Presentation at MW 2016: The National Museum Website Visitor Motivation Survey

I had the honor of presenting an introduction to the National Museum Website Visitor Motivation Survey project at the 2016 Museums and the Web conference in Los Angeles. I shared this honor with my project co-leader, Sarah Wambold, Director of Digital Media at the Clyfford Still Museum. What follows are the slides and speaking notes from our presentation.

List of participating institutions
Participating institutions

We are conducting a study with two dozen museums and cultural organizations across the country.

The project surveys the motivations of visitors to museum websites, based on the framework of visitor motivation developed by museum researcher John Falk. The quantitative data is collected through each institution’s Google Analytics account.

Summary of Falk's framework
Falk’s framework of visitor motivation

In his book Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience, Falk identifies five key types of visitors who attend museums and the internal motivations that drive repeat visitation. These motivations are Explorer, Facilitator, Experience Seeker; Professional/Hobbyist; Recharger.

Clyfford Still homepage with VMS closed
The “closed” VMS

This is what the survey looks like. It appears on every page of the website, pinned to the bottom of the window. Users click it and it opens up.

Clyfford Still homepage with VMS open
The “open” VMS

The survey options are consistent across every institution. But the fonts and color are customized to match the individual site’s design.

The technical implementation is similar to the one used in a website visitor motivation survey by the Indianapolis Museum of Art. That survey was presented here at MW in 2012.

Here’s how it works. First, we configure the Google Analytics account with what’s called a “Custom Dimension.” We then install the VMS user interface on the site. This consists of snippets of HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

We have a version of the code packaged as a WordPress plugin, and a version packaged as a Drupal module. The underlying survey code can be adapted to any platform.

Google Analytics screenshot
Google Analytics filtered by VMS segments

When the visitor chooses a motivation, it sets the Custom Dimension. This is a text string indicating their choice. And that’s the extent of the additional info we’re collecting. The rest is standard Google Analytics. The response is retained for the duration of the browsing session.

Pie chart showing: 18% Explorer, 39% Facilitator, 16% Professional, 17% Recharger, 8% Seeker
Sessions by Motivation, Clyfford Still Museum

Participants are using the data to better understand how visitors are using their website and inform their work at their individual institutions. Here’s a report I ran for the Clyfford Still Museum.

This is website visitor sessions, broken down by motivation. The red area represents the “facilitators,” people who are planning a visit for a group.

One of the things that really resonated with me from Falk’s book is that most museums’ marketing is based on the exhibition schedule, but that most museum visitors have little if any prior knowledge of what’s on. This is particularly true of the Facilitators group, which prompted me to suggest to my institution that our next marketing campaign should be, “Look smart to your friends. Come to the Clyfford Still.”

Bar chart comparing motivations across participating institutions
Sessions by Motivation, All Participants. Graphic by Sarah Wambold

One of the other advantages of this study is the ability to compare data across institutions. Here’s that same “sessions by motivation,” but for all participants. This allows us to spot trends.

In this chart, the “facilitators” are, again, red. As you can see, there’s a fairly consistent breakdown of audience in this way, with Facilitators taking the largest slice of the pie.

But there are also some outliers, which raises interesting questions about what makes those websites unique and what conclusions we can draw from that. We’ve only just begun to unpack the data.

Screenshots of participating institution's homepages
A selection of the participating websites

This is not just a research study, but a community of museums who are looking to better understand their online audiences.

In order to facilitate those conversations, we’ve started a forum on Slack. Professionals from each institution use this forum to ask questions and share knowledge.

We have threads dedicated to better understanding audience behavior; to website redesign projects; and to determining the benchmarks and trends that hold true across institutions.

A huge shout out to all the participants for this study. If you are from one of these institutions, please stand up. [Note: At this point our colleagues stood up and received a round of applause. ] If you’re interested in learning more about the study, please feel free to say “hi” to any of us.

Posted April 2016

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