The Museum Documentation Center initiated the research into virtual visits to Croatian museums last year in the aftermath of the spring 2020 lockdown. During the lockdown that extended over multiple weeks, the only way to visit a museum was virtually over the internet. In contrast, museums in Croatia were open to visitors during 2021, except for those affected by the two earthquakes. Since both the lockdown and subsequent transition to (exclusively) virtual visits in 2020 came quite abruptly, museums had more time to adapt content and virtual communication in 2021 than in the first year of the pandemic (when the "new normal" caught us without notice).

To identify trends in online visits during the past 2021, we distributed a questionnaire among 164 registered museums, to which 134 museums, or 81.7%, responded. Compared to 2020, 12% more museums participated in the survey. Our questionnaire consisted of two tables: one recording annual web visits (overall and by content) and the other, the number of followers on social media and audience engagement across different online platforms.

Out of the museums that provided data, we did not obtain a complete response for all categories (some were left unanswered). Regarding the website visits, 32 museums (24%) did not provide data, most likely for the same reason as the previous year—lack of web traffic metrics implementation or an employee who would (know how to) analyze it. That is not surprising when considering the number of IT professionals working in our museums (only 14 such employees compared to 164 museums) and the fact that almost one-third of the museums have only 1 to 2 professional employees. In addition to other work, they have to create content suitable for different audiences and adapt it to the medium of communication.
Additionally, 14 museums (10.5%) only reported the overall number of visits to their website. That means they probably do not have insight into the type of content their visitors interact with the most on their website (checking for museum opening hours does not carry the same weight as engaging with educational content). So, they cannot track the interest of their online visitors in the content they are offering.


Thus, 102 museums (76%) reported 7,458,727 overall visits to their website, which is 25% more (or 1.9 million more) than in 2020, when 81 museums had responded.
Analyzing the type of online content, in 2021, 47 museums reported 368,157 views of their online collection (a 74% increase); 51 museums reported 174,312 visits to virtual online exhibitions (a 21% increase); 37 museums reported 740,041 visits to their virtual tours (a 67% increase). Further, 31 museums recorded 33,038 online users of their educational programs (a 3.6% increase); 26 live programs attracted 27,865 online users (a 14% decrease compared to 2020); 20 museums reported 168,221 subscribers to their newsletter (a 71% increase).
The majority of annual website visits were recorded under 'other'—1,715,249 in total, as reported by 55 museums—a 35% decrease compared to 2020 when 15% fewer museums provided data.

It is notably still easier for museums to track audience engagement on social media and video platforms since the statistics are automatically generated. On the other hand, it takes more knowledge of metrics tools to analyze website traffic.

Social media sites had the most recorded views, clicks, and interactions—19,856,750 overall, as reported by 95.5% of museums (1.5% less than in 2020 when the response rate was lower). Facebook is still the most popular social media platform in the Croatian museum community, with 127 museums (95%) having a Facebook page. Some museums have created more pages, like complex museums with more than one site or museums that have opened a Facebook page for a project. Instagram is the second most popular social media platform among Croatian museums, used by 67 museums (50%), while Twitter is used by 13 museums (10%). It is not uncommon to use several social media platforms simultaneously (68 museums), nor the parallel use of social media and video-sharing platforms, as reported by 67 museums.


Some 558,362 users followed museums on social media in 2021 (39% less than in 2020), published posts gathered 17,408,165 views (2% less than in 2020), 960,350 likes (380,542 or 28 % less), 44,505 comments (86% less), and 41,250 shares (84% less).

YouTube takes the first (and almost exclusive) place among online video-sharing platforms, used by 50% of the museums (or 67 of the respondents). Three museums are also using TikTok, and only one is using Vimeo as its go-to platform for posting video content. How this limited number of TikTok users has managed to affect the total number of video content viewers compared to 2020 is evident in the number of views (865,396), likes (over 50,000), and TikTok followers (over 4,000) starting from mid-March 2021 when the Archaeological Museum of Istria joined TikTok and caused a sensation, although the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Littoral in Rijeka had mastered the platform earlier with a considerable number of followers.

Some 70 museums, or 52%, reported 1,150,332 viewers of their video content (which is a 91.3% increase, or a million more users in comparison to 2020). The number of (new) followers in 2021 is 6,707, almost three times less than in 2020; the number of likes is 55,104, more than double compared to 2020; the number of comments is 810, or an increase of 97%; the number of shares is 2,188 or 85% increase. Some of the rarely used tools among museums are the SmARTify app, Soundcloud, IGTV (Instagram TV), and Reels (Instagram video), each used by only one museum.

In conclusion, a visit to a museum is a complete sensory experience that virtual content cannot replace but can complement, helping to expand knowledge and attract new audiences. For this reason, it is important, regardless of the medium of communication, to offer quality and engaging content that museums unquestionably have. Also, they should shape knowledge about it in an understandable, stimulating way for the public.

(Tea Rihtar Jurić, published originally in News from the Museum World 162, 8 March 2022; edited and translated by Ivona Marić)