Importance of Highlighting Digital Engagement for the Audience in Digital Strategies

April 27, 2019 - All

Caroline Baer


Cooper Hewitt

With digital strategies becoming more and more prominent as part of museum planning, it is important to consider all that can be involved with them. The behind-the-scenes work in the museum is vital to its running. The data collection, digitization, increase of social media, and updated and easy-to-run websites are all pieces that help museums go forward and keep up with today’s world. Digital strategies tend to highlight these aspects, and they are essential to the 21st-century museum. Yet, there is another side to the importance of a well-rounded digital strategy, and that is what the audience encounters while they are actually in the museum. There are many opportunities to engage audiences during their visits, and digital technology is a great way to that. Many museums are creating ways of engaging their audiences through emerging technology in the space. While there are also challenges to the usage of emerging technology, it remains a vital piece of digital strategy for audience engagement.


One of the reasons that providing a focus on digital engagement for the audience in the actual museum space is the concept on how the museum visitor is changing. For example, when Lynda Kelly was working for the Australian National Maritime Museum, she wrote about this type of concept in her article, “The (post) digital visitor: What has (almost) twenty years of museum audience research revealed?” The concept highlights that there is going to be a major change in the type of audience the museum is going to see as time goes on. Kelly explains this as how museum audiences, generally speaking, are well-informed and well-traveled; they are more engaged in their surroundings and more diverse than previous groups. This group appreciates new ways of learning, and so a new ear is marched in. Kelly explains that the (post) digital visitors are going to be more mobile where they can access information when and where they want to. Information needs to be constantly accessible and delivered to them directly and instantly. Finally, the major point Kelly makes about the audience that shows the importance of digital engagement is, “Finally, the (post) digital visitors will not be necessarily tied to…, ‘traditional forms of cultural transmission’ (p. 37), and will be relating to museums in two-dimensional ways as active participants, rather than passive receivers of content and information — in this they will be architects of their own learning” (Kelly). The audience’s development to want to be involved in the exhibits causes a movement of museum professionals to create ways and content to allow this, causing digital strategies highlighting the importance of this interactivity to be important for the future.


As museums continually increase their digital engagement, it also becomes a major piece in their digital strategies. Since one of the major purposes of museums is to relate the audience to their collection through education and engagement, making the audience a central piece in strategy is also vital. AS the world becomes more and more technology-oriented, digital engagement will increasingly become and a more and more important piece of museum life. This causes the concept of having digital engagement for the audience as a major piece in digital strategy and planning to be important. If the museum is going to help the audience engage digitally with their collection and content, then there must be a strategy behind it to help this concept move forward.

For Instance, The Tate has an entire section devoted to what they hope the audience will gain from their digital engagement in their 2013–2015 strategic plan. The overarching ideals speak to the audiences having access to explore deeper content and thought-provoking information that increases the enjoyment of the art. In the galleries, they want the audience experience to be transformed. Wi-Fi access in the galleries will help in allowing patrons to access content that they want to see, as well as have access to content the museum offers and wants them to interact with during their visit. Tate highlights that their website will have extensions designed for use inside their galleries; this leads to a new participatory experience that involves the audience using their own devices and accessing the information the museum wants them to see. It adds an aspect of interpretation to the collection in a digital way that the audience can access in a personal way. They also wanted to have staff have access and share information with the audience through tablets; this also allows a personal touch through digital technology that can be considered the best of both worlds. Beyond Wi-Fi and access to information from the audiences’ personal devices, Tate also planned digital learning studios for audience engagement. Digitization of sketchbooks and scrapbooks of artists will also be hooked to touchscreens for the audience to interact with while in the collection. They also plan to allow interactive comment walls (also linked with social media) that will allow audiences to share their thoughts and opinions. All of these aspects at the Tate are showing how digital strategies are putting forth concepts of audience interaction with digital technologies and not just behind the scenes work.

Another museum who highlighted the ideas of digital engagement for the audience was The National Portrait Gallery. Their digital strategy is much more vague in what they want to do than the Tate’s, for they are more outlining the principles that they want to focus on, like having a digital aim that is audience-focused and accessible. They also list briefly a few specifics that they want to implement, like having gallery guides (both in-person and online) and in-gallery interactives. The plan speaks to adding content and resources online for engagement for researchers and young people to have them be able to participate in another way. They do not explain how any of this will work or how it will be implemented, but the fact they take the time to focus on what to do with the audience and the front-facing pieces of the museum shows that the movement towards the conclusion that the importance of digital engagement for the audience is vital.


The audience is one of the most vital pieces of museums. The goal is for the institution to be able share education and understanding to the world, and they have always done that through their collection, but with how integrated technology is into the world now, it is important to look to how technology can also be a major feature in bringing the museums of the world’s collections to life. While it is important, there are also challenges. Emerging technology can be expensive, and since it is always changing, it can be difficult to keep things up-to-date. The museum also must train employees and have knowledge of how the technology works and how it has to be used in the galleries. These can present issues in terms of implementation and upkeep, but the importance of audience centered digital engagement is still a vital piece for cultural institutions, despite the challenges it can present. Digital strategies are becoming another essential piece in how technology is integrated into museums, so highlighting how the audience comes into this equation in the plan is vital too.


Kelly, Lynda. “The (post) digital visitor: What has (almost) twenty years of museum audience research revealed?” Museums and the Web. April 2016.

Stack, John. “ Tate Digital Strategy 2013–15: Digital as a Dimension of Everything.” Tate Papers, no.19, Spring 2013.

Vicars-Harris, Oliver. “Inspiring People Connecting People.” National Portrait Gallery. 2015-2016.

Importance of Highlighting Digital Engagement for the Audience in Digital Strategies was originally published in Museums and Digital Culture – Pratt Institute on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

› tags: digital culture / museums /