Museums now operate across three spheres: their physical site; online (via websites and social media) and in the mobile world. How do each of these spheres intersect? How can museums add value across the three to enhance their relationships with audiences? 

Reading through several discussion threads on Twitter, preparing for a talk in Taipei and being in a set of interesting meetings during the week, I have been thinking a lot about where museums are going, the worlds in which they operate and how they will need to think differently about audience engagement.

Museums will always have physical sites – collections are fundamental to their very being. Despite what science centres and virtual museums might say, it is really our “stuff” that is our point of difference in the increasingly crowded leisure market, and what our audiences are coming to our physical sites to see and experience. However, all trends point to the growing use of the web and social media in communicating, networking, building community and sourcing information. As well, mobile continues to increase as more and more people have smartphones and are using them to connect with museum content (see for example Burnette, et al 2011, and my posts on Museum 2.U about our web stats).

The challenge here is to think about how each of these spheres adds value to the holistic experience people have with museums and how we can link them across each. No longer can museums afford to have fleeting, once-only interactions with people who either walk through their doors, who download content from their websites, who like a post on a their Facebook pages, who blog about their visit or who choose to download an app to their mobile device. What strategies do museums have in place to maximise their presence across these three spheres and what does this mean for how we provide meaningful programs and services to our audiences wherever they are and however they choose to interact with us?

I don’t have the answers at the moment and I think this is an evolving conversation. I am very interested in your thoughts?