing a robust website, launching email campaigns, and crafting a social media strategy. And don’t forget to craft strong personas so you can understand and target the right people.

We Are Museum Marketing Experts

You don’t need the marketing budget of the Kennedy Space Center or the name recognition of the Louvre in Paris to successfully market your museum. With a little creativity, you can develop a museum marketing strategy that leverages digital channels and brings people to your exhibits. The ultimate goal? Inspire people to tell their friends about the amazing experience they had.

Work with an agency that knows museum marketing 

Are you looking to increase foot traffic and online engagement in your museum? Big Sea has helped promote exhibits at top museums and attractions. Learn more about Big Sea and contact us today.