Northern Ireland Museums Council - visitor profiling project
This is a summary of our Visitor Profiling Pilot project with the Northern Ireland Museum Council. Six museums worked with us to develop a profile for their visitors.
And the brave museums who were up for the challenge of breaking new ground were:
Down County Museum – Downpatrick, F.E. McWilliam Gallery – Banbridge , Newry & Mourne Museum – Newry, Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum – Lisburn, Tower Museum – Derry, and Carrickfergus Museum – Carrickfergus
The full report collating all the data across the participating museums is available but here’s the main findings…
What were the museums visitors like?
Overall, there was a higher proportion of female visitors – 60% compared to 40% male visitors. This was consistent, to varying degrees, across all 6 museums.
Almost half (49%) of the visitors to the museum were aged 55 and over, however there were visitors within each age group. Representation was lowest in the younger age categories (i.e. 16-19 and 20-24).
In terms of ethnicity, the vast majority (95%) of visitors to the museums were white. Very small numbers were reported within the other ethnicity groups and 2% of all respondents declined to answer.
Respondents to the survey were asked if they have any dependents – 59% did not, 39% did and the remaining 2% declined to answer.
Of those who did have dependents, three quarters (75%) have children, while 6% are responsible for an older person/parent, 5% for a person with an illness / disability and 6% declined to answer. A small proportion (9%) stated that they had dependants that fell into some other group – these were most typically a specific family member (e.g. spouse, parent etc.) or combination of children and another family member/person.
These initial findings helped museum teams to get a more accurate picture of who is coming through the doors. Often our perception of who attends can be skewed – especially if we don’t work within the actual exhibition space or on front-of-house.
Tell us a bit more?
Visitors were asked who they attended the museum with that day. They were most likely to have attended with their partner (22%), a friend/colleague (21%), their children (14%), or other family members (13%). A significant proportion (16%) came by themselves and 14% came as part of an organised tour.
Again this small but intriguing insight shows that people will attend museums alone which is not always the case with other arts activities e.g. attending the theatre.
Children visiting the museums were most likely to be aged 11 years or under, but there was a good spread of all age groups represented, with the exception of the 17 to 18 age group which had the lowest representation across all museums. This insight was useful when NIMC began to look into the Playful Museums initiative.
Where are their visitors coming from?
The largest proportion (51%) of the visitors to all museums were local residents (i.e. within a 30 minute travel time). A further 27% were day trippers from within Northern Ireland, 9% were day trippers from outside of Northern Ireland and 13% were overnight visitors staying in a hotel/B&B.
42% of all visitors had a driving time of 15 minutes or under. This ties in with the residential profile of visitors, 47% of whom are local residents.
Bearing in mind that the Community Planning process was happening at the time of this project, information like this was important to show how museums could both serve local ratepayers but also had the potential to bring visitors into their respective council areas, generating income via parking, food, shopping etc.
How do people know about the museums and how often do they come?
When asked how they found out about the museums, 46% of all respondents said it was via ‘word of mouth’. The museums’ websites were the next most common source of information (12%) followed by tourist signage (11%). Sources falling within the ‘other’ category commonly included being a local resident, being a Friend of the museum, or simply passing by and deciding to drop in.
Word of mouth is always near the top of any list of communications channels. Social media offers museums the change to create and manage word of mouth but many of the participating museum struggled to use social media either due to skills and confidence gaps or the parameters of working within council IT policies.
Respondents to the survey were asked if they ever visited the museum before. Just over half (51%) had been before (34% within the last 12 months, and 17% in more than 12 months). A sizable proportion (10%) reported that this was their first ever visit to any museum, while the remaining 39% were visiting the specified museum for the first time.
Respondents who had been to the museums before were asked how many times they had visited. The vast majority (84%) had visited more than once, with 37% visiting more than 5 times. This shows a strong core of re-attendance among loyal visitors. A loyal audience is a valuable asset. Knowing that word of mouth is a key channel for awareness can the museums use their loyal audiences to access new visitors?
Another insight from the research was almost all (98%) visitors agreed that they would be likely to recommend the museum to a friend (73% very likely and 25% likely).
This advocacy and championing of what the museums do is something to appropriately exploit and is something performing arts organisations, who see much lower levels of re-attendance, would look upon enviously.
What motivates the museums’ visitors?
Visitors were asked why they had decided to visit the museum. A range of reasons were reported, but the most the three most commonly cited were:
- To improve their own knowledge (36%)
- Because it’s an enjoyable way to pass time (32%)
- Because they like the museum atmosphere (26%)
In order to understand barriers to visiting the museum, visitors were asked if a number of factors would deter or prevent them from re-attending. Of those who did report a barrier, the three most commonly reported were:
- A lack of time (23%)
- Not knowing what is on (15%)
- Finding it difficult to travel (13%)
Knowing what makes people come and what puts them off them creates a discussion around the different aspects of the experience you are offering. If knowledge is a key motivating factor how can museums create more and engaging ways to increase knowledge? If the atmosphere is the appeal how can that be used to sell the benefits of a tranquil time spent out of a busy day?
So what’s changed?
Staff are using the insight for their own museums to:
- Plan future programming;
- Target groups who currently don’t attend. For example, museums were generally surprised at the low numbers of visitors who reported having a disability – this is something they need to consider;
- Inform future marketing and advertising plans and spend.
- Feedback from visitors showed very high satisfaction levels with museum staff. This is recognition of their hard work and will help boost morale;
- Shape discussions on pricing of museum entry and option of free admittance;
- Inform relevant councils’ Community Plan Action Plans.
The benefit of an audience centric approach are being realised across NI museums but there’s more to do and lots more to discover.