The selfie is about more than individual egos, the ‘self’. It, and more broadly social media in general, is having a huge impact on the design and operations of visitor attractions worldwide. Indeed, social media is playing a burgeoning role on the entire lifecycle of attractions and public attendance of them.
“Operators began to recognise social media as a different type of mass media not only personal media,” explains Suk Hoon Lee, S.I Division / deputy head of department, C2 Artechnolozy. “Social media is certainly changing operations and advertising for visitor attractions. If you can’t spend time all day in one place, you will find another place to visit afterwards. Social influencers are developing and/or proposing the theme: and attractions developers are responding.”
“As is many sectors and context, social media has evolved quickly and continues to change at pace,” says Blair Parkin, principle, executive vice president at TEECOM. “The design, improvements and changes of visitor attractions are now pretty much all base-lined against social media input, together with more traditional visitor research and consumer testing.”
Expanding visitor reach
Given it pervades everything these days and has to be taken into account by most businesses, it is perhaps unsurprising that the attractions sector would ensure social media is so much a part of the visitor experience – particularly when it’s helping in expanding visitor reach.
“Social media is a massive part of everyday life now and as such always a consideration in any business, but especially so in leisure and tourism,” comments Chris Devaney, operations manager, Heritage Great Britain. “It has given every guest a voice and more importantly it has given operators a way to listen. Interactions, reach, reviews and comments all give the chance to see how guests feel about the experience and as such evaluate whether the experience delivered and as such the chance to generate additional visitors.
“It has particularly had an impact in allowing further reach than ever before, giving visitor attractions the chance to create that connection with visitors before their arrival and communicate their message. Utilising the different properties of each platform allows operators to directly communicate the differing degrees of their brand in various ways while still maintaining personal connection with the person listening.”
“Social media puts pressure on operators to change the visible part of the visitor attractions,” adds Suk Hoon Lee. “This means that operators need to be concerned with the details as well as the overall appearance. This is because for those who love to use Instagram, the most important thing is how beautiful or charming they look to others who visit their page.”
But it’s not just a question of thinking about whether a particular area of an attraction is likely to be interesting or attractive enough for a visitor to take a snap. Operators can also come up with ingenious ideas that lead to ‘viral’ Instagram posts, a good example being Platform 9 ¾ at the Harry Potter Studio Tour just outside London, where people love posting an image of them appearing to walk through the platform wall with a baggage trolley.
“Attractions that offer highly visual content such as artefacts, objects or views are finding that the pause to take a selfie is altering visitor flow,” explains Parkin.
“Many new projects are integrating this visitor demand into new designs specifically creating backdrops and views with a place for visitors to gather to take selfies. Operators are finding that the layout and design of new exhibits needs to be specifically planned, lit and arranged to accommodate selfies and shared photo opportunities that can start a social media conversation about a specific topic.”
“One of the smartest ways to greet visitors is making a hot spot also working as a photo spot in the attraction,” agrees Suk Hoon Lee. “In addition, while social media has a big impact on the attraction itself, it has the positive effect of introducing hidden surrounding areas or linked products. Actually, most social media users introduce restaurants, cafes or shopping places with their posts.”
“Great social media presence is part of the success some attractions are having appealing to audiences outside of their core visitors”
Blair Parkin, TEECOM
As visitors have become savvier with how to spend their money and which trips to make, the experiential nature of attractions has become more and more important, and social media can be a part of this.
“Interaction is key to generating that personal experience that creates emotional connection,” says Devaney. “This can be simply from acknowledging with a ‘like’ or commenting below. Social media gives you the chance to show visitors you care about their experience and feedback, allowing you to create ‘influencers’ for your own brand because you continue that positive experience long after they have left the attraction.”
The promotional aspect of social media is crucial, of course. Before making the decision to visit attractions, potential visitors research reviews and comments, mostly on Trip Advisor and Facebook, though of course platforms will continue to change and evolve.
“The demographic of this visit-planning and the decision-making is shifting,” says Parkin. “In family groups the younger members are now often driving the decision making by informing themselves of what’s on offer and what others think of it.
“Many attractions I work with are tracking their Trip Advisor comments daily and taking proactive actions to respond to any observations and correcting any operational activities that are consistently reviewed badly. Great social media presence is part of the success some attractions are having appealing to audiences outside of their core visitors and in particular the market for teenagers and young adults.”