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Dinosaur to Digital: A Museum Convergance Success Story (SXSW Recap)

This session’s description of itself best sums it up: a case study on how the California Academy of Sciences – a traditional museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park — transformed itself into a global online education and research presence and integral social hub for the City, using the best tools and techniques of technology, social media and design.

Jonathan Denholtz, the museum’s director of interactive media and Maria Gidudice, a designer who consults with the museum, explained how they transformed an “150-year-old dusty institution into an organization that’s committed to experiential 21st century learning.”

Sound familiar, higher education friends? 

Their approach covers 4 main phases of a museum visitor’s experience:

  • Inspire (pre-visit)
  • Enhance (during)
  • Extend (post-visit)
  • Export (the virtual experience)

Unfortunately Denholtz and Gidudice were a little too giving with the crowd, so audience questions took over the session and we didn’t hear about the museum’s in-depth approach in each of these areas. But even without that it’s a thoughtful example of a way to frame your audience.

Here’s what they did get to:

Inspire (pre-visit)

  • 70 percent of a museum’s revenue comes from the admissions gate. This is good during the first year, but more challenging as traffic levels off.
  • CAS uses the web, mobile, social media and hybrid exhibits
  • Segmenting the audience
    -CAS uses social media to target 20-30 somethings to publicize Night Life – Thursday evening parties where you pay $12 for a DJ and dancing at the museum. They also sell drinks. Attract 3,000 people every week.

Enhance (during the visit)

  • How do you focus on an experience and not just information?
  • Audio tours for CAS haven’t been super successful. Now they’re trying downloadable tours built around specific themes. Connects different exhibits while giving people a reason to come back multiple times.
  • Look at user-generated vs. curated content
  • What is the epic win for the user?

Export (virtual experience)

  • The museum can only hold 2 million visitors annually, so how can they reach more people?
  • Your Web site can be more than just an information repository. Create new, compelling content that keeps people coming back.

Photo by Kevin Dooley

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I write what I know (and love). Mostly higher education, writing and public relations.