How Museums and Cultural Institutions Can Use Conversational Marketing

Christina Crawley, Forum One, United States


This past year has challenged cultural institutions and museums to explore new engagement channels — from helping online users to more easily find what they are looking for to engaging them in an educational and inspiring virtual experience. As online users attempt to navigate all that is out there (and there is more than ever!), conversational marketing can provide a user-friendly approach that gets them engaging sooner and more deeply. Research shows that the average conversion rate on a website is generally around ~1%, which means that a lot of the hard work that is put into creating those pages isn't creating the right amount of engagement. As the commercial sector focuses on a more digital approach to doing business, museums also need to consider new approaches to truly engage their online visitors.  Conversational marketing allows for a dialogue to start sooner than later. A quick question or offer to help can be the difference between an average conversion rate, and healthy engagement. In this session, we'll explore the concept of conversational marketing, and how starting a two-way conversation directly on your website can channel interest right away, and create valuable connections. Specifically, we'll tackle: What is conversational marketing, and how does it work? How to create a more personal approach to your digital content to deepen user engagement and facilitate user journeys Why conversational marketing makes a lot of sense for cultural institutions and museums By the end of this talk, you'll have a good sense of the key concepts of conversational marketing, and how you can consider applying it to your museum's engagement priorities.

Keywords: chatbots, conversational marketing, engagement, digital museum

Background Paper for MuseWeb 2021 How-to Session, “Conversational Marketing: Can Chatbots Increase Engagement with Your Museum?”

The term “Conversational Marketing” is relatively new, but it speaks to the growing expectation of a personalized experience and the opportunity to connect and start a 1-1 conversation.

Coined by, conversational marketing aims to guide users through an engagement funnel more quickly by using real-time conversations. As chatbots are increasingly seen as a natural way to get information, they can help to build relationships and create authentic experiences between an organization and its target audiences.

Conversational marketing allows visitors to complete everyday actions, such as booking an appointment immediately, rather than having to go through an online form and wait for a response. As cultural institutions and museums are looking to find new and effective ways to engage with their audiences, starting a conversation online has the potential to get them that much closer to engaging people with their programming and their overall mission.

Let’s explore how conversational marketing can move the needle forward for cultural institutions’ missions with eight specific ways that it can support their web presence and outreach.

1. Answer FAQs directly and quickly

Most cultural institutions have a good idea of the most common questions they receive by email or through online web forms. This could include requests around opening hours and location, special exhibition registration, or donation details. According to IBM, roughly 80% of FAQs can be answered through a chatbot. Using your most frequently asked questions (FAQs) as a base, institutions can develop an intelligent chatbot that allows people to quickly ask for the information they’re seeking rather than having to navigate a page with all of the common questions. Compared to a contact form, visitors get what they need right away, and staff is saved the time needed to respond.

2. Reduce admin time responding to email and form requests 

This is a big one. A lot of time can go into collecting form submissions and ensuring that they are replied to in a timely manner, which is often a much harder thing to achieve than most would hope. Additionally, it means institutions are spending time replying to the same question(s) repeatedly. Conversational marketing allows cultural institutions to start that conversation right away so that by the time the user gets to their team, the team is able to discuss more specific, complex questions to further develop a relationship.

3. Convert new visitors into contacts faster

Generally speaking, traditional online forms are seeing fewer conversions on websites for things such as e-newsletter signups or white paper downloads. An email newsletter may not be at the top of people’s lists with such a wide variety of  “things” out there for people to sign up for. That’s why engaging with them in a conversation about what it is that the cultural institution can offer them and what they can expect allows them to get a more specific and interesting picture of what is often otherwise a very general ask.

4. Engage and support members

Membership programs often have a huge amount of valuable information and content to share with their member base, both on public websites and members-only platforms. Conversational marketing can help a new member navigate a platform to find what they’re looking for, remind a long-term member of services and content available to them, and support non-members as they consider the benefits of joining the cultural institution. 

5. Simplify or complement fundraising efforts

A lot of work goes into creating the right online user journeys that bring in much-needed monetary support through intriguing content and strategically-placed calls-to-action (CTAs). An additional conversational prompt that helps users see how they can get involved directly can both encourage this transaction—and make it happen faster. The fewer page loads a user has to go through, the better. A HubSpot survey found that 47% of consumers would be open to making a purchase from a chatbot, signally that audiences are increasingly more trustworthy of chatbots to conduct a transaction such as a donation.

6. Provide extra support to your digital presence

Many cultural institutions’ websites are now more than 1,000 pages, making it challenging to find information via navigation or search. Increasingly, we’re seeing conversational options replace search features to help visitors quickly find the correct and most up-to-date resources on sites. A conversational bot can engage them right away to save them the scrolling and clicking time needed to get to the information they need.

7. Get a conversation started

A chatbot provides the opportunity to start up a conversation even though it is not usually managed by a human being. Chat playbooks are developed specifically by a cultural institution’s web team—i.e., by human beings—to create a more informal voice and connection. A recent PWC study found that 27% of consumers were unsure if the last customer support interaction they had was with a real person or a chatbot, which shows how increasingly developed the conversations are becoming. And conversations don’t have to be “all business”! They can be playful in nature by starting with a fun quiz or poll while simultaneously creating a genuine connection to help the visitor sift through online content. As a first opportunity to engage, chatbots are an opportunity to provide tailored information to get users to where they want to go faster and get involved.

8. Collect important user experience data 

Website data analytics provide invaluable insight into what online users’ interests are and where they are dropping off. This data allows an institution to optimize and tweak its website’s user experience so that it’s more valuable to its target audiences. Conversational marketing is another source of useful insight into how users are interacting with a website because we are able to track what questions are being asked the most, where people drop off in the conversational playbook, and how what users do next. According to Statista, 64% of businesses believe that chatbots will allow them to provide a more customized support experience. For example, if a museum is looking to increase donations but sees that people drop off when asked for their email address, it may be an opportunity to share more content with them, such as financial transparency, or additional program information, so that they feel more confident in financially supporting the museum.

In Closing

Above all, conversational marketing is about getting a conversation started, creating a 1-1 engagement between a cultural institution and an online user who’s interested and intrigued by its mission and offerings. Rather than waiting for them to click through and eventually fill in a form, take the opportunity to proactively reach out, say hello, lend a hand, and take it from there.

Cite as:
Crawley, Christina. "How Museums and Cultural Institutions Can Use Conversational Marketing." MW21: MW 2021. Published March 9, 2021. Consulted .