What it means

We all tell stories. Word-of-mouth is shorthand for the stories told about your museum or its products out in the marketplace. These stories can be positive or negative. They are generally regarded as the most reliable and powerful types of information a person can receive regarding your museum and its offerings. Organic social media operates as a kind of word–of-mouth. Online reviews are also a closely related form of storytelling and have a similar effect.

How it’s used

Word-of-mouth is the result of every component of the experience and thus, the responsibility of every function in the museum (see also brand equity). Marketing, communications, and audience engagement play a role in setting the stage for word-of-mouth, but fundamentally, it is driven by product quality (e.g., exhibitions and programs) and lived experience. Extremely good experiences encourage positive word-of-mouth. Modestly good experiences typically do not. Negative experiences, even mildly negative ones, encourage negative word-of-mouth. This range of response to an experience is important because negative stories carry more weight than positive ones.

Why it matters

Word-of-mouth is arguably the most powerful marketing mechanism because it can drive behavior. Because it is rooted in storytelling, it has always been with us, and in a world that is oversaturated with marketing, the first-person story or testimonial given to you by someone you know and trust overrides almost any other message. This power is the origin of such widely used tools as the Net Promoter Score. For a museum, the same dynamic is at play. What people are saying about you and your products (e.g., a special exhibition) is often the strongest determining factor for a person’s choice to attend or not.


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