Sponsored By

Smithsonian Taps Salesforce to Personalize Experiences for Museum Visitors

The Smithsonian Institution will use Salesforce’s Nonprofit Cloud Platform to unify online resources for multiple locations, connect with donors, and generate personalized recommendations for museum visitors.

Brian T. Horowitz

January 25, 2024

5 Min Read
Ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland's character Dorothy in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.
Ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland's character Dorothy in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.Richard Strauss, Smithsonian

At a Glance

  • Nonprofit Cloud allows the Smithsonian to create personalized experiences based on user’s interests.
  • The Smithsonian’s website will now provide a unified experience for users to access on which museums require a ticket.
  • A key part of the Smithsonian’s data strategy will be hiring a chief data officer in 2024.

The Smithsonian Institution, which includes more than 150 million collections and objects, is known for artifacts such as the original Star-Spangled Banner and Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers from "The Wizard of Oz," housed at the American History Museum in Washington, D.C. It maintains physical locations that include 21 museums, eight research centers, and the National Zoo.

But in advance of the United States’ upcoming 250th anniversary in 2026, the Smithsonian is unifying its digital experience with the help of Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud. It needed to seamlessly connect its artifacts as well as educational and research materials.

“That is a huge undertaking that we’re focused on as it relates to how we can make ourselves more accessible to people who can't make it to D.C.,” Becky Kobberod, head of digital transformation at the Smithsonian, tells InformationWeek. “That's a huge body of work just around getting what we have available to people online; not only the objects but also the interpretive material or educational resources. We want to get all of that online in a way that is really findable and discoverable by the American public.”

Personalizing the Online Visitor Experience

For the Smithsonian, increasing its digital footprint means boosting access to the Smithsonian’s resources for all Americans in every household and classroom. Multiple pathways allow consumers to access information on museum collections and to reach customer service. By the entire museum system using Salesforce, it will make the experience more unified for the Smithsonian’s constituents.

Related:7 Steps to Get Your Data Consolidation Project Off the Ground

“One of the biggest challenges they were looking to solve is just getting a single platform with information about all of the experiences and constituents who were attending the museum or interacting with them online,” says Lori Freeman, vice president and general manager of Salesforce for Nonprofits at Salesforce.

Nonprofit Cloud allows the Smithsonian to create personalized experiences based on user’s interests, whether that is museums such as the African American History Museum, Air and Space Museum, or other properties. Previously, when using different platforms, the Smithsonian would be unable to track a museum visitor’s specific interests. Machine learning in nonprofit cloud personalizes experiences by offering a recommendation engine.

“We’re able to help them create recommended paths by harmonizing their data across a bunch of different experiences in their network,” Freeman says.

“Thinking about ways that we can create just a base core function across those different museums so that everyone knows what to expect, that's an early milestone we're trying to hit,” Kobberod says.

Related:Quick Study: Optimizing Cloud Spending

“People want to be members of different museums, but from a technology or IT perspective, there are ways we can either consolidate or simplify the technology or infrastructure we're using to support those.” – Becky Kobberod, head of digital transformation, Smithsonian Institution

For example, the Smithsonian’s website will now provide a unified experience for users to access on which museums require a ticket, such as the Cooper Hewitt, and which locations, like the Air and Space Museum, require timed-entry passes.

“The experience that a visitor may have when they are, for instance, going to the Cooper Hewitt in New York is vastly different than you would have if you were walking into the Natural History Museum on the Mall,” Kobberod says.

A Single Platform for Donors, Members

The Smithsonian also needed a single platform for its constituents and donors. Freeman notes that Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud incorporates APIs that are specific to donor information and fundraising events to allow museums such as the Smithsonian to engage with volunteers and donors using multiple platforms.

Related:10 IT Trends to Watch for This Year

“We were focused on creating good technological solutions for folks to be able to move data in and out, because we knew they would be using other applications to support some of those fundraising activities, or even to support volunteer activities,” Freeman says.

Going forward, the Smithsonian will use Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud for membership management, which will replace a collection of multiple platforms that the Smithsonian museums have used differently based on their needs, Kobberod says.

“People want to be members of different museums, but from a technology or IT perspective, there are ways we can either consolidate or simplify the technology or infrastructure we're using to support those, and that’s an area we're exploring with the new Salesforce platform as well,” Kobberod says.

A New Data Strategy

Another key focus for the Smithsonian is forming an enterprise-wide data strategy, according to Kobberod.

“We've never historically prioritized gathering a lot of data or information on the public that regularly connects with us,” Kobberod says. “I think a core tenet of all digital transformations is often to become a data-driven organization.”

Previously, the Smithsonian navigated eight membership programs. Now by using a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, the museum system will have an easier time locating specific members and member numbers for individual programs such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The CRM knowledge base will be a key resource to look up information about constitutions, according to Kobberod.

“To be able to pull up that record and have that information available to our frontline staff is really going to be a huge game-changer for people who are reaching out to us and seeking information,” Kobberod says.

Another key shift is developing a better data governance framework around how the organization manages both collections and research data. Previously, each museum had its own data governance framework. Now this effort will become more cohesive, according to Kobberod.

“That's a pretty big shift for us as an institution,” Kobberod says. “We've not historically flexed that muscle.”

A key part of the Smithsonian’s data strategy will be hiring a chief data officer in 2024, Kobberod says.

“Data governance, thinking about a chief data officer, and investing in the resourcing to support a data governance model -- all of that feeds our data strategy, which ultimately underpins our digital transformation,” Kobberod says.

About the Author(s)

Brian T. Horowitz

Contributing Reporter

Brian T. Horowitz is a technology writer and editor based in New York City. He started his career at Computer Shopper in 1996 when the magazine was more than 900 pages per month. Since then, his work has appeared in outlets that include eWEEK, Fast Company, Fierce Healthcare, Forbes, Health Data Management, IEEE Spectrum, Men’s Fitness, PCMag, Scientific American and USA Weekend. Brian is a graduate of Hofstra University. Follow him on Twitter: @bthorowitz.


Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like


More Insights