Of all the facts I learned in a very insightful day at ‘Connect 4: East Lothian Council’s 8th Annual Tourism Conference’, the one that has stayed with me is this: more people in the world today own a mobile device than own a toothbrush.
As I entered the Brunton Theatre that day, clutching my notebook, I thought I was doing well embracing digital channels. I thought I understood the impact of communicating with our visitors through social media. I learned very quickly that I had barely scratched the surface! With 70% of visitors using websites to plan their visit, Tripadvisor alone being used by 60% , and 65% using Smartphone technology to find their way around when here, I realised we need to be on top of this if we really want to reach as many visitors as possible.
As Steve Tassell, Head of Business to Business Marketing at Microsoft UK told us (yes I am name dropping!)’ if you’re not in the conversation, people will be talking about you anyway!’ In 2016 it’s not enough to have a website; the website needs to be mobile friendly. Pictures work much better than text on social media posts, and use every opportunity you have to drive visitors on to your website so they get to understand everything you have to offer, not just the 140 characters you are tweeting.
Tamara Lohan, Chief Technology Officer at the aspirational hotel listing brand Mr & Mrs Smith, talked about how they are no longer printing paper copies of their hotel guides, but have moved the entire operation online. Tamara also discussed the difficulty of converting online ‘likes’ and followers into actual customers. I was heartened that those who are seen to be at the top of their digital game don’t have an answer to this, but those ‘likes’ and followers all show potential visitors who are aware of what you are doing, which can only be a good thing surely!
So, are we doing anything different in the wake of all this digital enthusiasm? Well, East Lothian Museum Service now has Facebook pages for each of our core Museums, including brand new ones for John Muir’s Birthplace and Dunbar Town House Museum and Gallery in addition to the John Gray Centre and Prestongrange Museum pages already in existence, not forgetting our original East Lothian Council Museum Service page. Now we can take advantage of the fact that we have different audiences for each of our venues and direct information to those who will benefit most, however we can also attract new audiences by announcing events and exhibitions across all sites. We also have Twitter accounts for most of the museums, @JM_Birthplace, @DunbarTownHouse, @JohnGrayCentre and @ELMuseumService, which are really useful for taking part in conversations with visitors, supporters and colleagues at other institutions.
We invite you, our ‘digital fans’, (yes, quoting Microsoft again) to not just ‘like’ our pages, but to use them to tell us about yourselves, what exhibitions and events you have enjoyed or would you like to see. We want to have a conversation with you and not just broadcast to you.
Now, there’s my phone but where’s my toothbrush…..
Tracy Robertson, Visitor Services Officer (East)
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