How to Increase Museum Attendance

Mark Walhimer Fund Raising, Future of Museums, Museum Planning 6 Comments

I Love MuseumsHow to Increase Museum Attendance
A few weeks ago I received a phone call from Geraldine Fabrikant a writer at the New York Times.  Geraldine was writing an article about “what are small museums doing to increase attendance” and wanted to know if we could talk.  We spoke several times by phone and email, the results of her research was an article in the New York Times The Particular Puzzles of Being a Small Museum including quotes from me.   Over the course of our conversations we talked about the changes in museums since 2008 and how museums are changing their business practices.

Given the tougher fundraising climate and the difficulty many museums have had driving visitation, they have been forced to rethink marketing and fundraising.  The biggest change I have seen is museums are becoming “communities” instead of places to visit. The change from a location to a community has changed the process of driving attendance to museums:

  • Using Social Media to build an online community for the museum
  • Using online community to drive visitors to museum
  • Having in-person events, lectures, music, drinks, films at museum
  • Replicating the in-person experience for online visitors who can’t visit the museum
  • Museums can now be thought of as “clubs” instead of places

How to increase museum visitation:

  1. Pre – Visit – The museum visit starts before a visitor walks into the museum.  The visitor’s experience starts with a “pre-visit” including social media, online museum information and online communities all building to a paid museum visit.
  2. Brand First – I firmly believe in “Built to Last”, that we each choose our brands and those brands need to be built for a specific audience . Museums have been late to building a brand, but creating a museum brand is part of creating community.  Often museums try to include everyone, I believe it is better to build a strong community audience and build from the community base, both online and in-person.
  3. Local First – Local community needs to be the first museum priority, then moving onto tourism, then become a destination.  Part of thinking local first is becoming a local community resource.
  4. Membership – The thinking behind museum membership has changed from a monthly newsletter to a “museum club membership”.  Museum members now have personalized access to the museum as a community member.  Membership vs. Admission.  Some museums are now pricing membership, equal to less than two family visits, making a membership sale easier.  Some museums have seen an increase in attendance by becoming free and a resulting increase in fundraising.
  5.  “museuming” :The experience of visiting a museum or multiple museums.  Museums are social by nature, often visitors go to museums to see and be seen, it is part of the experience.   When people “museum” they expect a certain level of treatment and an elevation of their experience.
  6. Satellites – The creation of other museum sites including “pop up museums”, museum programming at for-profits and smaller temporary museums in available locations.
  7. Meet the Visitor – Understand what your audience wants and consistently deliver.  Social media is developing into a “community building” tool for museums.  Many museums are using social media to develop their audience both online and in-person. Examples include, being open late, beer and wine events and 3D printing events.  I am seeing a shift from museums being exhibition driven to event drive.  Exhibitions become part of the personalized events and programs that accompany an exhibition.
  8. Partnering – Museums are creating strategic partnerships to fund museum programming.  Seek partnerships with for profits and non profits to drive attendance.   Some museums are creating multi-museum passes to drive attendance between museums.  Look for other revenue streams including retail, restaurants and consulting for other organizations.
  9. Ladder Up – Give visitors a clear path of interaction with the museum, an example:  social media, reading the museum’s blog, participating in online discussions, an in-person visit, event participation, museum membership, museum donation, volunteering at the museum and becoming a museum committee member.
  10. Personalized –  I love the new Rijksmuseum website, visitors can curate their own “collection” choosing from the museum’s collection. Part of personalizing the museum experience is providing enough information about the museum for the the visitor to feel a sense of ownership, an example would be the excellent  Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Dashboard.

Understand your local community and their needs, build a museum brand, create enthusiasts who can spread your message and drive visitors to your door.

Contact me if I can be help with increasing your museum’s attendance, including a review of your facility, social media strategy, strategic planning and exhibition design.

Comments 6

  1. These are good pointers for increasing museum attendance, but I also feel like they’re good tips for making sure the visitor gets the most out of the visit as well. If The History Factory ( were to create a corporate museum where attendance isn’t so much an issue as ensuring that the employees soak in the message, then branding and laddering up would both be extremely effective in achieving this goal.

  2. Great post Mark. Some really good tips on increasing the museum visitor attendance. I would like to suggest another way by which museums can increase their visitor attendance. National Slate museum, Wales and Brooklyn museum, New York are using beacon technology to improve their visitor attendance by simply giving a new touch to their visitor engagement. The visitors can now take a self-guided tour around the museums and the minute they step in front of the exhibit, they will receive all the information about the exhibit on their phone. This is one of the many experiences that can be created for the museums.

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