How to attract millennials seems to be one of the most burning questions for museums nowadays. As the younger generation stands for future per se, many museums fear losing their relevance if they don’t succeed in turning these youngsters into visitors. Quite often this comes with a horrendous vision that reduces young adults to beings who are permanently connected, constantly sharing stories on social networks and only looking for hotspots where they can take selfies. Am I exaggerating? Maybe. A bit. But look at the picture below which seems to prove me right. It illustrates a very interesting article from behind the scenes at the Getty museum (@thegetty). Their former gratuate intern Krystal Young – a millennial herself – observed several museums including The Met (@metmuseum) and MoMA (@moma), digitally and in person, and interviewed the staff about their efforts to engage millennials. But instead of only a digital focus, as one could assume from the above, she came across activities that were not limited to young visitors, but also involved older people.
Let me also add to these findings that millennials don’t always look for what most people may assume. That is the surprising result of an evaluation I recently conducted myself while lecturing on "Digital Interpretation on Mobile Devices“ at the Humboldt-University in Berlin. Together with my students we interviewed millennials about their use of, and expectations in regard of, mobile interpretation in museums, such as apps, audio and multimedia guides. I will publish the complete research soon, but here are some of the most interesting findings:
You would think most young visitors want to bring their own device (BYOD), no? Actually, that’s only 38,5%. Almost half of them (49,6%) prefer on-site devices. 12% wouldn’t use a mobile device at all. You think millennials would expect to engage with art via touch-screens, interactives and multiple layers? No, almost three quarters (72,8%) love to be guided and captured by immersive story telling without the need to look at their screen at all. You think young people will tell their friends about their great museum experience afterwards on Facebook, Instagram and twitter? No, 82,1% do it in person!
Sounds quite old-fashioned, hm?
In fact, personal connection and great storytelling is what inspires all of us most, no matter what age. It is key to any visitor engagement - with millennials and baby-boomers. And attracting baby-boomers is very likely to become the next burning question for museums. In Germany twice as many people were born in 1964 than in 2000! Think of this number and what it means in regard of potential visitors. Twice as many!! They are 50+ now and yet to grow into the age where they will have time again to visit a museum. Good to see that we don’t have to dismiss neither of both groups when attracting the other.
Or as Krystal Young puts it in her blog:
"A major theme that emerged from my research was that appealing to millennials may, in fact, improve visitor experience for more than just 18–34-year-olds. Things that young adults expect as a matter of course—a welcoming environment, engaging storytelling, good food and coffee, innovation, free WiFi—are not exclusive to this age group. If museums embrace these “millennial” values, they may well serve everyone that much better."