At the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), Silvia Filippini-Fantoni manages the Interpretation, Media and Evaluation Department, which is responsible for the development of analogue and digital interpretive content about the permanent collection, temporary exhibitions, and historic properties as well as audience research and evaluation.
Silvia talked with us about how museums can identify and better understand their online audiences.
Technology can help museums engage younger audiences as well as expand communications beyond those who visit the physical buildings. But technology projects can also be expensive. In order to invest funds wisely, museums must first know why and how people are using technology. Only then can museums build effective digital experiences that support a specific need. Research should also be an ongoing process: conducted before, during (e.g., through prototype testing), and after a digital project launches.
In recent years, the IMA has increased the resources it puts towards audience evaluation (including both online and physical visitors). A full team was put in place to conduct research, including four research associates, one data analyst, and several contractors to help with data collection.
One example of formative studies conducted at the IMA is ongoing research about people’s motivation for visiting the website and how motivation impacts behavior. The IMA team has used a hybrid model to combine short online surveys (conducted using the inexpensive SurveyMonkey tool) with free Google Analytics data, essentially linking survey answers with data the survey taker’s web behavior. See this published paper from Museums and the Web 2012 for more details about the IMA’s methodology and subsequent research findings.
The results of online research have influenced redevelopment of the IMA website, including:
- redesigned information architecture and navigation
- clustered content areas based on the motivations of web visitors (such as finding specific information or planning a visit)
- better cross-referencing to drive people to less visited areas of the site (e.g., collections and exhibitions)
- reduced time required to complete a transaction (such as purchasing tickets)
An increase in website visits from mobile devices influenced the IMA’s decision to move to a responsive website design. On a mobile device, it can be easy to get lost in a website with deep navigation, therefore, the redesigned site was reduced to 3 levels deep (rather than 5, as was the case prior to the redesign). The IMA is working on more improvements based on ongoing audience research, such as simplifying the online calendar and improving the search experience.
In seeking to better understand their audiences, the IMA has also looked at the differences between on-site and online visitors . . . and found very few differences. The key divergences are age (online visitors skew younger) and social groups (online visitors tend to visit individually while on-site visitors are more likely to come in groups). The website also reaches a wider swath of the population in terms of place of residence (more international).
Moving forward, Silvia is excited to bring design-thinking strategies to the IMA, working to better involve visitors in the development process.