Apr 16, 2020|Tips|6 minutes

10 tips for launching an app at your museum

How to get your venue Smartify ready

One of the most common questions we get asked at Smartify is how best to promote use of the app. As the world’s most downloaded museum app, Smartify already has a large audience. Nevertheless, we would never assume that visitors will have already downloaded the app. Our current users may also benefit from being reminded that the app is available at a specific venue or about unique content.

Over the past 3 years our team have worked with a wide variety of venues from large Nationals and historic houses, to small Artist Studio Museums, temporary exhibitions and even hotels. Launching the Smartify platform with so many partners has enabled us to ‘crowdsource’ the best communication strategies to promote the app successfully and get visitors excited and empowered to give it a go. It’s not rocket science… but here are the top ten tips for launching Smartify (or any app) at your museum.

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1. Collaborate with volunteers and front of house staff

The importance of volunteers and front of house staff cannot be understated as they act as gatekeepers and enablers to the museum visitor experience. We recommend holding informal staff workshops and demonstration sessions to introduce the app, give staff an opportunity to try it out, and to answer the frequently asked questions. During this workshop we break into small discussion groups and explore the following topics in depth:

· First impressions of the product (opportunities and apprehensions)

· Previous experiences of technology in art gallery and exhibition spaces

· Opportunities for technology to enhance the visitor experience and encourage new visitors

· Reflections on how technology may influence the interaction between visitors and staff/volunteers (both positive and negative)

· Challenges of implementing technology solutions from each function perspective (e.g. IT, marketing and PR, finance, etc)

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· How to overcome some of these challenges

Providing an opportunity for teams to try the app for themselves and listen to their opinions reduce any initial apprehension about new technology. We have found with Smartify that during these sessions many staff quickly echo the positive responses of visitors — highlighting key positives of the app such as its ease of use, giving visitors choice and control in their visit, increasing dwell time by providing additional layers of information, and extending the experience through post-visit reflection on favourites.

Workshops should be written up and distributed as handbooks (online and hard copy) for staff to refer back to.


2. Offer clear signposts

At Smartify we believe in the enduring and mutually supportive symbiosis between physical space and digital offers. Many museum visitors will have ‘threshold fear’ when first entering a museum — they are not sure how to behave or if they can use their phone. It is important to include a sign and and a ‘call-to-action’ to download the free app, placed in a spot you might expect to see a traditional audio guide offering. Overwhelmingly, visitor feedback has told us that signage must be highly visible at front desk and again at the gallery entrance. Non-intrusive visual communication will give the visitor permission to get out their phone and use the app.

3. Use QR codes for fast on-boarding

A QR code is the fastest way to get to the app download page. Get creative by adding the QR codes to the back of t-shirts, on small cards and on staff lanyards. Then, when guides are talking about the app they can quickly present the QR code and visitors arequickly directed to download the app.

4. Include advertising on your Wi-Fi landing page and website

Tech savvy visitors are likely to log on to your venue’s free Wi-Fi. This is a great moment to promote an app with a short text, bold imagery and a link to download page. Similar messaging should be applied to the website within the visitor information sections.

5. Switch-up expectations

Staff and visitors are sometimes concerned around the use of phones in galleries. For example, the museum may not allow photography of artworks for copyright reasons. Instead of approaching visitors with a negative message, why not use an app as a way to open possibilities for the visitor. For example, the messaging could read ‘No photography allowed, but please use our Smartify app to save high-quality images of your favourite works.’

6. Plan a social media campaign

There is so much noise and clutter on social media today that we should not expect potential visitors to stop what they’re doing and listen closely and carefully enough to figure out what you are promoting. When promoting Smartify, we speak clearly about what the app will do for the visitor and include a call-to-action to download the app. Simple videos or photos demonstrating the app work best.

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7. Appoint Digital Ambassadors

Advocacy within the organisation is important in the adoption of any new process. We have seen excellent results when teams identify digital ambassadors who are able to work alongside staff, volunteers and visitors to support the integration of the technology on site. Ambassadors should be trained and confident in the use of the app and importantly, should be effective in sharing their knowledge whist empathising with the range of different experiences and opinions across the museum. Suggested responsibilities could be, for example, pausing with those less familiar and experienced to conduct one to one or small group, hands-on-training in order to bring them up to speed with the functionality of the app. Ambassadors could also share the positive responses of visitors and data captured from the app.

8. Write a press release

Are you the first organisation in your region to use a new technology? Are you adding information in new languages or from a different perspective? Perhaps you have created a tour with a celebrity or are trialing a new feature . Whatever the reason, a traditional press release is a good way to reach local people and advocate internally to your board and key stakeholders.

9. Work with education teams and volunteer groups

One of the many benefits to a digital wall label is how easy it is to change the interpretation text, add video and audio or to create new trails through the collection. At Smartify, we working with education teams, volunteer groups or local students, providing them with tools to open up the traditional voice of the museum and get creative.

10. Continue to iterate

There is no one-size fits all approach to communications. We have worked with the University of Surrey’s Hospitality and Tourism department to produce a full report on integrating Smartify into a new institution. We continue this research this area and encourage all our partners to regularly review the communication strategy. The most important thing is to keep a constant dialogue with staff on front desk and in the galleries to ensure any issues are raised and dealt with and that everyone feels able to suggest new ideas.

written by

Anna Lowe

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