The Impact of Peer & Expert Influence on Museum Marketing for Young Adults

Author: Richard Paget
Mentor: Dr. Andrew Franks
Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School


During periods of economic instability, museums often face significant reductions in public funding. To overcome these challenges, museums must actively appeal to the young adult sector of the consumer market. However, digital marketing endeavors for museums are often ineffective because online information is outdated or museums fail to present exhibitions in attractive ways. However, peer and expert reviews of museum exhibitions can positively influence how audiences perceive artworks. This enhanced perspective can lead to higher attendance rates and increased overall revenue for museums. Digital nudging strategies in online campaigns may also prove useful in this context. In this study, two separate digital advertising campaigns (peer and expert) were employed to evaluate the influence of opinion sources and digital nudging strategies on participants’ engagement with museum spaces. A questionnaire about participants’ attitudes toward the exhibits, quantified on a 1-7 scale, documented each participant’s likelihood to attend both museums advertised. It is expected that peer opinion holds more sway over individuals with less interest in fine arts. In contrast, expert opinion will be more persuasive for those with a higher trait level of interest. A greater interest in fine arts and low-effort digital nudging also increase young people’s inclination to visit museums. The implications of these expected results concerning museum advertising strategies are discussed.


Municipal budget reductions significantly and unfairly harm the fine arts sector. Evidenced by the economic downtowns of the COVID–19 pandemic, the arts often receive low economic prioritization in the face of financial adversity. Critics posit that cultural institutions, namely museums, are not deemed necessary for society to function in times of economic turmoil (Gofman et al., 2011). Governments have been skeptical about funding the arts due to past instances of poor stock market performance and abrupt shifts in program focus, leading to financial overreaching. These incidents have strained museums’ relationships with government expenditures and municipal donors. (Maddox, 1999). As a result, museums around the world are often struggling to make ends meet (Bronner, 2017). Museums also have difficulty recovering economically succeeding periods of budget reduction. In the recent pandemic, museums have largely been unable to offset losses, where nearly two-thirds of institutions report that their net operating performance decreased by an average of 38% (American Alliance of Museums, 2021). Moreover, many wealthy donors and foundations, hurt by market downturns, are expected to focus more of their charity on organizations that serve basic human needs like food and shelter in place of cultural outlets. On average, foundation endowments for cultural institutions are down 30% to 35% post-pandemic (Stern, 2009).

Governments need to rethink museums’ cultural and societal importance because they are integral to a nation’s identity. Museums house and preserve cultural history while also educating the general public. They are social institutions that, in some ways, are both the results and the agents of social change and, as such, have a significant impact on public opinion (McLean, 2007). Museums also increase the psychological well-being of visitors (Dragija & Jelincic, 2022). Given the positive impact museums have on people’s experiences and nationalist sentiments, it is important to highlight why more young people need to attend these institutions.

Museums have an educational and entertainment obligation to their visitors and should work to be more marketable to all segments of the market. However, the young adult market (17 to 22 years of age) is a market sector that museums continuously fail to attract. This is likely because youth culture likes to reject institutional or adult culture, and a majority of museum visitors are over 60 years old (Mokhtar & Kasim, 2011). If museums can attract more young people to attend their spaces, it would help fill these gaps in the market and spur economic growth. This is also a crucial market because today’s youth represent tomorrow’s potential museum visitors and employees. One study shows people who frequently attend museum spaces are likely to continue doing so later in their adult life (S. Waller & J. Waller, 2018).

Certainly, there is an exigence to find ways to attract more young visitors to museums. However, museum marketers’ lack of understanding of the young adult market hampers efforts to make museums more appealing to this demographic. (Mokhtar & Kasim, 2011). The proposed study will investigate how museum professionals can construct effective digital marketing plans to cater to a younger adult audience. This study will examine specifically how the source (critics vs. peers) of opinions about a fine arts institution can predict participants’ willingness to attend these institutions. By doing this, museums can discover the viewpoints that have the largest impact on young adult public sentiment. This is useful for developing marketing plans that can widen the appeal of museums to younger audiences, attracting more visitors.

Literature Review Factors that Influence Aesthetic Judgment

Museum marketers need to understand the factors that influence individuals’ aesthetic judgment of an artwork. This would result in a better grasp of how to make art more alluring to an audience. A deeper aesthetic appreciation would, in turn, encourage more people to visit museums. Several studies have proven that individuals’ aesthetic perceptions aren’t determined solely by the artwork itself. Rather, many social variables contribute to the formation of aesthetic judgment, such as pressure from social conformity, companionship during museum visits, and external recommendations (Hesslinger et al., 2017). One’s attitude toward appreciating an artwork and, consequently, behaviors that make one visit a museum space are influenced by those around them. However, experimental inquiries about the role of the source of these influences are sparse. Therefore, this study will investigate peer and expert opinions, two sources of varying degrees of influence on aesthetic perception.

Peer Influence on Preferences and Behaviors

Peer opinion has a longstanding influence on individuals’ preferences and behaviors. Existing concepts of conformity and social homogamy have compelled people to switch attitudes and change perceptions that fit the status quo of their peers (Kalmign, 1998). For example, online word-of-mouth significantly increased theater attendance in domestic and international markets. Online reviews were also significant predictors of box office revenue (Kim et al., 2013). In other words, peer opinion helped fuel people’s desire to watch certain movies. Another study shows that consumer word-of-mouth is valued more than editor reviews when it comes to attending restaurants. This is because travelers’ reviews are considered more reliable for providing up-to-date and enjoyable information compared to content from travel service providers, which might use different heuristics in their evaluations (Zhang et al., 2010). Peers also have a strong influence over people’s consumption habits through their social media posts (Hawkins et al., 2020). Peer opinion significantly influences local behavior, making it an effective strategy to attract young people to museum venues.

Museums and High Culture

While several studies have proved the potency of peer opinion on behavior, it may not apply to all empirical settings. As noted before, museums are cultural institutions that are enjoyed to a greater extent by older adults. Moreover, the information-dense environment in museums distinguishes “high culture” from “popular culture,” where museums are considered the former (Borowiecki & Greenwald, 2018). Attending a museum is a different experience from exposure to other forms of culture, such as television, music, and mainstream fashion that is easier to access. The public views physical artwork typically in museums, private collections, and galleries, which gives the art appreciation scene an inherently more esoteric disposition. This means museums attract visitors who are often in search of a serious form of leisure that requires more cultural and logistical involvement (Brida et al., 2014). This also plays into why museums are less appealing to younger demographics. In general, younger people exhibit shorter attention spans and value “having fun” over cultural enrichment prospects (Gofman et al., 2011).

Expert Influence and High Trait Level of Interest in the Arts

Museum visitors are mostly older and possess more knowledge of art, so they assess the quality of an artwork based on different heuristics than the inexperienced viewer. Those with expertise in art history and practice are also better equipped to understand complex art, leading to a consequent increase in interest rating compared to novice viewers (Lindell & Mueller, 2011). This suggests that individuals with a stronger interest in art are more inclined to value the input of art experts over peer opinions. This is because experts have a strong social influence in high-culture settings (Carbon, 2017). Another study shows that expert opinions have equal sway over individuals’ preferences for classical music (Moore, 1921), another area that is considered “high culture.” While no study discussed whether these findings apply to environments of aesthetic and cultural appreciation, we speculate expert opinions hold more gravity than peer opinions because classical music and fine arts are similar in their esoteric nature.

While this tempts museum marketers to include expert opinions in their advertisement campaigns, the goal is to curate marketing strategies that appeal to younger audiences. While young adults themselves may be less involved in this eclectic scene, young students with an art education background may value expert opinion more as well. Art students are better able to develop their aesthetic sensibility—the ability to interpret visual language—relative to students who do not share this same background (Daugherty, 2021). Students with this trait are more likely to form personal connections with artwork, similar to older demographics’ abilities to engage with and enjoy the cultural elements of museums. Therefore, young students with extensive fine arts experience are more likely to participate in the “high culture” aspect of museums and value the viewpoints of experts. This means there may be a correlation between trait level of interest in the arts and the influence of expert opinions.

Hypothesis 1: Peer opinion will have a greater influence over people with a lesser interest in fine arts and expert opinion will have a greater influence over people with a higher interest in fine arts when it comes to persuading individuals to visit museums.

Choice Architecture

Most young people visit museums infrequently due to the necessity of planning to attend these spaces. Therefore, if museums can reduce the effort required to schedule a visitation, they will gain higher retention rates from their advertisements. Many studies show the efficacy of choice architecture on people’s behavior, or the manipulation of different variables that make the intended result easier for the consumer to obtain. For example, making a grocery item easier to access increases the likelihood it will be purchased (Walmsley et al., 2018). This tactic also has its merit in digital settings. Digital nudging, an online form of choice architecture, is the use of user-interface design elements to guide people’s behavior in digital environments. It is just as effective as traditional nudging as it presents information with specificity and intention. (Hummel & Maedche, 2019). Examples of digital nudging strategies include email reminders, technology defaults, and time-related pressure cues (Djurica & Figl, 2017). One study notes that digital nudging techniques have increased engagement with the targeted behavior among college students (Plak et al., 2022). Although the role of digital nudging on museum attendance rates has not been studied, it has demonstrated its ability to change young adults’ behavior. Marketing practitioners may use similar strategies on their websites and email campaigns to garner more visitors.

Hypothesis 2: A greater interest in fine arts and low-effort digital nudging tactics will boost young people’s likelihood of attending museum spaces.



Participants will be drawn from an undergraduate body of studies at a university. Participants will disclose their gender, race, sexual orientation, background in art education, and the number of prior museum visitations.


Interest in the Fine Arts. Participants’ trait level of interest in fine arts will be measured using items from the 20-item Interest in Art Scale (Taskesen, 2014). Participants will respond to ten items on a 1 “Strongly disagree” to 5 “Strongly agree” scale. An example item is “I think that art is necessary for individual development.” See Appendix A.

Peer vs. Expert Influence. Participants will be influenced by a brief positive review of the exhibit that ostensibly comes from another student or an art professor. The positive review will be embedded within other information and images promoting the exhibit online. See the Procedure section and Appendix B for more information.

Attitudes Toward Exhibit. To measure participants’ interest in attending each museum, they will be given a brief three-item questionnaire for each museum advertisement. Each question will be answered on a scale of 1-7, where 1 indicates the lowest likelihood, 4 indicates a moderate likelihood, and 7 indicates the greatest likelihood. See Appendix C for the full list of items.

Effort Manipulation. Participants will be invited to register to attend the exhibit when it ostensibly comes to the area near their university. The invitation to register will either be (1) embedded and fillable within the survey itself (low-effort condition) or (2) include directions for emailing a researcher-managed account with specific registration information (high-effort condition). More details are provided under Procedure and in Appendix D.

Registration Behavior. Registration behavior will be measured as one of two binary behavioral outcomes, that being if the registration form was filled (low-effort condition) or if the email was contacted (high-effort condition).


After accessing the survey, participants will complete an informed consent document and measures of demographic characteristics. Participants will then be randomly assigned links to view one of two online promotional materials, both ostensibly advertising an exhibition from a different museum. Exhibitions will feature artworks similar in style and period influence to avoid potential biases in artistic preferences. Each promotional material will include either: (1) a peer recommendation of the museum or (2) an art professor’s recommendation of the museum.

Promotional materials will also include descriptions and images of the exhibit. After reviewing the materials along with the peer or expert recommendation, participants will indicate their attitudes toward the exhibit. Next, participants will be (falsely) told that the exhibit will be touring through their area soon and offered the chance to register by either (1) filling out an immediate survey or (2) contacting an email describing their interest in registering. Whether participants complete the embedded registration or send an email will be coded into the data set. Participants will read a debriefing statement of the full purpose and hypotheses of the study and receive a notice that the exhibition is fictional. Finally, participants will be asked how skeptical they were of the fake exhibit (see suspicion check item in Appendix E). This would help measure the extent to which people were convinced they were interacting with a real exhibition advertisement which would help give credibility to the database.

Analytical Plan

Simple Moderation Analysis

A simple moderation analysis will be conducted using Hayes’ (2013) PROCESS macro with influence condition (peer vs. expert) as the primary independent variable (x), interest in the fine arts as the moderator (w), and attitudes toward the exhibit as the outcome (y)
The analysis is expected to show that peers have a stronger influence on attitudes for participants with lower interest in the arts, while experts have a greater impact on attitudes for those with higher interest. Additionally, individuals with higher trait levels of interest in the arts should report more positive attitudes toward the exhibit.

Binary Logistic Regression Analysis

A binary logistic regression analysis will be conducted with dichotomous registration behavior as the outcome and trait interest in the arts, influence condition (peer and expert influence), an interest in the arts x influence condition interaction term, attitudes toward the exhibit, and effort condition (low vs. high) as predictors. We expect the combination of these variables to predict significant deviance in registration behavior. Among specific variables, we expect trait interest in the arts, attitudes toward the exhibit, and being in the low effort registration condition will all increase the odds of completing registration to attend the exhibit. The effect of the influence condition will be dependent on the participant’s level of trait interest in the arts such that the interaction term is expected to be significant in the same pattern as in the moderation analysis described above.


Financially supporting and maintaining venues for fine arts exhibitions is an important, but understudied, topic in the behavioral sciences literature. The proposed study would integrate theories related to social influence and choice architecture to investigate optimal museum marketing strategies and increase patronage and revenue. Participants will be exposed to two digital museum advertisements, each advocating a different museum and source (peer vs. expert), and complete measures of interest in the fine arts, peer vs. expert influence, attitudes toward exhibit, effort manipulation, and registration behavior to gauge the relative influence of opinion sources and digital nudging techniques on consumer behavior. We expect that expert opinion will have a greater influence on individuals with a higher background and/or interest in fine arts, while peer opinion has a larger effect on those with a less extensive background and/or lesser knowledge of fine arts (Hypothesis 1). We also expect a greater interest in fine arts, and low-effort digital nudging are factors that increase individuals’ probability of visiting museum spaces (Hypothesis 2).


On the basis that both hypotheses are correct, museum marketers need to scrutinize and potentially update their advertising digital strategies, namely the content of their online websites and targeted emails that advertise their spaces. A potential idea is to ask recipients a question that measures their trait level of interest in the arts which would affect whether a peer or expert review of the museum should be provided in the following advertisement. If the majority of participants demonstrated a higher trait level of interest in fine arts, it may be more beneficial for museums to provide expert opinions on their websites. Museums can also apply these findings to social media platforms. Again, the goal of museums is to disseminate cultural and historical knowledge to a wider audience. The vertiginous rise of technology has significantly affected the ways museums promote new activities and upcoming exhibitions (Marakos, 2013). Social media is a great low-cost investment for advertisers. It is also a great medium for digital choice architecture and the distribution of peer and expert opinions. Museums can also establish a good rapport with universities if they manage to appeal to a wider range of young adult audiences. Building positive relationships with universities can enhance students’ interest in museum programs and outreach initiatives, such as internship programs and one-day events. This, in turn, can stimulate young adult interest in museums. University collaboration also helps fulfill the main civic mission of museums: the widespread cultivation of broad-minded and informed citizens (Maloney & Hill, 2016).

Museums have distinct commercial systems and visitor expectations compared to other fine art venues like galleries and private collections. However, the digital marketing strategies explored in this study may also apply in these alternative spaces because it is a similar aesthetic experience for visitors. These findings can also translate to other high-culture settings that meet a certain threshold of intellectual sophistication, such as classical literature, classical music, and operas. This study invigorates the influence of expert opinion in these contexts.

Limitations and Future Research Directions

Assumptions had to be made about the correlation between expert influence and high culture. This is because of the shortage of previous research on the source of influence and its specific impact on aesthetic judgment in museum spaces, an environment that is deemed “high culture.” However, these limitations are unavoidable when applying existing theories to a novel concept. The sample of participants is another concern of this study. While undergraduate students in university fall into the young adult age bin, they may not be an accurate reflection of the young adult population at large. For example, universities may have a greater level of students interested in the arts due to their pedagogical setting. To account for this limitation, future studies should target a broader scope of young adult fine arts patrons and enthusiasts. Future research should replicate and extend the possible findings of this relatively understudied area of inquiry. This primarily involves examining external influences on one’s aesthetic experience and interpretation of visual artwork. A possible revision to the procedure of this study is to take additional steps to increase the perceived realism of the two online museum advertisements. Recruiting real art students and professors to talk about the supposed exhibit, whether it be in class or online, would remedy potential skepticism among participants and maximize feelings of legitimacy. This was unable to happen for this study due to budget constraints.


Museum marketing strategies that would facilitate a greater interest in fine arts among young adult audiences would bolster overall attendance rates for fine arts institutions. By recognizing the utility of proposed influence tactics, such as the source of opinion and digital nudges, on aesthetic perception, marketing practitioners could widen the appeal of museums to an extensive young adult audience.


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Appendix A: Interest in Fine Arts
Items on the Interest in Fine Arts Questionnaire. Each response was measured on a 1 “Strongly disagree” to 5 “Strongly agree” scale. ______________________________________________________________________________

  1. I think that art is necessary for individual development.
  2. I like following artistic events on the Internet. (R)
  3. Whenever I see a poster related to art, I check it out.
  4. I am interested in painting exhibitions. (R)
  5. I have positive thoughts about artistic activities.
  6. I believe that I should spare some money for artistic activities.
  7. I like talking about art with my friends. (R)
  8. I read culture and art pages of newspapers.
  9. I think that individuals who deal with art are more creative.
  10. We talk and make discussions about art events in my family.


*Note: Some items were reverse-coded for consistency, making all items positively-keyed. The symbol (R) indicates the items that were reverse-coded.

Appendix B: Proof of Concept of Marketing Materials with Peer/Expert Review Comments Prototype of an Advertisement With a Peer Review Sample

Appendix C: Attitudes Toward Exhibit
Items on the Attitudes Toward Exhibit Questionnaire. Each response was measured on a 1 “Not likely at all” to 7 “Extremely likely” scale. ______________________________________________________________________________

  1. I am interested in attending the exhibition advertised.
  2. I will make plans to visit the exhibition advertised.
  3. I will discuss/recommend the exhibition advertised to others.


Appendix D: Proof of Concept of Instructions in the Low-Effort and High-Effort Condition Prototype of Registration Instructions in the Low-Effort Condition

Appendix E: Suspicion Check Item Succeeding the Debriefing Statement ______________________________________________________________________________

1. Prior to receiving this debriefing, how convinced were you that the museum advertisement was genuine? ______________________________________________________________________________

About the author

Richard Paget

Richard is currently a senior at Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School in Jersey City, New Jersey. He demonstrates a passion for fine arts and is emboldened to speak out about the role of museums in society and why they are important. Some of his favorite museums include the Mütter Museum, the National WW II Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (where he spent his last summer as an education intern). Psychology, statistics, and studio art are some of his favorite subjects in high school. Richard also enjoys illustration and video games and is a part of his school’s volleyball team.