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2.5 Million Missed Opportunities and Counting

Today’s up and coming museum audiences are a different breed than those of yesteryear. They communicate differently, they make decisions differently, and they spend their money differently. In this competitive attention economy, inspiring their behavior – if only getting their attention – is more challenging than ever.

Their stated motivations have changed too, from educational attainment to shared experiences. Whether it’s doing things in the company of others and/or posting everything on social media, sharing is part of the value.

According to the 2015 NEA study ‘When Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance’, “socializing with friends and family members is the most common motivation for arts attendance.”

“With so many arts attendees motivated to go primarily for a social experience – albeit one centered on art – arts organizations should consider how they can foster the types of relational experiences current and future attendees are seeking, and how they can use these linkages to build an audience that shares common interests and values.”

Luckily museums have been paying attention. In addition to cultural offerings like exhibitions, the visitor experience is moving towards social channels (i.e. shared experiences). Cafes, restaurants, boutiques and rooftops…these are all things people want.

But here’s where it gets interesting. What makes this study so powerful is its “unprecedented insights about interested non-attendees—that is, those individuals who express interest in attending exhibits and performances but do not ultimately follow through.”

It found that about 31 million US adults were interested in attending at least one exhibit or performance in the preceding 12 months but refrained from doing so. Of those, 11 million were interested only in attending exhibitions.

Among the reasons: lack of time, too difficult to get to, and for 22% of these 31 million interested non-attendees, couldn’t find someone to go with. Apply that to those only interested in exhibitions and we arrive at 2.5 million people who just didn’t want to go alone.

National Endowment for the Arts

That’s 2.5 million missed opportunities to connect with an interested audience!

To put it in context, the number of US adults interested in attending an exhibit but don’t follow through for social reasons amounts to 8% of total annual visits to the largest American museums by attendance. And I’ll venture to say that same dynamic exists in other parts of the world, throughout Europe for instance.

Understanding what motivates people is how museums will win new audiences. So unless they invest in public transportation or convince companies to free up more of their employees’ time, adapting their offer into a social as much as a cultural experience will make finding someone to go with easier for those who are interested but whose friends aren’t naturally inclined.

Combine a great product in the form of dynamic, relevant exhibitions that tell great stories with a visitor experience that rivals activities elsewhere and museums have themselves a winning combination to change perceptions and generate engagement.

So how do they reach this interested non-attendee segment?! According to Timothy Heckscher, founder of the exhibition discovery platform culturaliv, “it starts by helping people find someone to go with. Go to where the market is – where the young and old are clicking and swiping away – to appeal to their social interests and change the way they think about cultural institutions”.

Heckscher is working on an app that helps interested audiences find someone to go with. It couples users’ social preferences with their interest in ongoing temporary exhibitions to identify common interests.

Heckscher wants to leverage the social and cultural experience of museums to generate added visibility for exhibitions while facilitating meaningful connections. And by adopting a collaborative approach, he’s partnering with museums to provide the definitive discovery experience to local and international audiences who are ready to participate.

It’s even the theme of the Communicating The Museum conference later this month by the irreproachable Agenda team: ‘Are You Ready to Participate?’.

See you there!

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For museum exhibitions and visitor reviews

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