Social Media: Pivoting Content From Location-Based Entertainment to Online Media

Full disclosure: My TikTok channel is blowing up, having recently crested 100,000 subscribers to the dismay of my teenage sons. This is particularly noteworthy for two reasons: first, I am no spring chicken, and two, my content focuses on recreating the antics of The Three Stooges, a comedy team that was long dead decades before most of the TikTok audience was born. More about that later. 

With Facebook originating 16 years ago, it’s hard to comprehend the astronomical growth, reach and influence of social media around the world. Facebook alone has 2.5 billion monthly active users as of December 2019. That’s not accounting for the meteoric rise of Tik Tok, or longevity of the polarized Twitter-sphere of users.  There are many takeaways for our location-based industry from this boom in online content and content creation.  Even with our venues temporarily shuttered, there is a willing and expanding audience within reach. We may not be able to capture footfalls or move the turnstiles just yet, but social media provides a way to capture the hearts and minds of a new audience, to engage them in your mission, give them a glimpse behind the curtains, let them chat with your designers and operators, or let them collaborate on the next big thing.

One of the largest assets social media has is influencers and content creators. Younger generations are flocking to new forms of entertainment – many of which older generations simply don’t track as easily. It’s complex, ever shifting with the latest trend.  Ultimately, we must embrace the fact that social media is a powerful entertainment medium on par with broadcast television, movies, and video games. YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and other platforms have become the primary source of entertainment content for my own teenagers. I have seen them both struck dumb when bumping into a social media influencer on the street and they are more excited at the prospect of driving by the FaZe House (a $30M Hollywood Hills mansion that is home to the wildly successful esports organization) than they are revisiting a theme park. It seems likely, then, that the next big intellectual property is probably talking shape right now, in the ether of social media.

Pre-pandemic, we were happily embracing what had become known as the “Experience Economy,” where consumers were investing in travel and experiences over material goods. Social media played into this notion brilliantly and began to alter the behavior of people in real world locations. Slumping brick and mortar stores began drawing crowds to their shops with events featuring big name ”influencers.” News of these events was spread through social media channels, so the sudden appearance of lines of young people winding around the block of a retail shop was a mysterious surprise to the uninitiated. The desire to share selfies online elevated the common photo opp to a whole new venue, the genre known as “Instagram Museum,”  where stand alone attractions like the Museum of Ice Cream, Color Factory, and 29 Rooms had, until the Lost COVID Year of 2020, become a hot ticket drawing big crowds and generous admission prices. Still, for the most part, social media content was a one-way pipeline, on which creators would post and in some cases track their comments for feedback or inspiration. 

Then, quarantine happened, and with everyone in lockdown the “Experience Economy” shifted again to what we might call the “Creator Economy:”  While real world venues and attractions shuttered, content creation exploded (along with the sales of light rings, backdrops, smartphone tripods, and condenser mics). More content creators began to join the revolution, further expanding an audience base of willing and idle eyes. 

Soon, mainstream celebrities quickly joined the party.  TikTok began as a platform by and for young females, primarily, but scroll through the app today, and your “foryou” feed might include contributions from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Anthony Hopkins, Gordon Ramsey, Cindi Lauper and others – singers, comedians, advocates – all delivering spontaneous, thirty second bon mots. More recently, 93 year old Sir David Attenborough set a Guinness World Record for reaching one million followers on Instagram, and my team of no-name impersonators has drawn a crowd of 100,000 by paying tribute to The Three Stooges, the comedy team whose last member died in 1975. Apparently, there is an audience for everyone.

Interestingly, the spontaneous, impromptu, and handmade quality of these smartphone videos actually breaks down the perceived wall of celebrity. For the first time ever, it feels as if these are our friends and acquaintances. Will Smith is cracking jokes with us. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is explaining the mysteries of the universe to me. Anthony Hopkins thumbs a piano as he asks how we’re doing during lockdown. You can cook for Gordon Ramsey, and he might just repost your vid with his live critique! 

TikTok offers “duet” and “react” capabilities that let one user augment or react to the work of another. Everyone wants to play in the sandbox, and this form of plagiarism is encouraged since each repost extends the reach of the original, bringing more “likes,” more “shares,” and more subscribers.  A recent post of a man skateboarding with a bottle of Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice to the accompaniment of Fleetwood Mac’s hit song Dream went inexplicably viral. So much so, that Mick Fleetwood himself replicated the original, skateboard and all. The duet is now the basis for a network broadcast commercial and Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 Rumours album is once again at the top of the charts, taking the meta pop culture references full circle.

It is vital to consider this new “Creator Economy” as we begin to reopen our doors to the public. This global audience is eager to contribute, collaborate, and make connections with content creators, and even though venues remain closed, it is easier than ever to engage and expand your audience through minimal thirty second clips (shot on smartphones!) that are fun, conversational, intimate, and collaborative. You might tour the facility when the lights are down, share operational facts and figures with simple pop-up graphics, share maintenance efforts, and reveal industry secrets. Prompt comments and use the feedback as your own, always available focus group to determine the path ahead, and be sure to include them as part of your team. 

Meanwhile, consider ways that you can encourage content creation at your venue, so that when they can visit in the real world, they will have the resources to create content  right there and share it with the virtual world. Ask for comments and suggestions. You’ll get plenty of both. Everyone is bursting to get out of the house, and building your social media presence now can help ensure they beat a path to yours.

How Will Technologies Shape Our Interactions and Spaces in the Post-Confinement Era?

In a post-confinement world, human beings will seek the exact opposite of what will be prescribed to them: in the face of social distancing, we will want to get closer to each other again; at the prohibition of touch, we will want to smell and taste the things we had enjoyed; faced with rules and regulations about where we go and how we move through spaces, we will seek fluidity and freedom. We are, by our very nature, social creatures

Over the past 20 years, Thinkwell Studio Montréal has evolved the nature of its interactive projects based on the concept of ambient intelligence. The idea is very simple: the interface is not a screen, the interface is the world we live in. 

Take, for example, our Renaissance Hotel Experience in New York where the body of each guest becomes the communication device between the hotel and its district. Through a partnership with Time Out Magazine, a digital concierge interacts with each visitor to offer them culinary or cultural activities depending on the weather, their desires, and the amount of time they want to spend walking. Using a 3D camera detection system, we were able to detect multi-user signals (body posture and movement, group behavior, eye tracking, and emotion recognition) and transform the experience of the lobby. Let’s imagine that this experience could be adapted for hospital or university spaces. On a university campus, for instance, a digital concierge would become a mobile engagement platform where every student becomes the heart of her or his own journey; a generative digital assistant in real-time that adapts the student successfully navigate not only the demands of their classes and deadlines but also the social, cultural, and sporting life of the community.   

The Illumination of the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal to mark the city’s 375th anniversary was our next step in developing technology and data collection to communicate the emotions and detect the pulse of a city. How can the data of an environment generate an experience without the audience needing to do or touch anything when it’s the audience itself that is at the heart of the show? When the bridge comes to life, what you actually see is the city pulsating in real-time. Thinkwell’s contribution to this celebration has been to use data collection and AI to capture and aggregate all of the relevant data generated by the city’s citizens – traffic conditions, weather, the mood on social media, bike-sharing activity, etc. With physical sensors (radars, weather stations, counting people, etc.) any type of API integration and normalization algorithms, we have the ability to use almost any type of data to modify and influence an experience. This digital platform we have developed for this bridge could be suitablefor the transport or theme park industries, for example. All the data generated by people and systems during a single day in a theme park tells a story: the atmosphere and energy of the crowd, the impact of the weather on people’s experience, the reactions to this or that character in our journey, which guests go where and how they linger (or don’t), what and where they eat and buy, how their pace changes during the day, and more How can this data improve the operationalization and the emotions experienced? 

Finally, I would like to share with you a project that is currently in production, and that perfectly illustrates a solution that could be adopted into museums, theme parks, and any other location-based experiences that will be managing crowds for the months and years to come. It’s a collaboration with Parks Canada where visitors will be able to relive the experience of working in Canada’s first steel company which has been closed for 150 years. This application is an interactive, multi-sensory alcove where each visitor becomes one of the workers through the various stages of iron production. The guests are experiencing a “day in the life” of these steelworkers so that they have a “hands-on” impression of the working conditions of the time. This direct experience allows learning through empathy and leads the way for an impactful emotional souvenir. This innovation makes it possible to select and view high-resolution augmented reality content simply by detecting guest gestures. With no devices such as goggles, headsets, telephones, or tablets, our interactive alcove promotes a collective experience. It is the AI we have developed that generates all the content of the experience from the gestures of each visitor. This innovation can be adapted for any museum, healthcare, or airport experience. 

Crowd flow management, body language detection, eye tracking, emotional feedback, voice recognition, telepresence, data interpretation, accessibility; for us, interactive technologies are a tool to empower each user to become the storyteller.

As the frontiers between the digital and the physical worlds are melting, we see every guest experience as becoming the actual canvas. We believe the future of spaces is personalized, participative, and generative. Each member of the audience is at the heart of everything we do; physical spaces take the shape of their visitors.

New Thinkwell Group Report Explores Digital Tech in Museums

The Thinkwell Group has published its second annual Guest Experience Trend Report. This year’s report focuses on Museums & The Digital Revolution: Consumer Trends in Mobile and Interactive Technology Integration in Museums. The authors asked important questions about the role of mobile and interactive technologies in the museum context, building on last year’s insights from the theme park world. The survey also delved into current museum visitors’ expectations and behaviors. The insights are both surprising and important for museums that are thinking through these challenges in the year ahead…

Mobile devices:
Mobile devices are a major part of today’s museum visits. 69% of the 1400 individuals surveyed across the nation bring a mobile device with them to museums. 73% use them while in the museums, for a variety of purposes including taking photos. This trend squares visitor behaviors that the Thinkwell Group revealed last year, when taking a similar look at mobile integration in theme parks. Other popular mobile phone activity included communicating with family and friends, posting to social media, researching topics related to exhibits, looking at the museum’s digital content, and taking notes.

GPS-based apps:
Location-aware apps have been a major trend taking hold in museums. Essentially, the museums use indoor GPS systems to pinpoint a user’s location and then serve them customized content based on what they’re looking at – typically within an app. But the survey reveals that there may be a mismatch between this approach and the audience’s desired experience. Just 32% of respondents showed interest in these types of location-based applications. More than half of respondents didn’t install an offered app or uninstalled it based on concerns about their personal data. 19% have gone as far as disconnecting their device’s GPS features.

Authenticity and learning:
Learning and growth are the major motivations for guests visiting museums, from art museums to science centers. Respondents ranked the three most important experiential elements of visiting a museum as educational opportunities, the chance to see “real” art and artifacts, and the content of exhibits. What’s interesting about this is the context that it places digital in as part of the bigger museum ecosystem: supportive or helping visitors achieve a deeper understanding and appreciation of the museum’s main collections. In that sense, visitors are pushing back against technology for technology’s sake. Instead, they’re more interested in opportunities that help them interact meaningfully with collections and interpret what they’re seeing.

What respondents crave is more interactivity. Interestingly, they are defining interactivity as both digital and the kinds of interaction that “breaks the four walls of the museum.” Audio features were highly requested. At the same time, guests are asking for after-hours events, expert talks, hands-on classes, and themed activities geared toward children. Opportunities for learning and gaining access to subject matter experts remain front and center.

Complaints were more logistical: museum entry costs, facilities being too crowded, and out of date content were highlighted as the biggest negatives. A percentage of respondents suggested solutions such as adult-only hours. Interestingly and perhaps counterintuitively, younger guests are visiting museums more frequently than older visitors and staying longer during each visit.
Ultimately, the report concludes: “In an increasingly interconnected and digital world that gives easy access to infinite amounts of data and information, the value and role of museums has come into question. While it’s clear that museums need to adapt to shifts in technology, guests still look to them for authority and authenticity. Digital technologies can be helpful to museums in order to supplement their content, but visitors still crave social interactions, personal enrichment and access to original, authentic objects. Custom experiences can be tailored to the individual, but guests still want those experiences to take place in a physical space with real live experts there to teach them and answer questions.”

As the authors highlight, visitors are most interested in authority and authenticity. Digital content creation and technological integration is important, but primarily in its capacity to allow audiences to learn more, go deeper, and connect with the storylines being presented at museums. We encourage interested readers to explore the entire white paper for more insights, which is available online here.
Read the source article here.