Popular iPhone Applications to Aid Museum Marketers


Just conducting a quick search on an iPhone app store reveals that folks weren’t joking: there really is an app for (absolutely) everything. Thus, it’s no surprise that cultural centers are actively tapping into ways to utilize iPhone apps. There seem to be discussions and brainstorms everywhere about the best ways for museums to do this.

But until your organization hooks up with an iPhone application developer so that you can pull a Smithsonian (or ‘pull a Brooklyn Museum‘, if you prefer) by creating your own iPhone application, don’t forget that there are many popular applications available right now that can help you to market your museum.

Ian is the cofounder of AppstoreHQ, a startup specializing in iPhone application search and discovery. As you can imagine, he has a good sense of which apps are high in demand. He was kind enough to give me a short tutorial on widely used iPhone applications, and upon hearing his thoughts (and piecing together my own knowledge of popular apps), I’ve uncovered three applications that present cool marketing opportunities for museums and cultural centers.



1) Foursquare: Reward your Mayor.

Whenever my boyfriend suggests a date night, I know exactly where we’ll go: for burritos at Machos Tacos and then to share a cupcake at Alcove. How do I know that we’ll do this? Because he is involved in a ferocious battle to maintain his mayorship on foursquare at these locations.

Foursquare allows users to “check in” as they visit locations throughout the city. There are several  badges that folks can receive when they check in at different places. For instance, a “School Night” badge is awarded when a person checks in someplace after 3:00 am on a school night, and a “Adventurer” has checked in at ten unique venues. Similarly, a user is named the mayor of a location when he or she has the most check-ins at that location. The app proves interesting because it plays into human loss aversion, as it can tweet when you’ve been ousted as mayor at one of your favorite places. A trip back to the venue may restore your mayorship, and thus this application often has it’s users maniacally rushing back to their favorite locations so that they can check in.

There’s a good chance that your cultural institution already has a mayor (check here). So what, you ask? Well, some businesses are already utilizing this mobile application as a cool marketing tool by offering discounts to their mayors to keep them coming back to claim and reclaim the title.   Museums and cultural centers might do well to follow this lead. Offer free admission for a guest, or a pair of tickets to an upcoming event to your mayor – and ask foursquare to post that information on the website.  Not only will you incite some competition for mayorship, but my boyfriend and I will most likely incorporate your institution to our weekly date nights.



2) Yowza!! Show your Goods (and Friendliness) in an Economic Recession

Yowza!! finds deals in a geographic area and displays them to users. If you offer 10% off at your museum shop, you’ll pop up as a good destination for deal-loving visitors… and attract a user who might have otherwise tried to find a birthday gift for their child at a place like Target. Museum shops have a lot of educational and fun items to offer! Could you buy astronaut ice cream or a Frank Lloyd Wright Art Glass Coloring Book at Target? I don’t think so. At a museum shop? You betcha.

Many of the offers featured on this application are arranged directly through Yowza!! Give it a shot and capture a few unique visitors who’ll appreciate your discount and discover that your museum shop is a great resource for educational toys and activities– and other generally cool items.



3) Urbanspoon: The Olive Garden… Morton’s… Corner Bakery… Museum Cafe?

I remember first hearing about Urbanspoon at the end of 2008 and it’s no surprise that this application is (and has been) a huge hit since then. The application allows you to find restaurants in your area by filtering price, neighborhood, and cuisine. Can’t decide where to go? Give your iPhone a shake and this application will randomly come up with a suggestion.

Because this application is widely used in urban areas, I was surprised to learn that only three museum cafes are listed in Chicago and even fewer are listed in Los Angeles! And it’s really easy to add your cafe to the application. So where’s the museum cafe love on Urbanspoon?!

There you have it: three (of many) applications that can be utilized to market museums and cultural centers. What have you got to lose? Developing a presence on these already popular applications won’t take much effort. Moreover, involvement is likely to increase attendance and aid your institution in evolving to meet the needs of an increasingly app-savvy community.

Please share any applications that you’ve found helpful and would like to add to the list!

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Social Media, Technology 1 Comment

About the author


MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

One Response to Popular iPhone Applications to Aid Museum Marketers

  1. Ayo Omojola


    Check out http://www.juncanoo.com. I’m a student at the university of Pennsylvania developing apps for museums and I’d love to talk with you about it all – I’m sure you have some great ideas and ton of knowledge on the space. Please email me if at all possible and we’ll talk in some detail.

    We’re in the appstore here: itms://itunes.apple.com/us/app/exhibit-by-juncanoo/id344358052?mt=8 or search for “exhibit by juncanoo”. Would love to hear what you all think.



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