Marketing the app: a toolkit

As many museums all over the world “mobilize”, creating mobile versions of their websites and mobile apps, they come to ask for tips and guidelines for the promotion of their mobile products. Although visitors increasingly expect museums to provide Wi-Fi and connected services, they do not automatically assume museums have apps available to support and enhance their visit, so these tools must be made visible and clearly available. In fact, while an exhibition or an educational program can’t be missed by visitors walking through your galleries, a mobile app and the contents that has to offer is invisible without appropriate signage and promotion to support them.

Effective marketing strategies may determine the mobile app’s success as much as its content and interface. At the same time, museum settings and content differ from other environments in which mobile projects are being developed: best practices and key learnings have to be assessed and established. Even the most basic marketing activities are not to be taken for granted as mobile apps still have to find their right place for promotion in museums’ digital and physical spaces.

In this post we will try to define some basic guidelines to promote mobile projects in museums and we ask you to continue the discussion, sharing your ideas and experiences.

… before we start

As Heather Foster points out in her great post, marketing planning should start from the very beginning of a mobile project. A mobile app can be an integrated tool for an exhibition or a fixed-term project, or have an independent life span, as a game based app or a comprehensive tour of your museum, for use on-site or elsewhere.

Whatever the case, marketing has to be intertwined with the global strategy for your app as it will determine how many people will use it to enhance their experience of your museum, as well as their understanding and appreciation of its content.

What follow is a list of broad and general indications that doesn’t want to be exhaustive, but tries to highlight overall suggestions and define more solid standards in museum apps promotion.

However, it is important to acknowledge that every app is different: contexts of use and target audiences change. Thus, there is no “one size fits all” strategy; your strategy has to be tailored to your app’s specific features, targeting the right spaces for promotion and reaching the users the app is meant for.

1 Pre-launch

Create a landing page

Even if the app is not out there yet, create a landing page to provide basic information about it.

The page should include:

–          A concise description that explains what specific value the app will bring to the experience;

–          Screen previews of the app or even a short video that explains how the app functions, not just what the app is about;

–          The possibility to share the page through social media buttons;

–          Contact information for questions and suggestions;

The information could be updated as the development of the app progress, featuring more information, and links to downloads and reviews.

Give previews through social media

The app should be as present on your social media pages as the museum’s exhibitions and events.

Update your followers on the progress of your app and any interesting news about its development process. Social media platforms could also be used to invite and recruit your followers to test the app. They could give your app and the team suggestions by having something in return such as tickets or small discounts in the museum shop, but many are happy to help just for the pleasure to being part of something fun and important.

Prepare ready-to-use materials for the press kit, Apple store/Google Play

A small description of the app, the features that it contains and the needs it might be able to fulfill, should be prepared together with graphics and screen previews that illustrate the app. Having these materials ready before the launch will allow you to adapt them to different media when needed.

If the app is connected to an exhibition or to a broader project, the materials should be prominently included in the press kit meant for the show as well as featured in all the promotional materials connected to it.

Make a short and simple video that illustrates the app

A video is an easy tool to share on different platforms. It is not just advertisement, but also a simple way to illustrate how the app works. An app demo/mockup serves both purposes as well.

You don’t necessarily have to hire an expensive advertising company to produce a video. There are tools and instructions to do it yourself, for example here.

Or to create a demo.

Here are examples of big and small videos made for museum apps:

Think about transforming the launch into an event

Invite your public to visit the museum and try out the app and create an event around it. This is also an opportunity to get to know your audience and gather their feedback.

In any case, if the app is a product connected to other projects and a press conference/promotional event is scheduled, be sure to reserve some space to present the app and make the attendees try and see it.

Tell everyone, inside and outside the organization

An app can be a powerful tool, a promotional tool in itself for your organization. Colleagues and stakeholders can carry it around in their pockets and use it to present the museum to other people, donors, participants, visitors etc.

2. App release

Website: think about the most visible and intuitive way to place the information about the app

Even on the websites of major and small museums all over the world, information about available apps is difficult to find. If finding the apps is a difficult endeavor for someone who is specifically looking for it, think about the likelihood that a user would stumble upon your app by simply navigating to your website.

The vast majority of museum websites place app information under the “explore” section, like MoMA, or “connect”, at the Smithsonian, while others list it among the resources available for the visit, as for the Field Museum, the Steijdelik museum and the 9/11 Memorial. Others institutions, such as the MAXXI in Rome or the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, classify their apps among other education and activities online.

To avoid users to go through many steps before ending up on a page dedicated to the app, the information should be placed in the most immediate and accessible section.

Look at the main features of the app, what does it offer?

  • If it is a tool that supports the visit to the museum in a comprehensive way – an audio tour, a map, or a catalogue – it should definitely be classified among other visitor information, possibly by creating a dedicated page and a clear path to reach that information.
  • If the app is built specifically for an exhibition or a temporary event, it should be included in the dedicated section for that event, possibly linking to a page with more information on how to use it onsite and offsite, how to download it etc.
    When the show the app is meant for will be finished, make sure that, if the app is still available to download, users can find information about it. The best way is probably creating a section of your website specifically dedicated to mobile, in which you gather mobile-related content.
  • If the app includes content that can be accessed beyond the physical galleries, then it should be also listed in other sections of you website (eg. Education, online activities, resources etc.) as for Scopify by the Royal Ontario Museum.
Scopify by the Royal Ontario Museum is linked from multiple sections on the website (visitor information, online activities/education resources)

Don’t hide the app in your website after the launch! It is important to give it visibility before the launch through a press release, blog posts and news, but this information has to remain easy to find and not be buried below newest facts and activities.

Making sure that users can reach resources about the app from the main and relevant pages of the museum’s website(s) is the first step to give it the right visibility and ensure that it will be downloaded and used over time.

Create a banner/small graphics for your homepage

A banner is a simple tool that allows you to give highlight information to users.

The banner can contain a link to download the app and a preview of what the app is about (a tour featuring videos, audio contents, special features for a specific artwork or a specific department etc.).

Most importantly, the banner can inform visitors to download the app at home, before visiting the museum, and use it to plan their visit.

All in all, this first and immediate information has to give the user a sense of what he/she is going to find by downloading the app, informing but at the same time prompting curiosity.

Smithsonian Mobile is featured on a banner on the homepage
The Van Gogh Museum’s website.
The Field Museum’s homepage suggests downloading the app before visiting.
Small and simple graphics placed on prominent and relevant pages of the website with a link to the app’s webpage can be very helpful as well.
Stories from main street

The app Stories from Main Street is integrated into the Museums on Main Street (MoMS) website: the icon that links to the app is always visible and the app has its own dedicated page.

Select the right information the app page should include

The overall app offering of your museums should have a dedicated page and each individual app should have enough space dedicated to it to provide useful and enticing information. Such information should include descriptions but also dynamic images that illustrate different app functions.

A page illustrating your overall app offering should be structured to include a clear and visually recognizable list of the different apps with small descriptions and lists of the devices and operating systems on which they are accessible.

Other information, such as instructions to access the wifi throughout the museum, spots where you can recharge your device or how to borrow museum devices, should be included.

The MoMA, the American Museum of Natural History and the Victoria and Albert Museum show different examples of how these pages can be constructed. An overview of your mobile offering can be particularly helpful to gathering your diverse mobile offerings under a single umbrella and promote them effectively. For example, once accessing the wifi  at the Museum of Natural History, you are redirect to the app listing page, giving visibility to the museum’s whole mobile offering.

Every app should also have individual pages that should contain:

  • Specific descriptions of the features of the app listed in a schematic way. The information should say what the app does and what the user can do, achieve or solve by using it;
  • Illustrative video or demo that illustrate how to use the app;
  • FAQs related to the app and how it can be used throughout the museum and/or offsite. A good example is given by the British Museum and the Cleveland Museum of the Art;
  • If the app is meant to be used in front of specific exhibits, include pictures and descriptions of what the user is expected to do and don’t forget to give a list/map of the galleries connected to the mobile experience. The Vancouver Acquarium and the Royal Ontario Museum, with the recently launched Scopify, show examples of this approach. This latter dedicates a whole mini-website to the app:

Other examples:

9/11 Memorial

J. Paul Getty Museum

Netherlands Architecture Institute

National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci

Powerhouse Museum

Social media

  • Save some money to create short-run Facebook/Googleads

Purchasing ads on social media is an inexpensive and effective way to advertise directly to your target demographic to build awareness and encourage downloads. By buying ads on Facebook, for example, you can set a maximum budget, defined by cost-per-click (CPC), and track the effectiveness of the campaign throughout.

  • Share the news of the release and offer something in return to those who share it;
  • Make a graphic of the app for your profile picture on Facebook;
The SITES Facebook page has featured a banner advertising the Romare Bearden Tour and the Black Odyssey remixes apps.
  • Integrate the app into your social media plan. Schedule regular posts that mention the app. Posts don’t have to focus necessarily on the promotion of the app. Organize Facebook posts and tweets around weekly themes and content that can feature content from the app or prompt users to download it to know more. For example, the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street Program[1] occasionally posts an interesting audio clip submitted with the app, Stories from Main Street, to their Facebook page to encourage people to check out the app and tell their story.

Email blasts and e-newsletters

Announce the launch of the app to your mailing list by creating a specific press release (including links to the webpage and to download the app). Include the information in your e-newsletter. If the e-newsletter has a graphic template, consider  featuring a banner or a small graphic sign in the template.


Include in your blog contents and updates about the app. Blog posts can be also created before the launch to show “behind the scenes” news from the app’s “work in progress”. Blog posts about the app can be:

  • Promotional: just sharing the news that an app is out there;
  • Thematic: you can focus on specific themes connected to contents that the app include or share contributions that users submitted through the app (either texts, pictures or video);
  • Institutional: mainly talking to a professional audience sharing key learnings about the project and its development.



Spaces for promotion vary according to the type of mobile project and its target (integrated in an exhibition, a game for a specific age range, a comprehensive tour of your museum, etc.). As the visit to an institution plays an important role in determining the motivation to download the app, on-site visibility is a fundamental element to guaranteeing your success.


Banners and posters should be highly present in spots where people dwell and pass by. For example, visitors that are standing in line at the ticket counters should be targeted through signage throughout the line, on the counter and/or even on the floor (see, for example, the American Museum of Natural History in New York). At the same time, the museum cafè should have signage that an app is available, so that when people sit down they can actually check it out.

Include the app logo on maps of the museum or in any other existing materials to help keep the information integrated with other services, tools for orientation and interpretation.

Signs should be also be present across the institution’s spaces and not only at the entrance: elevators, stairs, entrances of the restrooms and other services are all strategic positions in which the information that an app is available can be placed.

Offer visitors “mobile-only” gifts or benefits if they download the app

You can offer discounts to visitors in exchange for downloading the app, or have special offers to download the app for free (or free in-app purchases) in exchange for buying something at the bookshop or in the cafè.

snail bob
Starbucks offers free downloads every week.


Create hand-outs that include instructions on how to download the app and links to more information.


The Smithsonian advertises four different apps on promotional cards, including a QR code to download them.

App signage could be also integrated on printed materials. Stickers, for example, could be put on maps, exhibitions leaflets or even on the museum’s physical tickets when they are handed out.

Safeway put stickers advertising their apps on receipts from online shopping.

Make sure all staff is aware of your app and trained to use it

Trained gallery attendants constitute a valuable resource to provide small and simple instructions to visitors about the app. You don’t necessarily have to train all of them, but you can consider having a group of dedicated volunteers who can in turn provide training for others.

Floor staff should wear badges or stickers that promote the app so visitors could easily refer to them if they need help. See, for examples, staff t-shirts and buttons at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.

3. Post launch and continuity

When the buzz for the launch of your app has ended, how do you make sure that the app continues to “live”, interest your audience and be used? A mobile tour of the museum has a longer lifespan than an app for a fixed term project. In any case, as long as the content of the app is fresh or can be repurposed and be of interest for your audience, you should consider constantly finding opportunities to re-launch it.

Retail and food service promotion

Continue offering special deals by creating synergies with retail inside and outside the museum.

Outreach and Educational Outlets

Schools and teachers can certainty benefit and re-use the contents of the apps in their classes. Consider the possibility to create synergies with schools and educational facilities to make sure that they know that mobile resources are available.

Email blasts

Every time you add a new feature, upgrades and new content, you should inform your public through dedicated email blasts or by including them in your e newsletter.

Social media

Stories, comments and any other content that is shared through the app can feed and enrich your social media stream.

Visually-driven social platforms like Pinterest offered a nice way to share content created through the Romare Bearden remixes app by the Smithsonian Institution Travelling Exhibition Service (SITES).

Want to have more inputs on this topic?

Take a look at the draft of the SI Mobile Marketing Plan and dive into the Mobile Marketing Toolkit for the Smithsonian apps.

Do you have more ideas or know of great examples? Please post them!

We would like to thank Alan Hayman from XCO Software LLC and the colleagues from the Smithsonian Institution for sharing their experiences and knowledge and helping us putting together this post.

5 thoughts on “Marketing the app: a toolkit

  1. Pingback: Mobile Marketing Resources | Smithsonian 2.0

  2. Pingback: Marketing the app: a toolkit | MuseumAround

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