If you’ve ever visited the Brooklyn Museum on a Target First Saturday, you know what a special experience we try to provide for our visitors. Free from 5pm‒11pm the first Saturday of every month, our public programs team puts on one heck of a good time: live music, dancing, art-making, book talks, films, curator tours, you name it. So it may come to you as no surprise that First Saturdays have historically been a challenging time to get visitors to use ASK. On one level, I really don’t blame them; there are so many cool programs going on, it’s tough to choose how to spend your time. Plus, we use most of our attention-grabbing capital on letting people know what, when, and where those cool events are taking place through giant printed schedules, stanchion signs, and handouts.
How do we insert ASK into this eclectic mix? What would get people’s attention during First Saturdays and compel them to download and use the app? We started by simply trying to raise awareness: we distributed dedicated palm cards about the app to as many people as possible.This helped, but didn’t really net a big jump in numbers. We then tried a few different programming ideas:
Even after these tests, however, we still hadn’t landed on a formula that worked. At this point, you might be asking yourself why we didn’t just wave the white flag and move on. Simply put, First Saturdays are our busiest times, with anywhere from 5,000‒12,000 visitors (and occasionally more) over the course of the evening. That’s a lot of potential ASK users. We weren’t ready to give up yet!
After some months of testing these approaches, we held an ASK team meeting and batted around ideas for what to do next. One of the team members (shout out to Roko!) half-jokingly suggested offering people a free drink — after all, First Saturday is like a big party. We all chuckled, but also wondered if that could be the answer. After confirming with our legal counsel that we could, indeed, offer such an incentive, we ran a test doing just that: every 25th user would receive a free drink (beer, wine, soda) on us. We included the incentive on all the printed materials (large printed schedule, handouts) for First Saturdays and also printed dedicated palm cards. Did it work? You bet it did.
The average use rate and number of chats has tripled with the incentive. That’s a staggering figure. What’s more, our engagement is still pretty good. We measure engagement by the average number of exchanges, which in general over the course of the project has improved from about 13 messages in 2015 to 15 in 2016. For First Saturdays before the incentive, we averaged in that 13-message range. With the incentive it’s a bit less, an average of 10. Since one of our big concerns was that people would download the app simply to ask if they won, that’s not too shabby a result. In fact, only a handful of people have cut right to the “did I win?” question. For most, the incentive seems to provide an ready-made excuse to start a conversation, and they keep using it even if they ask (and find out if) they won.
This phenomenon brings to mind an observation ERm made as part of our recent evaluation: some people feel pressure to ask a question, which is contributing to their “app-rehension” (ha-ha). What other kinds of easy ways in might we provide to ameliorate this pressure? We have kicked around the idea of offering other incentives and even a competition around the questions people ask (a great idea from Bloomberg Philanthropies). For now, we’ll continue to offer the drink incentive on First Saturdays and as long as our engagement stays true to the tenets of ASK. After all, it is a party.
Sara Devine joined the Brooklyn Museum as Manager of Interpretive Materials in 2011 and is now Director of Visitor Experience & Engagement. A vocal visitor advocate, her expertise lies in crafting accessible and engaging visitor experiences and reaching audiences across platforms. She works with curators, designers, educators, technologists, and editors on all aspects of visitor experience and engagement. Sara is also a visiting assistant professor and curriculum coordinator at Pratt Institute’s School of Information for their graduate program in Museums and Digital Culture. She was previously Senior Content Developer and Project Manager at Hilferty, a museum planning and design firm in Ohio, where she developed comprehensive interpretive master plans and exhibitions for a wide variety of museums. She has also worked at Assistant Curator, Special Exhibition at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and as a Curatorial Assistant at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.