Want to Engage Museum Visitors? Keep Them Glued to Their Smartphones

Here's a prediction. In the somewhat distant future, Bloomberg Philanthropies (BP) will help fund the creation of a microchip that when implanted in the human head will provide the individual with a first-rate, fully curated museum experience of their choice—all without leaving the couch. 

A husband will turn to his wife and say, "Honey? Shall we peruse the Tate today?" And off they'll go.

Recent news out of New York suggests that while we're not there yet, perhaps the aforementioned scenario isn't too far fetched after all.

BP announced the launch of its ASK Brooklyn Museum app, which enhances access and engagement by enabling visitors to interact with museum experts in real time. The app falls under BP's Bloomberg Connects program, which not coincidentally, uses technology to improve the museum-going experience. If any of this sounds familiar, it's because over a year and a half ago we noted that BP committed an addition $17 million over three years to expand the program in six institutions, including the Brooklyn Museum. 

We are now clearly seeing the fruits of this investment. 

So how does the app work, exactly? In a nutshell, the ASK app facilitates dialogue between visitors and the museum's Audience Engagement staff, a dedicated team of experienced art historians, researches, and educations. (Tangentially speaking, we picture Michael Bloomberg, ever the businessman, nodding in approval upon hearing of the existence of an Audience Engagement department. After all, if you want to boost audience engagement, then you need to have a department devoted to boosting audience engagement, right?) 

Using "location-aware technology," the ASK app locates users in relation to works of art on view, which then enables the experts to better answer questions and recommend other objects of interest. 

Now, when we first read that sentence we thought, "Hmm…the app knows a visitor's location at all times? That's a little creepy." (Full disclosure: 73% of IP writers can be described a "technology laggards.")

But knowing a visitor's location—among an array of other trackable goodies—is precisely the point. To fully optimize the visitor experience, as Bloomberg and any good businessperson knows, you need data. Lots of it. And by crunching the data, the museum's directors can create a more compelling user experience. 

"We have the opportunity to really learn what works of art interests our visitors. What kinds of questions they are asking, and the observations they are making in a more comprehensive way than ever before," said museum reps Anne Pasternak, Shelby White, and Leon Levy.

Again, none of this should come as any surprise. This is Bloomberg Philanthropies, after all, one of the biggest champions of big data in the arts philanthropy world. Which leads us to our final question: Is the app working as advertised? Preliminary findings suggest the answer is yes. 

"On average, users send 13 messages within a single conversation and 20% of the users asked questions in six galleries or more. Early adopters of the iOS version of the ASK app have initiated close to 4,000 conversations over the last year resulting in more than 2,800 individual questions being categorized with corresponding object identification," said Shelley Bernstein, Vice Director of Digital Engagement and Technology.

"Visitor-driven conversation is working to deliver a better visitor experience overall and will continue to in the years to come." Or until, we presume, that microchip is ready for market.