Why do you want people to go online in parks?

Why do you want people to go online in parks?

I was lucky enough to be in Central Park, New York, recently. Two things stood out; big signs outside the play areas encouraging people to share their play experience online using #centralplay and outdoor charging stations for mobile devices.

Why did these two things stand out?

The #centralplay hashtag instantly brought to mind child protection issues. It was refreshing to see online sharing celebrated and encouraged like this and for the awful elements of online culture not to get in the way of rational sensible users who form the majority. Search for the #centralplay to see how it’s being used across the board.

The charging stations stood out for me as they weren’t vandalised! Why not? I’ll come to that later.

Why do you want people to go online in relation to their park experience? Then, how do you get people online? It’s a fact that parks are for recreation. It’s a fact that a lot of people’s recreation time is spent online. These two must be combined for a park that fits a modern society.

There are three stages of online engagement for destination parks.

1. Pre-visit information

Web based search for information; where, how, when etc. Content needs to satisfy user questions, parks managers need to help users complete their plan. Information should not be in isolation from what else will they want to do near the park. Day’s out involve 2 - 3 destinations.

Pinterest for the gallery of key sites and to download maps and visitor guides.

Youtube videos to wet the appetite.

2. Visit interpretation and information

On-site apps are in there infancy. I’ve yet to see one that really satisfies. For the moment let’s keep it simple, managers should just help park users to get online.

Free wifi near key structures and charging points are the most obvious. Parks are public facilities where people should be helped to linger and relax. Providing internet access represents a truly modern park for the people.

Free, solar-powered mobile charging stations are available at parks across New York. They aren’t going to be vandalised because they are what everyone wants.

The online access will enable people to raise issues. A Twitter address on display for people to register issues with the authority immediately simple and easy.

3. Post-visit engagement

Retain the attention of your visitors via Facebook with content that satisfies the following content styles:

Inspire me - use great pictures

Reveal a secret - how does your garden grow?

Give me a plan - suggest walks and unusual things to do

Tell me a story - drip feed us some snippets from history

Make me warm inside - cute pictures of animals never fails

Make me clever - the top ten of…

Fix a problem - bored kids are a problem so give me lots of suggestions

Make me laugh - record and share those funny, unusual moments you see as park managers

All the above is great for large urban parks but what happens if it’s not a key destination park? Why should there be online engagement for them?