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What are Top Digital Marketing Strategies for Museums?

November 3rd, 2022 | 4 min. read

By Julia Elliott


Museums walk a tightrope between educating and entertaining their visitors. The result can be a mixed bag — for marketing efforts and who walks in the doors.

The good news: In the past five years, 10% more people say art and history museums are "welcoming to people like me," a study notes. The challenge, though, is getting them to come inside — and come back. All on tighter-than-ever budgets.

We get it. Zoe Marketing & Communications has helped market museums in southeast Michigan and Chicagoland for 35+ years. We understand the fluidity of your audience and the nuance of connecting with them.

So, what are the best digital marketing strategies for museums? In this blog, we'll cover:

You'll walk away with a clearer idea of where to focus your marketing dollars for the best results.

Identifying, prioritizing and targeting different audiences

To start, hone in on who you want to reach. It's essential, especially considering that most small, medium and large museums allocate just 2-4% of their annual budgets to marketing.

There are many broad audiences for museums to consider, such as:

  • Bringing back "historic" visitors

  • Drawing prospective newcomers

  • Reengaging inactive visitors

  • Enticing folks "on the fringe" who might be interested in a current exhibit

  • Luring out-of-area visitors

Different groups will respond to different ad campaigns and emails. It may be worth having different landing pages tailored to audiences, too.

Of course, you may also be prioritizing different demographics, including, but not limited to:

  • Families/parents

  • Single people/couples

  • Ethnically diverse populations

  • Specific age groups (Gen Z, millennials, etc.)

With many options competing for limited funds, prioritizing your audience focus is critical. Set your priorities with your in-house team. And be prepared to test, track and adjust your strategy as needed throughout the year.

Delivering social media ads to key demographics and interest groups

Museums' potential audience on social media is robust. Plus, museums have a wealth of photogenic "inventory." And engaging images of exhibits play well on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.

Take advantage of ad options

Crucially, on social, you can really narrow in on your audience, too, pinpointing:

  • People who like other museums in your area

  • People interested in the topic of your museum (art, science, history, etc.)

  • People interested in events and things to do

  • Parents of kids of specific ages

  • Various relationship statuses (single, married, in a relationship, etc.)

You can customize your geography, also, whether a 25-mile radius, an entire metropolitan area or even another state, for instance.

Bonus: Since Facebook and Instagram are both run by Meta, you can place your ads on both platforms at once. 

Be sure to post organically, too

Regularly post and engage with your followers on social media, as well. This is the content you're not paying to publish. Create campaigns to increase your focus on upcoming events and exhibits.

Your reach might feel smaller vs. paid ads, but it's crucial to keep building your audience.

Using email marketing to lure visitors (especially 'last minute')

Even if people "know you exist," you may not be top-of-mind for them when figuring out what to do this weekend. Strategically timed emails can be a boon.

Why? Emails are very "call-to-action." You're getting in front of them with a quick-hit message. And one that's timely, to boot (a lot of people make plans Thursday and Friday, for instance).

There are two main ways:

1. Use another email list (paid)

This involves teaming up with a media influencer/partner or marketing firm that can reach the demographic you want.

They'll connect you to their audience and/or an opt-in subscriber list. From there, they'll deliver your message to your key demographics and interest groups (similar to social media).

2. Use your own email list (organic)

Most museums also have "first-party" subscribers who've signed up for their newsletters. These are your top fans, and you have direct access! Keep them in the loop with them with personalized emails.

Aim for regularity, whether it's monthly or weekly. And be sure to let them know (and remind them) about special exhibits and events coming up.

Tapping into search-engine ads — and especially retargeting ads

When people are Googling for things to do, are they seeing your ads? Search engine marketing, or SEM, as it's called, is another powerful digital tactic for museums.

You generally have four options:

  • Search (text-only ads)

  • Display (image-based ads)

  • Video (ads most often served on YouTube)

  • Local (ads that show up in Google Business Profile results)

Search and display are great places for museums to start. As with social and email, you can target your ads to a variety of geographies and interests, including: 

  • Location: filters by state, ZIP code, city, metro area, etc.

  • Radius: reaches people in a set number of miles around your museum

  • Affinity segments: targets people by their search interests ("museums," "culture," "science," "art," etc.)

  • Demographics: sorts by age, household income and other data

Retargeting your ads is crucial

It's important to note that there can be more competition for SEM, which is keyword-based. That's why we recommend pairing an SEM with retargeting ads.

After someone visits the landing page you sent them to with your original ad, you can "retarget" them with even more specific ads. These ads follow them around as they browse the web.

It's a great way to stay top-of-mind. It's a bit more expensive but worth it, because you're reaching people who've already shown interest in you.

Considering content marketing

Finally, let's talk about blogs or articles. Museums are masters at telling stories, after all. But are these narrative stories good marketing? The answer is only sometimes — but it depends.

Sponsored content articles on other sites = maybe

Say you want to collaborate with a media partner to publish a series of articles on their site to reach their audience. And that audience perfectly aligns with your target.

Even so, these articles are most effective if you have a substantive series of 4-6 stories to share. A profound new exhibit that lasts for months is a great candidate. But writing about your museum generally tends to deliver lower results.

Articles on your own site = yes (but it's work)

That said, if you have the marketing people-power to write blogs highlighting what your museum offers, by all means! It can boost your SEO and general approachability. Just keep in mind that Google favors informative articles that are 600+ words, and regularity is also important. It's a deeper strategy. And ultimately, it can be a tall order.

What are the next steps to successfully marketing my museum?

Marketing for museums is no small feat. But even with tight budgets, several digital marketing strategies can boost attendance.

The bottom line: Social media and email marketing are excellent first steps. If money allows, search engine marketing and retargeting are the ideal "next tier."

Are you looking to optimize your museum marketing budget? Talk to your advisor at Zoe Marketing & Communications. We'll put our 35+ years of experience in helping market museums to work for you.

Still exploring your options — or working on stretching your marketing dollars? Discover:

Julia Elliott

For 17 years, Julia Elliott crafted strategies and stories for Zoe, along with its sister companies, Metro Parent and Chicago Parent. A deep background in journalism helped her create customized content marketing to drive client success.