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What Museums and Educational Institutions Can Learn from Uber’s Growth Strategy to Maximizing Reach and Accessibility

For museums and educational institutions seeking to strategically increase their reach and accessibility, looking at Uber’s business strategy may be a surprising source of inspiration.

Uber began as a small unknown service in which private car owners used their private cars as taxis to transport people around town. Many people hesitated to use the service initially but Uber was able to quickly help people make the leap from ‘strange’ to ‘accepted’. The Uber app quickly became a staple on every phone, fast becoming an integral part of daily life around the globe. 

So, what was the secret ingredient that Uber utilized to transform itself from an unknown company into an integral service used by people from America to India? One word: localization. 

Uber’s ability to both translate its services and adapt them to specific audiences allowed it to grow virally seemingly overnight. A critical first step was translating the app into over 100 languages to ensure comfortable use in cities around the world. Uber also found a solution for international travelers seeking to use Uber while abroad that maintained the same user interface as the user’s home country. Recently, the company implemented a Google Translate integration to allow passengers to seamlessly translate their communications with their driver when traveling in a different country.

However, localization goes well beyond basic translation. Through deep market research, they learned the behaviors and habits of local cities, enabling them to customize the platform graphics, text, and even the types of rides available for hire. For example, Uber realized that traditional taxi services would be less effective in transporting their average Indian customer around congested cities, such as Jaipur or Hyderabad. Moreover, the average customer preferred the more common mode of transportation: motorbikes. As a result, they wisely adapted their service options to include Uber motorbikes, thus making their service more accessible. 

Beyond simple mechanical translation

Localization goes well beyond a literal translation of the text, taking into account a deep understanding of the target audience’s culture and needs. The importance of effective localization can be seen in the results of numerous surveys on global consumer preferences. When nearly 10,000 consumers across 29 countries were asked about their shopping preferences, “76% of online shoppers prefer to buy products with information in their native language. In addition, 40% will never buy from websites in other languages.”

While this statistic reflects spending habits, these tactics can be applied to the educational landscape as well. To effectively translate their visual content, visitor information, online databases, or even preparing for traveling exhibitions, museum professionals should prioritize localization.  When done correctly, target groups will more easily access the museum’s content and engage with it more meaningfully.

How the Shoah Foundation localized its digital archive

Just as Uber localized its services to meet the needs of its travelers, so too should educational institutions be translating and adapting their content to reach their specific audiences.

One good example is the USC Shoah Foundation. 

The Foundation partnered with Academic Language Experts (ALE) to translate and localize its entire visual archive database into Hebrew after noticing a peak in interest in the digital archives among scholars in Israel. However, these scholars were limited by the purely English-language interface. The Shoa Foundation then collaborated with the National Library in Israel to become deeply informed of Israeli academic researchers’ interests and begin seeking a solution.

From the outset, attention was given to numerous aspects of localization. What is the primary language of the target audience? What areas of the database would be most relevant to them? What is this audience most interested in? What can be done to make the archive more accessible? The Shoah Foundation was forced to think deeply about various localization considerations for this project to succeed.

Attention was also needed to address issues relating to the user interface. As Hebrew is written from right to left, the archive layout required reconceptualization to ensure a comfortable user interface. That involved rethinking how the archive was organized and rethinking the size and positioning of all the buttons and prompts.

Key steps to begin successful localization of your museum’s visual content

There are several steps you can take to lay a sturdy foundation for a successful localization:

  • Understand your audience through market research. Like Uber, which conducted thorough market research to understand each city’s specific needs, invest upfront in understanding your audience’s needs and level of accessibility. What factors are inhibiting them from comfortably accessing your museum’s content? What would make their visiting experience smoother?

  • Collaborate with other institutions to help promote accessibility. The Shoah Foundation collaborated with the National Library in Israel to become deeply informed of Israeli academic researcher’s interests. This collaboration ensured that the digital archive translation was as relevant as possible to Israeli academics.  

  • Find the right translation and localization partner for your project. The translator should have a strong command over the source and target languages and be a subject expert in the translated content. This allows for the ability to accurately convey nuance within the translation. For example, museums seeking to localize exhibition content should be aware of cultural nuances that may not translate literally and need to be replaced with culturally relevant and appropriate alternatives.

  • Remain updated on the changing needs of your target audience. Just because your audience has specific requirements at present doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t adapt over time. It is, therefore, critical for you to remain invested in learning about your audience's changing interests and needs. This can be accomplished through speaking with community representatives, asking for feedback through surveys, and consulting with other educational institutions that offer content to similar audiences. 

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