So you’ve created an audio guide and are excited to spread the word. You might be wondering the best way to get the message across to visitors within your institution. This article will provide a few tips and tricks for encouraging visitors to find and access your museum's stellar audio guide content when they need it.
The most crucial aspect of promoting your audio guide is visibility on site. That means signage, signage, signage! If people don’t know that your audio guide is available, they can’t take advantage of it. The more places that you can advertise the guide, the better, because you don’t know at which point in their visit your audience will become interested in the guides.
Get creative in your placement. We often put the most effort into promoting audio guide content early in the visit (like near the admissions desk), but this may not be the point at which visitors get curious about the guide. Think about your own experience, when are you most curious to learn more about works on view? When I’m standing in front of a work is when I start to develop questions and look for more information. So the label or wall text is another great place to inform visitors that your audio guide is available. I’ve even seen museums like MoMA and the Whitney dedicate full sentences on their labels to encourage visitors to use their audio guide; a specific invitation like “Hear from the artist…” may peak the interest of your visitors.
2. Easy Access
You can make it super simple for visitors to access the guides by deploying QR codes. You may remember the QR code craze in museums about a decade ago, which museums seemed to have quickly pushed under the rug after a series of failed experiments. But QR codes are back. Newer smartphone models have QR code scanners built into their camera functions so they no longer require a separate app to read. This means that by simply pointing your phone’s camera at the code, visitors will be directed to your audio content, which eliminates the additional step of typing in a URL or searching for Gesso in the app store. Check out this great article from staff at the Whitney which discusses their success in using QR codes (and all the various locations they were placed to attract visitor attention).
Along with making sure visitors know that your audio guide exists, it’s also important to communicate the pricing. In a 2019 evaluation at the New Museum, we found that of those who reported that they don’t use audio guides while visiting museums, over 40% of visitors said they didn’t use guides because of the cost. But audio guides on Gesso’s platform are free! If visitors had known this free service provided, they would be more likely to take advantage of it. Your guides are free and easily accessible, so make sure you communicate that with your visitors early and often.
4. Personal Touch
In that same 2019 evaluation, 16% of visitors who did not use audio guides said that it was because they forgot to ask for them at the start of their visit. While that isn’t a huge percentage, imagine the increase in audio guide users if these visitors were invited to use the guide upon their arrival. We simply cannot underestimate the power of our staff in making meaningful experiences at our museums. And when it comes to audio guides a personal invitation can make visitors feel welcome and comfortable using your guide. While the admissions desk can often get hectic, during slower times encourage front-facing staff to remind visitors that audio guides are available (and free). In 2015, the Cooper Hewitt reported an astounding 97% pick-up rate on their digital pen, which they credited to their front-of-house staff honing their “pitch” to visitors, including an explanation of the device and how to use it. This extra attention from staff can be a huge plus in guaranteeing a positive experience with the guide. On that note, it’s important to educate all front-facing staff, like security guards, on how to use your app or mobile guide so that they can confidently answer visitors’ questions when they arise.
One final note, set reasonable expectations for measuring your success. In 2015, Museums and the Web reported across the sector a 3% take-up rate for permanent collection audio guides was standard. While that statistic was provided a few years ago, it’s safe to say that visitor behavior hadn’t changed all that much prior to COVID-19. That said, when measuring the number of visitors who use your audio guide, compare that number to your total visitorship. If you’re at or above a 3% take-up rate, that’s a sign of success. With social distancing precautions in place, however, there is an opportunity to increase the number of users by creatively employing audio guides to manage the flow of visitors and communicate information about your site.
What creative solutions have you found for promoting your audio guides? We’d love to hear more about what you’ve found effective and successful.
1. Chan, S. “5 months with the pen: Data, DATA, Data”: Cooper hewitt Labs. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from https://labs.cooperhewitt.org/2015/5-months-with-the-pen/
2. "An audio state of mind: Understanding behaviour around audio guides and visitor media." MW2015: Museums and the Web 2015. Published February 1, 2015. Consulted March 23, 2021.