Big Data and the Art of Survival: How Museums are Using Data to Thrive

Industry · September 13, 2017

Big Data and the Art of Survival: How Museums are Using Data to Thrive

Cultural institutions face many pressures: Technology is constantly changing. Visitors tastes and expectations are evolving. Fluctuating economic and political environments can destabilize funding. In a time of uncertainty and change, museums and other cultural institutions must focus on the things that all businesses do: enhancing efficiencies and increasing revenue. But where should they start? Data.

“Hello world, I’m data!”

So, what is big data? A term coined in the early 2000s, big data is the large volume of data that inundates businesses on a day-to-day level.  Data by itself doesn’t mean much. It’s what you do with data that’s important. Collecting data through wifi, internal software, or through visitors’ cellular devices, there is a host of things museums can learn about their own operations and visitor behavior. This information can be used to not only tailor visitors’ experience but use museum dollars more wisely..

So, what big data are we talking about and how can it be used?

Using Data to Trim the Fat

From tailoring exhibits to making sure you are reaching the right audience with your message, data can help increase revenue, make operations more efficient, and use each dollar more effectively so that people can visit museums for generations to come.

Take The Art Institute of Chicago. They spent time and resources to create an internal method of looking at attendance data. At first glance, nothing jumped out, but looking at the data a different way, a pattern emerged.

For example, US tourist volume from fly markets (i.e., 8 or more hours from Chicago) follows a seasonal pattern that is only marginally dependent on exhibitions, while member attendance is relatively flat outside of major exhibitions,” said Andrew Simnick, Senior Vice President for Finance, Strategy, and Operations at The Art Institute of Chicago in an article he penned about data.

Two years after painstakingly creating a tool to analyze attendance data, the museum generated $2 million dollars in net revenue from marketing and content decisions that were made based on data analysis.

Museums are using all sorts of data to save money and enhance visitors’ experience. Heat maps can be used to analyze where visitors go in your museum and how long they stay. Want members to stay at your permanent collections for longer? Now you can measure what interpretive experiments work or don’t work. Data can be used to track social media’s effect on ticket sales, find out where guests go before and after their visit, and a whole host of other things.

So this data stuff…how do I get it?

Museums can collect data through wifi networks, software, or through cellular phones. Collecting data through cell phones is the new frontier of turning a vast sea potential of data into increased ticket sales and lowering visitor acquisition costs. Many cultural institutions already have a ton of data but don’t have time to go through it and make it useful. That’s why museums are turning to the private sector to optimize data. Using a tool that is in everyone’s pockets, museums can hone the visitor experience, tailoring content to the right audience, and driving ticket and event sales all at once. The question is: how is your cultural institution leveraging data to create the lean, mean museums of the future?