Virtual visitors: How museums can engage those who have never stepped foot through their door

Jul 2019

Virtual visitors: How museums can engage those who have never stepped foot through their door

Years ago, if you wanted to see something in a museum, gallery or library, you’d have to physically make the trip there – there’d be no way about it, and so sometimes we’d have to be prepared to travel far and wide to engage with precious artefacts.

Yet, with the advent of the internet in the late twentieth century, and with its use soaring beyond incomprehensible levels today, the much more interconnected world we operate in has encouraged many museums to capitalise on digital trends, and digitise their archives rapidly and at length.

Whilst there is no replica for being physically in a museum, and viewing the artefacts up close in person, digital archives are a fantastic alternative to create engagement with the contents of archives across the globe – to audiences who would have never been able to step foot inside a museum.

These digital archives have the potential to reach masses and generate a whole host of ‘virtual visitors’. Yet, it is important to realise that in order to gain and maintain this traction, the archives need to adhere to three essential components : a clean digital platform, with well-organised content that can be licensed effortlessly. 


Creating a clean, digital platform

You may have a the most interesting archive in the world, but if you are displaying on a lacklustre, difficult to navigate site, then you can’t expect anyone to stay around for long and delve deeper. A well-designed platform is crucial to attracting and capturing the attention of your virtual visitors. Simon Mallindine, Chief Technology Officer at Capture, argues that a clean website theme is crucial for an enhanced user experience. Adding different layouts and certain colours to suit the character of your archive can ensure that is doesn't appear to be a 'cookie cutter' replica of everything else out there, but Simon advises ' keep the design simple, clean and consistent in order to let your content do the talking'.

Achieving an organised archive

Chances are, no matter how niche your archive, it will encompass different topics and themes – perhaps its divisional by different geographies, eras, social movements or media type. Drilling down your content and organising it into groups, and subgroups, will provide clarity for your virtual visitor.

Clean organisation of an archive allows museums, galleries and libraries to show off all the different, varied material they own, and helps guide visitors to find what they are looking for, without having to crawl through hundreds, thousands or millions of assets.

Once these curated collections or galleries exist, it makes simple marketing and promotional activities all the more easy. Something as straightforward  as a 'collection of the week' that features on your homepage is a way of simply circulating your content in front of visitors, exposing them to topical or new content.


Make licensing quick and simple

In today’s world the need for increased speed in all forms of digital has been fuelled by the more general demands of society. We are becoming less willing to wait, simply because we don’t have to - evidenced by the insistence of next-day delivery and instant downloads.

If you license your content, it is important that the same principles apply to your digital platform, which acts as the 'shop window' to your archive. Don't put off users by making them jump through hoops to licence content - save both your customer and yourself precious time by providing quick licensing options. Having eCommerce functionality built into your platform enables users to quickly identify and select the desired license option, and be able to make payment and receive their licence instantly.

Of course, for more complex requirements, customers can still get in touch, but to bring simplicity and speed, quick licensing options are a great way to delight your customers. Those who had a great experience will no doubt return again.



Therefore, in a world that is becoming increasingly digital, museums have huge potential to jump on the digital bandwagon and ensure that their content is not confined to a shelve in the museum, but in fact readily available to all around the globe. However - in order to successfully do this - museums must pay attention to how they portray their archives online; using simple but effective web design, organising archives into functional collections and meeting demands for speed and simplicity when it comes to licensing, will help to gain, maintain and grow virtual visitors.



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