Despite recent advances, museums still have a problem. They know relatively little about their visitors, and their understanding of how best to influence visitor behavior significantly lags common practice in other sectors. Behavioral analysis of visitors to museums typically starts with attendance statistics and frequently involves staff-administered surveys, but is seldom broad or frequent enough to aid in the continuous improvement of museum practice. As a result, the knowledge we have of our visitors is minimal and episodic, and our tools are crude and inefficient.
In 2012, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) launched an effort to transparently and continuously monitor the long-term engagement of visitors with the museum. Dubbed DMA Friends, the approach emphasizes the repeat participation of visitors with the museum’s collections and programs, offering customized rewards in return for frequent engagement. This scalable and flexible digital platform gives the museum the ability to track individual activity, with nearly fifty thousand unique visitors joining in the first year.
In this paper, the authors provide a detailed analysis of the data gathered to date concerning the adoption and visitor engagement generated by the DMA Friends program. The paper also proposes new methods for the real-time collection and analysis of in-gallery engagement data, and investigates statistical trends and correlations that can be used by museums to enhance the impact of their engagement programming. And while the program has exceeded our initial hopes and expectations, the results from several qualitative surveys and in-depth interviews with members of the DMA Friends program suggest a path for several important improvements.