The Met’s Use Of Beacons Educates Art Lovers — And Offers A Lesson To Retailers

The museum is expanding its Facebook’s Place Tips to enhance its visitor experience — and that could inspire brick-and-mortars on their own in-store creativity.

When the Metropolitan Museum of Art installed Facebook’s beacon-based Place Tips technology in January, it did so with a unique goal: to enhance the experience of art lovers visiting its galleries and shop. Three months later, the museum seems pleased with the results — and eager to expand its digital initiatives.

In the past year, beacons have broken out in the retail space — for example, Macy’s deployed the Bluetooth devices in all stores in late 2014 — and they’re most often associated with serving deals to in-store shoppers.

But the Met is different; apart from the obligatory gift shop, it isn’t selling much at all. In fact, the museum has a “recommended donation” policy, effectively running as a “pay-what-you-wish” institution at all times, unlike its other massive museum counterparts like the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim.

An example of a promoted Place Tips post

Of course, the Met wants to encourage repeat visits and financial support from its followers. But it’s going about that by using Place Tips to engage fans with cultural facts and personalized digital experiences — not to provide offers for 10 percent off at the gift shop.

Creating Experiences

At the moment, beacons are situated in the museum’s Great Hall and the Uris Center for Education entrance. When visitors who have Bluetooth and location services enabled on their iPhones enter the museum, Place Tips delivers updates in the Facebook app from their friends who have previously visited and posted. And, more importantly for the Met, the technology also promotes updates from the museum’s own Facebook page, meaning that visitors can easily gain access to announcements, info about new collections, and even in-depth facts about certain works of art.

“People walking in the door now will have more relevant information and will be able to see more of our content faster as a result of this,” Met chief digital officer Sree Sreenivasan told The New York Times. He stressed that the museum does not have numerical visitor goals for the Facebook partnership; rather, Place Tips is a way to enhance the art lover’s experience with added information and help the museum stay relevant online.

This makes the Met an interesting case study in the beacon space. As talk heats up around the on-demand economy and the need to deliver consumers something they “can’t get on Amazon,” the Met provides a look into the applications of beacon technology as a pure experience enhancement tool.

The fact that it has been successful suggests a lesson for brick-and-mortar retailers — not just museums. Beacons can be conceived of as a targeting tool directly related to promotions, certainly, but stores may do well to incorporate programs like Place Tips from a brand affinity perspective as well.

When beacons are used to enhance the in-store experience with relevant information — delivered right to the always-on customer’s device — this adds a factor of personalization and convenience that can boost brand loyalty, and, subsequently, sales.

The Met’s Multimedia Concept

The Met declined to provide any specific metrics regarding how Place Tips has fared so far — most likely because it hasn’t measured visits in direct relation to the technology, since it isn’t intended to drive concrete “sales.” Still, the institution seems enthused about the technology and the visitor response, and believes that this is only the beginning of the journey towards using digital means to deliver a more relevant and contextual museum experience.

In fact, other recent digital efforts by the museum include the development of an application for the iTunes store and an appeal to Instagram lovers under the “#emptymet” program, which offers private tours to Instagram account holders with a large number of followers.

“My goal from day one has been to tell more stories at the Met,” said Sreenivasan, who became the museum’s inaugural chief digital officer in 2013. “[Our priority is to] connect the physical and digital experience.”

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.