By Sara Eagin

Virtual exhibits are increasingly becoming part of the discussions we have with clients about museum and exhibit solutions. It’s a topic of discussion both for companies in the process of building a museum or exhibit, and those just beginning to think about developing one.

A few reasons why virtual exhibits are becoming increasingly relevant in the corporate world are that they offer a way to update and expand content more easily than a fixed exhibit structure, they provide a way for organizations that are innovative and forward thinking to show that they are on the leading edge of exhibit technology, and they allow companies with decentralized workforces or those with global locations to reach a broader internal or external audience.

Let’s look at how virtual exhibits add value to a physical exhibit and how they can be effectively leveraged to achieve business goals, reach target audiences and encourage engagement.

Interpreting a physical exhibit in a virtual space

Virtual exhibits are not like traditional websites, and often take the form of dynamic applications that have creative layouts and navigation. They are specifically and uniquely created to showcase the content of your physical exhibit in an online venue. Most virtual exhibits mimic the design and feel of a physical exhibit while embracing the interactive benefits of the Internet. Visitors or employees who may have only scarce moments to glance at a physical exhibit can experience the full breadth of the material at their own pace in a virtual site.

Here are two simple ways that components of a physical exhibit can be adapted into an interactive, engaging online experience:

  • Static labels that viewers walk past in a physical exhibit can become interactive, cross-linked opportunities to encourage deeper explorations of both the exhibit and your website when viewed in a virtual exhibit.
  • Questions on a panel can be turned into interactive quizzes with competitive rankings when posted online.

Content development

While physical displays are often limited by space and layout, exhibit content can be expanded and tailored in the virtual realm. Any additional stories, images and connections that could not fit in the printed display can be added to the virtual content. Supplemental materials can further enhance the messaging, and certain themes and messages can (and should) be tailored to the different audiences you’ll attract online.

Spatial considerations also come into play when considering an online exhibit versus one residing in a physical space. For instance, content that is presented in several linear panels in an office lobby can be displayed more abstractly online. Virtual exhibits like this one from MoMA demonstrate how even traditional wall-hung artwork can be explored more organically online.

Global reach

Virtual exhibits have the unique ability to connect employees and stakeholders across global organizations. For companies with one central location, a lobby exhibit can reach the full audience. But for large organizations, a physical display simply can’t provide the reach needed to engage all audiences. By adding a virtual component to a physical exhibit, people across dozens of countries and hundreds of offices will have access to the information, even if they never make a trip to the headquarters.

Lifecycle of virtual exhibits

Consider this: A virtual exhibit can actually extend the life of your current exhibits. For example, physical exhibits that aren’t built in a way to accommodate expansion and add new content will eventually become dated, but a virtual presence extends the life of exhibits beyond banners and displays in a building. Interpreting the content into a virtual exhibit provides an opportunity to utilize and build on that investment and continue to benefit from it for years after.

More and more organizations are realizing the value in expanding their investment in a physical exhibit into a complementary virtual exhibit. When created alongside one another, virtual and physical exhibits can work together to tell a story and encourage viewers to engage through multiple platforms. A web presence for an exhibit provides online connections and followers to have a sharable experience that can be spread to others. Now, when having a solid digital presence is a key focus of marketing and communications teams, displaying rich media content through a virtual exhibit provides yet another effective way for audiences to create genuine connections with a brand.

 

Recently these virtual exhibits have begun to expand into more complex, diverse and exciting online experiences that seek to embrace the possibilities of content on the Internet.

National Museum of American History: Julia Child’s Kitchen

Missouri Historical Society: Lewis & Clark National Bicentennial Exhibition