It’s The Dawning of the Age of Aquariums: A Case Study with The North Carolina Aquarium At Fort Fisher

Julia Kennedy

Marketing & Aud Dev Associate

So you read lots of case studies about museums and galleries, and while they’re somewhat relevant, zoos and aquariums have specific challenges. You have an attractively cool collection, but how can you get your visitors to want to know more and engage beyond casually browsing the galleries?

We believe one of the most powerful ways to increase engagement in any cultural institution is to give your visitors agency.

When you increase agency, you’re giving the opportunity for each visitor to participate and bring themselves to the experience and immediately make the contents of your space more relevant to each person.

Giving visitors agency is just one example. There are many ways to increase audience engagement at your cultural institution, be it a zoo, aquarium, museum, or any historic site.

Our audience engagement principles work in all of these settings because they’re less reliant on any one specific type of institution, and are more grounded in the workings of human psychology.

Here’s how it goes to work in an aquarium setting.

A visitor at North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher | Visit NC

An In-Depth Audience Engagement Workshop At The North Carolina Aquarium At Fort Fisher

The North Carolina Aquarium At Fort Fisher is part of a network of aquariums in North Carolina with two other locations at Pine Knoll Shores and Roanoke Island, and a mini-aquarium in Jennette’s Pier.

We recently visited The North Carolina Museum At Fort Fisher to conduct a workshop on audience engagement for millennials through on-the-floor programming, special events, and social media.

The day was broken into two parts:

  • a customized presentation to the aquarium’s entire staff based on the needs of their institution, and
  • a hands-on workshop on storytelling and creating engaging experiences within their space.

During the workshop, we worked directly with staff to help them rapidly create unique three-to-six minute tour stops for their space.

Turning passive visitors into devoted visitors

We demonstrated how Museum Hack approaches storytelling and activity design, and walked through our exact process, along with explaining the reasoning behind each step. The entire staff dove right in and experimented with different approaches to structuring their content.

The workshop also emphasized how to facilitate games and activities that give visitors the opportunity to shape their individual experience.

When you give someone the chance to determine what they learn and discover on tour, they become an active participant instead of a passive one.

By leaving part of the tour subject to the personality and choice of each visitor, you increase the chance that your audience will stay engaged, retain information, and have an incredible time at your institution. This is how you can transform passive visitors into devoted patrons.

At the end of the workshop, the aquarium’s staff had five ready-to-go engagement prototypes, along with a wealth of information on how to supercharge audience engagement, attract, and engage new audiences to keep them coming back.

Here’s What The North Carolina Aquarium At Fort Fisher Thought About Their Experience

Jennifer Metzler-Fiorino, Education Curator at The North Carolina Aquarium At Fort Fisher, had this to say about working with Museum Hack:

It was awesome. Takeaways from the day were that we’re going to do some things that are new, that we don’t have to be afraid to do something different, and we can engage our audiences in new and exciting ways.”

Want to see how our proven methods can be applied to your collection? Email us at and ask to talk with our Museum Consulting Team.

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