Sleuthing Clues about the Future from Visitor Interaction

Things have been pretty quiet over here for a while—have you noticed?  We had been blogging our progress on ASK weekly and in my last post we were talking about the experimentation and prototyping we’d been doing with the ASK team on the floor. So, where did we land?

Let’s start with our status of engagement. Visitors have been using the app and are having great experiences as evidenced by five star reviews in the app store and feedback we are getting directly through the in-app conversations. Use has remained mostly consistent from our earlier findings—a soft launch without much marketing is yielding a 1-2% use rate and we’ve had a little over 2600 conversations thus far. Visitors are taking the app through multiple galleries and, on average, asking questions in at least two spaces. The power user average—defined as those who ask questions in three or more galleries—are asking questions, on average, in six galleries and these users represent 18.79% of our total. Conversations are fairly deep with chats consisting, on average, of 13 messages back and forth. One of the most compelling things we’ve seen is that people using the app can remember—sometimes days later—the names of the ASK team who helped them. Beyond any numerical statistic, this particular trend shows us that the exchanges are both personal and meaningful in a way that is similar to face to face communication. That’s a big win for this app and something I’m incredibly proud of; it also shows just how great the ASK team members are at their jobs of engaging the public.

Coming into the museum there's not much telling visitors we have an app, but that marketing plan is something we've been working on.

Coming into the museum there’s not much telling visitors we have an app, but that marketing plan is something we’ve been working on.

Having said all that we’ll also tell you that if you’ve come to the museum lately you have not seen the ASK team interacting on the floor. From earlier posts, you know we had done a lot of prototyping work with the team in various locations and found that the best spot was likely going to be a somewhere mid-visit. Finding a place for the team in the heart of the museum’s spaces has been a challenge and with new institutional direction the galleries are changing considerably; essentially, we know what kind of home they need, but right now is not the most ideal time to be building it. This means the team is working behind the scenes and, to my own surprise, this does not seem to be affecting the actual user experience. If anything, the team is finding they are more equipped to handle incoming questions via the app because there are no additional distractions and they can communicate amongst themselves more effectively.

One issue in having the team off the floor is the lack of visibility in the museum. If you walked into the Brooklyn Museum today, you’d be hard pressed to know we have an app because we just don’t have much marketing and we are heavily relying on the front desk staff to tell people about it. That will change, however, in late spring when we do a more formal launch which will include a version for Android. This marketing plan is one of the most important things we are working on right now. Given what we are seeing with the engagement and the current institutional goals, the thought is we should let the marketing do the job of building awareness while the team thinks about other ways to engage on site. This might translate to meeting and greeting the public through public programming instead of a permanent presence on the floor.

What else have we been doing? This is a three year project—year one was about getting mobile into the hands of visitors, year two is figuring out what the interactions teach us, and year three is still very much a work in progress. The single most important thing we’ve been doing is data review because what we learn from the ASK interactions and how that could transform the visitor experience is at this initiative’s core.

Data review meeting between the ASK team and our curators in European art.

Marina Klinger, the ASK Curatorial Liaison, has been organizing and leading data review meetings between the ASK team and our curators.

To this end, we’ve been meeting with curators in every single collection. Curators are given “snippet reports” which contain each exchange we’ve had with visitors on every object in their collection and these reports represent one of the deepest and richest data sets I’ve ever seen. We export exchanges into Google Docs (using their API) and share with curatorial teams who can comment on the conversations. We then have followup meetings to discuss the data. This process gets the interaction to curators, but it also serves our ongoing need to train the ASK team; curators can tell us where answers might need improvement and make sure we are aligned with curatorial vision. Already we are hearing the data is giving curatorial staff some key learnings which may help them think about visitor experience as they reinstall and/or make changes to galleries. We are also taking this opportunity to find out how often curators would like reports, how we can make reporting more efficient, and how reporting may need to differ from permanent collection galleries to special exhibitions.

So, while it may seem like we’ve been quiet over here, we’ve been steadily working away and making decent progress on this year two of learning from the interaction. It’s pretty critical to move through this year with great measure because what we learn at this stage helps us figure out what we want year three of ASK to be, so you may see us blogging less frequently, but you’ll find when we do we’ve got a lot of information to share. Speaking of, Sara will be up next to talk about similar meetings with education staff, engagement strategy, and the introduction of new staff members.

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