5 Secret Ingredients for Audience Engagement in Museums

In a previous article, we shared with you 12 Gamification examples regarding the transformation of visitor experience in museums. That article showed a diversity of initiatives from museums to foster audience engagement. However, it also revealed that these initiatives did not engage visitors in the medium to long run. This is a pity as museums want people to come back to their collections again and again.

So how can we craft museum experiences that create long-term audience engagement thanks to gamification? Find out below in 5 easy steps.

Creating long-term audience engagement is no easy task. Actually, there is a common misconception that if you slap points, badges and leader boards on top of an experience, the magic powers of games will apply and the experience will suddenly be engaging. This error explains a lot of the failures of gamified products and services on the market. In fact, to be successful, gamification design must be at the core of an experience. It is not a coat of varnish.

At the Octalysis Group, we have developed the Octalysis 5 Step Implementation Process to bring high ROI to our clients. Here is how we would apply this process to foster long-term audience engagement in museums.


Step 1: It’s not all about the fun.

It sounds appealing to make a fun experience for your visitors. I mean, that is why they come to museums in the first place, right? Well, yes, but there are things you want these visitors to do: like come more often, or share with their friends on social media. To ensure that the experience is not just fun but also gets visitors to do what you would like them to do, we need to look at the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard first. It is a document that compiles all essential data about a project. 

“What type of information?” you ask.

The Octalysis Strategy Dashboard for audience engagement in museums

Business Metrics

First of all, gamification is not all about fun. It must serve a business objective. That is why we help our clients define and prioritize their Business Metrics: what they wish to achieve thanks to gamification. For a museum, this could be anything like increasing the number of visits or the visitor satisfaction rate, selling souvenirs, improving visitor flow within the museum, or reaching out to a new public.


The next key to audience engagement is to focus on the target user group(s): the Players. Who are they? What drives them? We create personas and run a detailed Octalysis analysis of their motivations. (For more about the Octalysis framework, see this article). A museum might want to attract gen Z visitors, seniors, families, young couples, or people within a certain income bracket.

Desired Actions

Then, we help our clients define a set of Desired Actions. Desired Actions are the activities users should take to empower the organisation’s chosen Business Metrics. They must be detailed (no action is too small to be listed) and ordered chronologically within the user journey. For a museum, Desired Actions may include planning their visit, buying entrance tickets, interacting with a variety of art works, taking pictures, visiting the gift shop, answering surveys, recommending exhibitions to friends, making donations…


That’s not all! It is essential for audience engagement that performing Desired Actions leads users to a Win-State which reinforces the behaviour. It is thus essential to define what types of Rewards can be given to visitors for their engagement. For a museum, these rewards could include gifts, coupons, exclusive access to exhibits or online content, social status, personalised offers…

Feedback Mechanics

Finally, we must define what Feedback Vehicles are available to help users keep track of their progress towards any given Win-State. For a museum, these vehicles can include physical signs and staff onsite, advertisements, a website, e-mails or social media platforms.


Step 2: The right ideas for the right purposes

audience engagement in museums: features fitted to the Desired Actions

Once we have defined all of the elements of the Strategy Dashboard, we can move on to brainstorming ideas. 

You might think it’s easy. After all, you have at least 12 ideas of how to implement gamification in a museum. You can just get inspired from successful competitors, right? 


In fact, even the best ideas can fail to engage users when they don’t fit their context. There’s no point trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. You must specifically tailor your features to empower YOUR Desired Actions and leverage user motivation across each phase of the user experience.

Indeed, creating long-term audience engagement requires a deep understanding of human motivation and how it evolves along the user journey. In fact, at the Octalysis Group, we consider each user journey as being composed of four different experiences: from Discovery, to Onboarding, to Scaffolding and finally Endgame (More about the 4 phases in this article).

Here are a few examples of brainstorming ideas for a museum app:

  • If a museum wishes to fluidify visitor traffic, the app should give visitors real-time feedback on the business of various exhibits and recommend the quieter exhibitions. It could also encourage recurrent users to plan their visits to specific exhibitions according to visitor-flow data.
  • If a museum wants to encourage repeated visits, they could let users keep track of their previous visits and of the changes among the exhibitions. They may also encourage users to collect virtual goods that rotate weekly to obtain special rewards. 
  • If a museum wants to increase word of mouth, we could recommend empowering visitors to take pictures at the museum and share them on social media to enter a competition.

You got the idea. Gamification possibilities are endless, but they must be tailored to the situation to create audience engagement. And they must take into account various experience phases to maintain this engagement overtime.


Step 3: Making wise choices

audience engagement in museums: selecting features

While possibilities are endless, financial and technical capabilities generally aren’t.

So here comes a dilemma: how do you choose which ideas to implement? It can be pretty hard to come up with objective criteria for idea selection.

That’s why we have the third step of the Octalysis 5 Step Implementation Process: the Power-Ease Feature List. We list all features from the brainstorming and give them two scores:

  • Power: how much does this feature motivate users and empower the Desired Action?
  • Ease: how much technical, financial or labour resources does it require?

These scores help us select objectively the best ideas for each phase of the experience.

By this time, you should have created what we call a Game Loop: a set of synergetic features that encourage users to repeat the Desired Actions and remain engaged over time. A sound game loop is key to creating audience engagement.

We generally propose several iterations of this game loop: from a simplified MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to a complex ideal experience.


Step 4: Balance is key

audience engagement in museums: balancing the experience

Ok. So you have selected powerful features with strong synergies. But your job is not over yet. Actually, the hardest part of design is yet to come: balancing and pacing the user experience.

That’s right, even the most engaging features, best suited to your Desired Actions, can be a failure if they are out of balance.

Make progression too easy and your audience will feel bored. Make it too hard and they will be frustrated. So you need to fine tune your experience until you find the sweet spot between boredom and frustration: Flow. Flow is a state where users feel deeply engaged in an activity.

So, to ensure such balance in our clients’ projects, we develop what we call a Battleplan: a document that contains all the data needed to develop the back-end of the experience. For example, if a museum decides to have visitors collect a variety of virtual goods, we will need to detail a variety of factors:

  • The triggers for their appearance: they might be influenced by a rarity factor, or by the user’s status and actions.
  • The rules for their rotation: Daily, weekly, monthly? Geographical rotation in the museum?
  • The rewards associated with them: Different rewards? Claimed by users or given automatically? What happens when a user collects the same item twice?


Step 5: Bring your design to life

You’re almost there. You have designed a balanced experience, composed of the best features to encourage your audience to perform targeted Desired Actions. Now, the last step is to design the visual/physical representation of this experience though wireframing and prototyping. This step is crucial to securing audience engagement: it embodies the intended look and feel of the experience. Navigation must be clear and effortless, and the visual identity must connect all elements.

At the Octalysis Group, we create high-fidelity mock-ups of every screen of the designed experience and a clickable prototype showing the user flow between these screens. This is the final deliverable that we give to our client. They use it to develop the front-end of the experience.

Here are examples of screens we could design when working with a museum:

audience engagement in museums: wireframe screens prototype

Reminder: this only represents a fragment of wireframes, focusing on 2 Desired Actions: interacting with various art works and buying souvenirs.

In fact, wireframes often include hundreds of screens, detailing the design for every single feature and covering all the Desired Actions.


Key takeaway

When done right, gamification can help organisations solve a plethora of engagement-related issues. It is a promising tool for audience engagement in museums. However, gamification is NOT child’s play and mistakes are easily made. Indeed, designing for engagement requires a deep understanding of business objectives, human motivations, user experience and behavioural science. Thus, it might be daunting to firms unfamiliar with any of these subjects.

At the Octalysis Group, we help our clients achieve high ROI in their audience engagement projects by bringing in our expertise in Behavioural Design and our tried-and-tested design process. We create unique, engaging experiences to tackle unique business challenges.

If you would like to know more about our work, reach out to us at albertine@octalysisgroup.com

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