After decades of distributing audio devices and training audiences to pick them up, I wonder… is it really possible to get visitors to accept digital content on their own devices?
Elizabeth Merritt unpacks the issue surrounding contact and touch in Digital Tools for Pandemic Times: “Early in the pandemic, much of the messaging around disease prevention focused on disinfecting surfaces, hand washing, and use of hand sanitizer. Despite growing consensus that fomites (objects carrying the virus) are relatively minor risk for COVID transmission, public expectations regarding surface cleaning remain high.”
She continues to explain that enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols may not be sufficient to calm public concern over touch-based participation and offers some viable solutions including BYOD: “One solution to is to co-opt the technology most visitors already bring into the museum—smart phones—which they are confident carry only their own germs….Many museums already use apps, IM interfaces and chatbots to interact with the public via smart phones—the pandemic may accelerate the adoption of these communications channels as well.”
If Covid has made visitors more willing to use their own devices to consume interpretive content, the question remains will they pay for it? For many museum’s the revenue generated from selling devices has offset the cost of production, so how do we work around that? Do we up the total ticket price to include mobile tours regardless of visitor’s desire to opt in? Not terribly transparent, I know. Do we search out alternative funding for our content production? Or do we cross our fingers and hope that a nominal up charge will be worth the enhanced experience?
In a recent article on MuseumNext, Jim Richardson posits that the issue is really one of value, posing the question: “Should physical visitors be the only measure of success going forward. Or do the online metrics warrant a bigger role in the annual reporting – not just in a year defined by restrictions on movement but in the long-term future. After all, many institutions have invested enough time and resources in developing their digital platforms, channels and communities, so why shouldn’t those visitors carry the same weight as in-person footfall?”
Can we (museums) shift our model from measuring success by head count or foot traffic to measuring success from downloads?
Richardson suggests looking outside to other successful business models for solutions for monetizing the digital space. He notes that if we present digital and virtual experiences as equally valuable to the physical experience of the on-site visit, the hurdle both internally and publicly might be more easily overcome. “Streaming giant Netflix is able to judge financial success on the growth of its subscriber base. However, real success is actually measured by the frequency of streamed programmes its audience base consumes on a daily basis. This is equally true of the museum sector. Whilst the success of a museum’s output, brand and exhibition quality can be judged by footfall, the value of its collections and associated content can be judged by frequency of engagement by its digital audience. Get the strategy right and repeat engagement and growth in the digital audience can reap huge benefits to a sector that relies on the public to justify funding from available funds.”
We know the desire to consume the content is there, the question remains how do we successfully message the transition to BYOD and monetize if needed? Will people be inclined to pay for content that they view as streaming on a device they already own? I’d be curious to hear from my colleagues across the field about additional research and your institution’s creative delivery solutions.