History, tourism, and museum marketing ideas

Amelia Earhart Festival badges on display at her birthplace museum in Atchison Kansas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Amelia Earhart Festival badges on display at her birthplace museum in Atchison, Kansas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Almost every vacation includes some history. The history of the destination, the history of the people, the history of the architecture, stories of the area – travelers want to know something about where they have chosen to visit.

This year, Tourism Currents and consultant Sarah Page worked together on a social media training project with the Texas Historical Commission and their 20 state historic sites – forts, historic homes, and museums that range from local to regional in size. We tackled museum marketing challenges and came up with a few ideas for easy, low-cost ways that museums of all sizes can stretch their marketing dollars, both online and offline, and enhance the visitor experience.

Almost every destination has at least one museum as a tourism partner, so these are universal issues for our industry.

Related blog post – Heritage and cultural tourism social media post ideas

If a visitor has an outstanding time at a museum, that visitor may then become part of the “marketing team” and help the museum spread its story, especially if he or she actively shares experiences with friends and family through social media.

Experiential – That’s the Key Word

The days of wandering museums reading small print placards underneath artifacts are fading.

So Four Score and Seven Years Ago Tshirt at the Lincoln Library and Museum Gift Shop in Springfield IL (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

So Four Score and Seven Years Ago T-shirt at the Lincoln Library and Museum Gift Shop in Springfield, Illinois (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Visitors today need to be “doing” something. They want to have a sensory experience. They want to be a participant in the history in some way. Remember, before your visitors stepped through your door, they most likely have checked you out online and know what they plan to view at your museum. Your online marketing needs to be ready for them.

Generally, the more experiential the exhibit, the more excitement will be generated. The more experiences you can offer your visitor, the longer they will stay and the chance they will tell others about you increases exponentially.

With the advent of “selfies” take a look at how (on a big scale) a museum in the Philippines has taken the idea of selfies to an extreme. We bet that you can figure out a way to incorporate an aspect of this into your museum and use it as a marketing tool.

The Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site in Denison, Texas gets in on Museum Selfie Day

The Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site in Denison, Texas gets in on Museum Selfie Day.

The takeaway here is that you don’t want your visitors (no matter what their age) feeling like they were “dragged” to a museum. You would like them to leave feeling excited about the experiences they had with you, and excited to share those experiences.

According to MuseumHack, here are 3 ways to help make sure visitors are excited about what you are offering:

Museum Marketing Ideas from MuseumHack

Note: WiFi is very important for your international visitors; they won’t use their phones to share their experiences if it means roaming charges. WiFi takes care of that problem.

If you want people to share online, you must give them the means to do so.

Know Your Members

With the decreases in public funding for museums, it is essential to keep your membership engaged and growing. Your members are your members because they feel a connection to what you are doing. They are passionate about keeping the history you are offering alive. They want to educate others about your history.

What are you offering your members? Are you giving them special treatment; a way to have access to things that the general public does not? How about letting them play a part in the education of the public?

Ideas for getting your members involved include the obvious such as volunteering, writing an article in your newsletter, or advocacy in some way. But how about a different sort of volunteering, like letting them take over your Instagram account for the day, or inviting them to be part of a Facebook or other online livestream that you’re doing?

The more you allow your members to participate beyond just helping to fund your museum, the more they will help market the museum both by word of mouth and active participation.

Get Your Community Behind You

Partner with your community to promote other historic sites, special events, and historic commemoration days.

NC Wyeth's Stern and Defiant at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art St Joseph Missouri (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

NC Wyeth’s “Stern and Defiant” at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art in St Joseph, Missouri (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

A brilliant example of this is the Tower of London Remembers project Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red memorial to the fallen soldiers of the First World War. By flooding the Tower moat with 888,246 ceramic poppies — one for each British and Commonwealth serviceperson who died — they created a visual remembrance that millions of people came to see. It was the most-Googled image in the world for a few days. The Tower of London Remembers project also helped support 6 military/service charities in the UK.

Another super museum marketing partnership occurred just this month, as Ireland’s Blarney Castle partnered with 2 local entities, In Hand Guides and Cronin’s Coaches. Combining a historic attraction/museum with storytelling and transportation, this partnership is set to enhance tourism to Blarney Castle.

Said Jamie Murphy, Sales & Marketing Executive at In Hand Guides:

“When people visit your attraction they want to be engaged as much as possible. Telling a story through audio is the simplest and most effective way of doing this. It will help enhance their visit and give them a more total experience.”

Ok, so those examples are on a “big” scale, but no doubt you can think of a few things you can do to get your community involved and supportive of aspects of history in your area. Now here’s some info from a smaller entity:

Museum Marketing – A Small Museum Case Study

The Big Bear Valley Historical Museum is an all-volunteer museum located in the Southern California mountains.

Their director and webmaster Radha Khalsa is leading the facility through a new period of growth and upgrades; specific challenges include volunteers and exhibit space. In discussing marketing with Radha, here are the several layers that they have applied to the museum so far….

  1. Bulk email – their bulk email is sent out through MailChimp. They use email to notify members of events, request volunteer help, and keep their members inspired.
  2. QR Codes throughout the museum – the QR codes link to videos embedded into the museum’s website. They solve the issue of space, giving them the ability to add more information on any subject matter. The QR Codes show a 1954 Old Miner’s Burro Race, videos about the historical significance of blacksmithing, and other interesting information.
  3. The museum upgraded the website to WordPress using large, beautifully scanned, historic images. Then they created a matching brochure to help with branding.
  4. Archival Scanner Project – the museum went “old school” and hand-posted letters requesting donations for building restoration, the archival scanner project, and soliciting business memberships. They would like a Canon flatbed scanner with self-correcting software. All museum images will be scanned to art print resolution. In a small community it’s the “personal touch” that gets results.
  5. Selfies Area – They are in the process of setting up a “selfies” photo area and are including the hashtag #BigBearHistory for branding purposes. (Big props to them for thinking out-of-the-box in a timely way!)
  6. They have a Tagboard set up for tracking posts with the #BigBearHistory hashtag across multiple social media platforms.

Big Bear Valley Historical Museum’s future projects include:

  1. A Website Photo Gallery which will include a password protected, members-only section with rare photos of the Valley.
  2. The building of a Shopping Cart as they’re a seasonal museum, open from Memorial Day through the first week of October. Online shopping will extend income possibilities.

What have you seen work for museum marketing?

Have you got questions to ask, or input to give?  Let us know and please do take a moment to comment and share!

Click here to contact us about a social media training package like the one we did with the Historical Commission.


At Tourism Currents, we help you and your tourism partners learn how to use social media and digital destination marketing to bring more visitors to town. Pick what works for you: our self-paced online course in social media for tourism, our coaching/consulting services, or our speaking and workshop services.

Not already getting these blog posts via email? Click here for the Tourism Currents newsletter signup page.




Duart permanent wave hair machine in the Pioneer Museum Sweetwater Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Twitter chats are rather like great discussions at the barber shop or hair salon, but not as painful as this Duart permanent wave hair machine in the Pioneer Museum in Sweetwater, Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Tourism Currents is part of a small team that is revitalizing a regularly-scheduled #tourismchat on Twitter.

It’s a fast-paced, one-hour online Twitter chat about a variety of topics related to tourism, and we’d love to see you there!

Here is the #tourismchat Facebook Page with the latest chat info.

Here is the chat transcript for our most recent discussion, about successful regional tourism initiatives; keep an eye on the chat Facebook Page and the hashtag itself for news about the next chat.

Comments are closed.