The novel coronavirus spurred a keen interest in digital technologies for museums as both cultural professionals and the public took notice of their uses and limitations throughout the confinement period. In this study, we investigated the use of digital technologies by museums during a period when in-person interaction was not possible. The aim of the study was to better understand the impact of the confinement period on the use of museum technologies in order to identify implications for future museum experience design. We compared museums across four countries – France, Japan, Luxembourg, and the United States – by conducting an international survey in three languages on the use of digital technologies during the early phase of the pandemic. Additionally, we analyzed the Facebook activity of museums in each country and conducted a series of interviews with digital museology professionals in academia and the private sector. We found that despite a flurry of online activities, especially during the early phase of the pandemic, museums confronted a number of internal and external challenges that were often incongruent with their ability to offer new forms of digital engagement. In general, digital solutions served only as a temporary substitute for the museum experience rather than as an opportunity to usher in a new digital paradigm for cultural mediation, and many cultural professionals cited a lack of digital training as a limiting factor in robust ICT implementation. We also argue that the most successful digital engagement came from those activities that promoted a sense of community or an invitation for self-expression by visitors. We conclude with a framework that describes a ‘virtuous circle of museum participation’, aiming to support public engagement with museums through the development of content that builds on the interconnectedness of on-site and online interactivity.