This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the July/August 2012 issue of Dimensions magazine.
Groupon and LivingSocial are neither good nor bad for museums. However, they are a tool that must be used with great care. As museum professionals, we must ask: What is the value to the museum for each patron generated by a deal of the day promotion over the life of that patron’s relationship with the museum? Will the patron spend money on food and retail? Will they become members and renew? Will they return for more visits once they have experienced our offerings? Will they send their children to summer camps? Will they make philanthropic gifts to the museum? Ultimately, these services deliver new patrons to our doors. We must be prepared to deepen the relationship once they arrive. If we can do that effectively, these services are a boon. Otherwise, we’ve just had a deeply discounted transaction with a one-time visitor, and that is a bust.
Jeff Hill, director of external relations, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill