Building Engagement at Scale

Museums have a problem. Facing financial challenges, many are being asked to justify and quantify their impact to the communities they serve while knowing relatively little about their visitors. The understanding of visitor behavior in museums significantly lags common practice in the commercial sector and fails to provide adequate insight into how best to achieve the field’s mission imperatives. With a focus on overly simplistic attendance statistics, most museums invest little in the detailed understanding of the actions, experiences, and ongoing participation of visitors once they enter the building. Despite occasional excellent probe studies that provide some insight into the relative success of programs, didactics, and interactives in the galleries, these efforts are minimal and episodic, with tools that are crude and insufficient for knowing how to achieve long-term relevance.

Seeking to address these conditions, and needing a method to measure engagement with its audiences, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) created an engagement platform called DMA Friends that launched on January 21, 2013, as both a technology platform and a series of visitor experience changes at the museum. Bearing many similarities to loyalty and affiliate programs in other industries, the DMA Friends platform encourages repeat visitation and long-term relationship-building. By suggesting a menu of participation experiences for visitors and awarding credit and recognition for their involvement, the DMA has created an experience economy expressly aimed at promoting repeat visitor engagement across a broad audience.

To date, more than 110,000 individuals have joined the program, with a running average of 600 new friends per week, primarily from a local audience. Becoming a DMA Friend requires direct on-site enrollment and connection to Museum staff, making the enrollment statistics an important measure of local adoption.

In addition to providing a means for the staff of the Museum to structure and measure its performance for generating engagement, the DMA Friends program also generates copious amounts of data about the behavior of individuals as they connect with the Museum’s collections and programs. Truly one of the few big data problems in the museum-space, the Friends program generates millions of rows of data annually and provides the basis for an analytical framework for an engaged museum experience.

Read more about the DMA Friends program in the following:

Or reference the following Slideshare presentation to get an overview.


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