How can small museums be found – clever and cheap ways to increase museum attendance

Almost ten years ago, I attended an exchange programme at Sophia Antipolis University in Nice. Spending a month on the Côte d’Azur, I wanted to experience things beyond the typical must-sees. The local tourism offices provided only the standard lists of tourist locations, like the Palais des Festivals in Cannes or the perfume factories in Grasse. However, the best tips I received from a co-student. Among others, he advised me to see the Villa Kerylos on the seaside between Nice and Monaco. This visit became one of the highlights of my exchange programme.

When travelling to a new place today, there are a lot of online tools which can help to find these hidden jewels. Airbnb offers Airbnb Experiences, providing special tours in a given destination. Google has its Google Trips application, offering suggestions for things to see and do nearby. izi.TRAVEL offers audio-guides from local guides and cultural heritage sites, suggesting special tours in the neighbourhood.
Being on the other side – if you run a small museum and want it to be found? This concerns museums with a small collection and without famous artefacts, especially if located off the beaten track. In this case, it might be a good strategy to identify suitable online tools which could help attract visitors to your institution.
Here is a short overview of how a small museum might be found by visitors in the digital age:
1.     Create and maintain an attractive website: websites should be simple to navigate, have a mobile version and – ideally – contain a feature enabling buying tickets online.
2.     Invest in Search Engine Optimisation. Read this quick guide to understand the basics.
3.     Set up a Google My Business account.
4.     Create an account in TripAdvisor.
5.     Create and maintain social media accounts, especially those relevant in your region (e.g. Facebook and Instagram in German-speaking countries). Allow a peek behind the walls of your exhibition, introduce your staff and especially engage with your target audience. If possible, create short videos (e.g. with Filmora) and post them on Youtube and other social media.
6.     Get to know your local tour guides, bloggers, Airbnb hosts, hotel managers, taxi operators, etc. Create special events and suggest cooperations.
7.     Consider creating content for an audio guide platform (e.g. izi.TRAVEL) together with other cultural heritage sites nearby to attract tourists visiting the region.
8.     If you do not mind digitising your collection and sharing it with the public, consider publishing some artworks and stories at the Google Cultural Institute. They offer various other opportunities for museums for free.
9.     Consider including digital publications about your temporary exhibitions to your website. Städel museum did an excellent job with digitorials. A free alternative which can be embedded to your website are Sway presentations. They are easy to use and scalable to all types of screens.
10.  If you have some budget for advertising, consider digital advertisements in Facebook, AdWords and upvotes in Google My Business and TripAdvisor.
Beyond the digital world, you should, of course, create strong links to your local community. Closely cooperate with local transport providers, regional tourist authorities, hotels, restaurants, cafés and other local attractions. If it is relevant for your country or region, consider an integration into local/regional/national tourism cards. As a small museum, it is hard to be found. But sticking together with the local community will help you get higher in search ranks.
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