Museum mobile surveys

I was bummed not to be able to listen in to the online Museums and Mobiles webconference on Tuesday. Following the tweets that folks sent was almost like being there. Keep it up, folks!

I have been working on an essay for an AAM epublication on mobiles and museums, and poring through two recently released surveys on museums and mobiles from the American Association of Museums (AAM) and Pocket-Proof and Learning Times. They’re interestingly complimentary and reading them side-by-side has been valuable, both for where they overlap and where they diverge.

The 2011 AAM Mobile Technology Survey was conducted among AAM members, and is not surprisingly very U.S. focused (about 98%) in its respondents. According to their press release,

Nearly Half of US Museums Offer Mobile Information Access to Visitors
In 2011 the Fastest Growing Mobile Platform Will Be Smartphone Apps
“Mobile Giving” Emerges as Key Driver of Museums’ Mobile Programs

I admit I was a little surprised by the highlights. Almost half? Mobile Giving is a key driver? The 2011 AAM Mobile Technology Survey is definitely worth a look.  Some of the things that leapt out at me were:

One-third of respondents plan to introduce some new mobile technology in 2011. That’s in addition to museums that are augmenting or expanding existing mobile platforms (mostly audiotours). Kinda reminds me of of 1995-6, when the Web had arrived and museums were preparing to take the plunge into this frightening online sea.

Museums with static collections predominate. Art museums and history museums account for over 50% of the sample. Science and technology museums are in the cellar with 5%. Maybe it’s just cuz we already know everything about the technology?

It’s enlightening to see who responds to these surveys. The biggest categories of people filling out the AAM survey were; Senior level (21%), Ed/Interpretation (20%), Other (19%), and Curatorial (18%) The third place category is “Other”? Who are they, and what do they do that it doesn’t fit into the standard categories? Do our “standard” categories need to change? IT/Web came in at 4% which is also interesting.

What are the goals of mobile programs? This was an interesting graph. The clear winner was “Increase visitor engagement” at 83% and the second place went to “marketing word of mouth about the museum” at 51%. Marketing is in second place in terms of museums’ goals for their mobile programs. Right behind them were “bring programs to a wider audience” (45%) and “meet visitor demand” (41%) . Does anyone out there have evidence of level of visitor demand? I hear it get used a lot, but it’s usually by senior management and it’s usually anecdotal. I’d love to see something quantitative.

Down at the bottom of the list, right above “Develop more effective programs for teachers” was “visitor giving/donation” at 19%. Somehow, this is a key driver of mobile growth, according to the report’s authors, even though it came in behind “collect feedback on visitor experience”, “keeping up with museum peers”, and “provide map of venue and basic services”. In the breakout graph for the mobile giving folks, the three choices given were “Reach out to a younger audience”, “Provide a method for giving” and “Keep current donors engaged.” I’m skeptical.

The financial model responses were also interesting. Charging fees came in dead last, which, given the number of museums that charge for audiotours, is a bit schizophrenic. There is clearly a lot of educating on business models that needs to be done. If you come up with a working freemium or paid model for mobile, you can probably spend the next three years just giving the same talk at conferences the world over. It also seems we are still a craft industry. The most sought after kind of industry insight were case studies at other museums, which was more popular than research studies or evaluation strategies.

Their forecast for 2011 is also worth looking at, especially when you look at it in the larger context of the 2010 Horizon Report Museums Edition. Most of the growth is going to happen right where it’s happening; smartphone apps and cell phone tours (eek!), followed by mobile giving (?) apps. Perennial nerd favorites like my beloved AR? Dead last! Pff!

Loïc Tallon’s paper for Museums and the Web 2011 is already up. Going Mobile? Insights into the Museum Community Perspectives on Mobile Interpretation does a great job of teasing information out of the Learning Times/Pocket-Proof survey. I’d start there. Their sample size and composition are different and their questions were a bit different, but a lot of the salient points echo the AAM survey.

Experience matters. Looking at the different breakdowns for challenges perceived by museums that hadn’t yet done a mobile app and those that had was enlightening. When you’re staring at a new platform and worrying, what do you worry about? Money, keeping up to date, and the technical stuff. Once you’ve launched something, you worry about getting visitors to use it, you worry about the content, and you worry more about the content. Yes, indeed. As the paper points out, take up rates are still the thing nobody talks much about. What percentage constitutes a “successful” app? In the audiotour market, 20% is good. 30% is great. 30%. 1 in 3. Hmm…

The paper put its finger on some real issues that anybody planning a mobile app should be thinking about.

  • Who is your audience? What do they know/want/need?
  • How will you measure your success?
  • How will you get them to use your app?

Without being able to answer these questions, it’s hard to move the field as a whole forward. I was particularly glad to see them tackle evaluation. So much of my work in physical exhibit development has been profoundly influenced by evaluation that it’s hard to imagine taking something as expensive as a new platform and “just going for it” without spending a long time figuring out who the audience was, what they knew, what we wanted them to know, and so on… But it’s still early days for mobile evaluation and finding references is still hard work, although Museums and the Web and the MuseumMobile Wiki are invaluable sites to explore.

What resources, inside and outside the museum field, do you turn to for guidance/inspiration/information? I’d love to know!

Now, the countdown to Museums and the Web begins! And the lineup of mobile sessions is impressive.  If you’re coming to Philadelphia, stop me and say “Hi!”, OK?