Marketing your museum to families
This is a straightforward, introductory guide for museum staff on how to promote your museum to families. Developed by Kids in Museums it covers all the basics with plenty of jump offs to further resources to find out more.
Kids in Museum Takeover Day at The National Archives. Photograph by Jayne Lloyd.
Communicating well to families is the fifth point of our Kids in Museums Manifesto. By this we mean reaching out to families and letting them know what you have to offer them, before, during and after their visit. This guide includes suggestions to help you do that in a variety of ways. It is particularly designed with smaller teams or those without dedicated press or marketing teams in mind.
Before you start, think about what you want to achieve and who you want to reach. What do you currently know about your audience? Bring together your visitor data and online audience to understand who your visitors are and who is missing. You can draw from Audience Finder data and your local council may have data on demographics in your area.
Families come in all shapes and sizes, but there are some common factors to consider. They are often time poor, money conscious, juggling around the demands of school and are looking for somewhere to spend their quality time, have fun and make memories together. How can your organisation help them and what can you offer families that other venues can’t? Throughout all your work, make sure you stay focused on how your museum can benefit them.
How you present your organisation externally is a key part of being family friendly. In all your communications, you want to illustrate that your museum is a place for children and families.
Invest in your imagery.
Do your marketing materials include images of children and families? Are they inclusive of different types of families and representative of your local community? Do they avoid gender stereotypes? Try to build up a collection of high-quality images of families enjoying different aspects of your museum. Perhaps there is a local group or family you could invite in to get some photographs, or you could ask volunteers or staff with children if they are happy to be photographed.
Remember to ensure you have collected the photo permissions you need to use the images for all the necessary purposes. We have an example photo permission form for Takeover Day that might be useful as a starting point.
If your organisation struggles for images, you can find free stock images on sites like Pexels, Canva and Unsplash. Your images don’t always need to be professional, especially on social media – they can be taken on a mobile phone. Hubspot has a useful guide to taking good pictures on your mobile phone.
Tailor your website for families.
In our latest Kids in Museums Manifesto consultation survey in 2021, families said that a website was the best way to find out what a museum offers. Families really value online information to help them plan a day out.
Make it clear from your homepage that you welcome families by signposting your family offer and including images of families. If you have signed our Manifesto, you can also include our Kids in Museums logo to show you are family friendly.
Consider creating a dedicated family page on your website. There are some good examples of this from London Transport Museum and the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum. If editing your website is difficult for your organisation, you could create your own blog to share your family offer, such as this one from the Museum of Zoology, or direct them to a Facebook page or group. If you try this approach, it could be an idea to set up some ground rules for how the group should be used, and make sure it is being checked regularly.
Is important information for families clearly listed and easy to find on your website? The more clicks it takes to navigate your site, the less likely you are to retain website visitors. There is a good guide on getting started with websites from the Digital Culture Network.
Set up a family newsletter.
One of the most effective ways to engage your family audience is through a dedicated mailing list for families. This allows you to send tailored newsletters straight to your target audience.
The easiest way to do this is through an email marketing platform, such as MailChimp, Constant Contact or Sender, which allow you to design and schedule your content and manage your subscribers. You can set up separate list or segment for family subscribers.
It is worth spending some time creating a newsletter template, including your branding and links to your other platforms, so that you have it ready to go in advance. If you need some inspiration, try signing up to other organisations’ family newsletters.
Keep your copy concise with a clear call to action in each mailing. Use a friendly tone of voice and think about how you can make them appealing to families, perhaps including at home activity ideas or even a family quote or joke. Personalise your emails using Merge Tags, which insert information about your audience, such as their first name, into your copy. You could also think about addressing them from a named contact at your museum.
Time your mailings thoughtfully ahead of holidays and half terms. Your email marketing platform can recommend the best times of day for you to send your mailings out. Be careful about the frequency of your mailings and only make contact for good reason.
Promote sign-ups through your in-person and online family events, on social media and on your website homepage or families page. A website pop-up can be very effective for gaining subscribers. Try including a discount or incentive for subscribers. For example, the Royal Academy offers a 10% shop discount to new sign ups.
Newsletters can also be a great way to get feedback from families. For example, you could track recent event attendees and send out a post-visit email, including an online survey or reminder to share their experience. If a lot of your family events are free, think about making registration mandatory to get some information. Make sure you are asking families, not just about their experience of visiting, but also how they heard about you so you can tailor your marketing work in the future and justify future spend.
As much as possible, keep your style and tone of voice consistent and recognisable. If you have several people creating content for your channels, it can be a good idea to set up a brand or style guide, setting out guidelines on content creation, from your house font to the use of your logo and brand colours.
Are there specific people at your organisation who look after family programming? Having a named contact at a museum can help families to develop a sense of trust in your organisation. Why not address your newsletter from yourself or your team?
Alternatively, you could introduce a museum mascot to engage children and families that runs through all your communications. This can help make your content instantly recognisable and clearly targeted to families. For examples, check out the Sewerby Hall and Gardens squirrel, Sophie the Owl at Ure Museum in Reading or the Horniman Museum and Gardens walrus.
Have a social media presence.
Having a page on popular social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, is a great way to reach families and young people – and is free.
In our latest Kids in Museums Manifesto family survey in 2021, families said Facebook was their preferred source of information, after your website and newsletter, so if you are short on resource, you may want to focus your efforts on this platform. On Facebook, there are often existing groups or pages for families in your area where you may be able to share your posts. It also allows you to share your family activities as Events, meaning Facebook users can see and respond to them online. The Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle has a separate Facebook page, The Great North Mouse, for families.
Showing you are family friendly doesn’t just mean featuring images of children and families or sharing your events. It means also sharing your ethos and family friendly features of your museum. Here are some examples of family friendly social content that we liked:
- Share your family craft materials, activity packs or museum play set ups like this tweet from Coventry Museums Learning Team.
- Acknowledge important dates to children, young people and families, such as half terms and results day, as in this Instagram post from the Museum of Liverpool.
- Show your friendly staff ready to welcome visitors to the museum like this Instagram post from Poole Museum.
- Create eye-catching graphics to advertise your family offer and events, using free software like Canva, like this Facebook post from Tullie House Museum.
- Share children’s views. York Museums Trust filmed local school pupils responding to museum objects to create a really engaging piece of video content.
Remember social media is about having a conversation. Make sure you engage with visitor posts by liking, sharing/retweeting or replying to them, just as your front of house staff would engage with visitors. Respond to visitor comments on social media or TripAdvisor, making a note of positive quotes to share in your communications.
According to the Beatfreeks National Youth Trends The 2nd Dose report, the four most popular platforms for young people (Gen Zs) are Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube. Young people use social media for entertainment (in particular aesthetic photography and light-hearted funny content like memes), for their friends, or for education. Invite young people to contribute to your social media content, or even show you how different platforms work, as part of Digital Takeover Day.
Keep track of what type of social media content is performing well using inbuilt tools: Facebook and Instagram Insights and Twitter Analytics. This could help you make the case for investing in further tools, such as a museum camera, tripod, microphones or editing software, to help you create higher quality content in the future.
Encourage families to share their photos with you on social media.
Try creating dedicated selfie points at your museum or providing props, like a giant photo frame, for visitors. Make sure to do this somewhere there is sufficient mobile or Wi-Fi signal so this can be easy and instant. Include your account handle so you can easily find, respond to and reshare the posts.
Advertise your museum on Facebook.
Facebook advertising is a great way to reach families – there is a low minimum spend (from around £5 depending on your campaign) meaning you can trial ideas easily, it is customisable, and the amount of user data means you can really narrow down your audience. It is also becoming increasingly essential to do this to gain reach.
On Facebook and Instagram, you can either create a new ad or boost an existing post. Your ad needs a clear goal – are you trying to get more website visitors, get more engagement, get more leads (contact information), or get people to contact you? Select your audience, targeting specific geographic areas, genders, ages and interests, then your desired budget and duration (a minimum of four days is recommended). It will give you an estimate of how many users you expect to reach per day.
Work with family influencers.
Have a look to see if there are any local family influencers you could work with to promote your museum. It is important to pick people who align with your organisation and your values, as well as having a following that are the target audience you want to attract. Family bloggers vary hugely in followings and fees and this will affect the potential cost. It’s not all about numbers – often smaller influencers have a very engaged following. Look at their posts and see if their followers are engaging with them.
Often these accounts will have an email account listed in their bio or you could approach them by direct message (DM). You could offer them free tickets and cover transport costs in return for them posting about your museum, or invite them to a special ‘first look’ preview of a new exhibition or activity. Try to set up a clear objective, but remember you are working with a person, not an organisation, so they are free to share their personal opinion.
Get to grips with SEO.
SEO is Search Engine Optimisation, meaning improving your site’s visibility on search engines like Google. This can help you to grow your website audience, as well as increasing your brand awareness and credibility.
In very basic terms, this means adding ‘keywords’, common search words or phrases, to your web pages to help them appear more prominently to web users who search these terms. You can do keyword research using free keyword tools, such as Wordstream and Google Trends, to understand popular search terms associated with your museum, its content or the local area. Choose search terms that are relevant and popular, but not so generic that they are going to be extremely competitive. You can then add these keywords into your written website content, both prominently in the page copy and in the page’s metadata. An up-to-date website will have some inbuilt tools or plug-ins, such as Yoast, to help you do this.
Another way to boost your SEO ranking is to have your web page shared widely on social media or linked on other reputable websites, such as a local council website. There is much more to unpack on SEO than can be fully described here. Chris Unitt’s presentation from the Arts Marketing Association Conference 2019 is a good introduction if you want to find out more.
Use Google Ads.
Google Ads is an online advertising platform which can place ads in the results of search engines, as well as in other non-search websites. It can be a highly effective tool for driving users to your site. However, maintaining an account can be time consuming, so think carefully about what you want to get out of using Google Ads before you get started.
There is no minimum spend and non-profits can apply for a Google Ads Grant, which gives you access to up to £7,000 per month in search ads shown on Google.com.
You create an ad for a chosen web page and choose keywords where you would like your ad to appear, bidding against other advertisers for your ad to be shown at the top. Google Ads gives your ad a Quality Score from 1-10 based on the quality and relevance of your ad. You can track the progress of your ad on Google Ads and through Google Analytics.
Check out the free Google Ads training on Skillshop to learn more and help you get started.
Commission and display physical materials, such as posters, flyers, event brochures or postcards.
Where in your local area attracts families? Explore the possibility of working with local partners, such as cafés, venues or libraries, to reciprocate on sharing materials.
If there is a specific area or postcode you would like to reach, why not distribute marketing flyers there? These could include a discount code or offer to encourage visits. If you have the budget, you could employ an agency to distribute your flyers, or you could ask your volunteers to help with this.
A banner outside your museum is a great way of spreading the word to passers-by who might not ordinarily visit. This is often done by museums that have won or been shortlisted for our Family Friendly Museum Award.
Inside your museum, think about positioning promotional poster holders where families are, such as the back of toilet doors, next to baby change facilities or near highchairs in the café.
Share bookmarks or flyers with visiting school groups.
Hand out flyers to visiting children to take home, perhaps including a special offer if they bring back their family or telling them how to sign up to your family newsletter. You could ask any schools you have a relationship with to include your events in a newsletter or end of term letter to parents.
You could also present a school assembly to any local schools before each half term to remind children and staff of your family offer.
If you do not host school groups regularly, do any of your staff or volunteers have any connections with school teachers or local uniformed groups, such as Brownies or cadets?
Hold a stall in your local town or community event.
Can you set up a stall or ‘pop up museum’ in the town centre or at a community event? If you have a good relationship with your local council, you could speak to them about whether you could have a market stall.
Keep in touch with the local and family press.
This is easiest to do with a media monitoring service, such as Gorkana or Meltwater, which gives you access to named journalist contacts at different publications, publication lead in times and tracks your press coverage for you. However, without this kind of budget, there are free alternatives.
If you’re unsure who to contact, take a look at media.info to find local outlets or try ringing up your local paper to see who is best for you to speak to. It’s always best to have a named contact who you can build a relationship with for future events. You could invite them out for a coffee to chat about what you have coming up.
Make sure you are also keeping up to date with what children’s media is popular. You could ask children and school groups when they visit. Magazines with large children’s readership include the Primary Times, The Week Junior, First News and National Geographic Kids. Get familiar with the kinds of things they share – buy a copy and look for popular or repeated segments and try pitching an idea that fits in with their existing content.
Different media outlets have different lead times, so make sure you give enough notice – aim for one week before for a local newspaper. Weekly publications will usually work at least a month in advance and magazines and monthly publications several months to a year in advance. Aim to send out a long-lead events listings to media, then a more in-depth press release closer to the time.
List your events online.
Here are some of the platforms with free listing services that museums have told us they find useful to reach families:
- Autism in Museums (for events for families and young people with autism)
- Day Out with the Kids
- Families Online
- Fantastic for Families
- Museum Crush
- The List
There will be regional options in your area too, which could include a local council newsletter, or perhaps networks with a particular interest. For example, the London Transport Museum often works with Transport Sparks, a community for young autistic transport enthusiasts. It may be worth exploring apps, such as Nextdoor, to find families in your local area.
Set up Google Alerts.
To keep track of your press coverage, sign up to free Google Alerts tracking the name of your museum and other relevant search terms, such as the name of your latest exhibition. This will send online features mentioning your organisation straight to your inbox, though does not include media and print, as a media monitoring service would. This can also be a good way to keep track of reviews online.
If there’s another organisation that you feel does a great job at attracting families, you could follow them on Google Alerts too to see where their coverage appears.
- Accessible Marketing Guide
Ensure your marketing materials are accessible to all families with this useful guide.
- Arts Marketing Association
The Arts Marketing Association has regular training events for staff in the cultural sector to help you improve your marketing and digital skills.
- Arts Marketing Association Community Support Facebook group
A community group led by Arts Marketing Association for arts, culture and heritage professionals working to engage audiences with what they do.
- culturehive – Arts Marketing Association
This free online resource library has a wealth of resources around press, promotion and marketing.
- MoreThanRobots newsletter
Sign up to this newsletter for updates on all things digital engagement and young people.
- Museum Social Media Managers Facebook group
Find inspiration and ask questions to fellow social media managers on this support group for museum staff.
- The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing for Museums – MuseumNext
This free 156 page guide goes in depth on how to set up a marketing offer.