All posts by astephen7

Is It Time to Put Digital First? Breaking Free From the Parks Program Guide

First Published on LinkedIN

As a marketing manager, one is frequently faced with challenges of positioning the product portfolio in an ever changing and expanding market. Frequently, these challenges start off with a simple question, “Are we giving our customers what they want when they need it?”

For years, our parks and recreation department has struggled with a print program guide. The costs of designing and printing a 84+ page catalog three or four times  annually in quantities large enough to reach our 25,000 person core user group and attract new customers from our 800,000 citizen base became unsustainable about three years ago. We moved to publishing a digital guide and publishing a short run to fill the needs of those in the technology gap.

After updating our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system in late 2015 to a modern cloud system with a public portal; we began to see the power of the digital channel. A weekly e-newsletter was developed that features a single, less than 100 words, article and a list of featured programs with links back to dynamic program & activity lists or single programs. The return has been strong with sales reaching two to three times the other day’s averages.

This led to the “Are we giving our customers what they want when they need it” question as it relates to how we offer new programs. Historically, new programs became available to consumer three or four times a year. This led to three to four month lulls in new product offerings while our print guide did its work. Now that we have followed the trend to digital, the principals of digital content should have taken over naturally – but it did not.

What we were doing was the same as posting four months of Facebook messages, and telling the customers every week, “Hey look at our great content (that has been here and you likely have already seen.)” This provided little benefit to our customers. What we should be saying is “Hey look, we have new stuff; great new stuff you haven’t seen yet (give me your money)!” It became obvious, it is time to ditch the structure of the program guide and the “Registration Now Open for” pick your season mindset for the “Always Open for Registration, Always Something New, Always Something Great, ” mindset.

In addition to providing a stream of new content, we believe that this model will provide park programmers with new added flexibility to adapt to new fads in recreation & leisure. Where under the “seasons” model, a programmer may have to wait almost five months to release a new program, under the rolling model; we will cut lead time to 30-45 days. This reduction in lead time may be the difference between being a market leader or laggard.

There are some challenges to be met; mostly related to the digital divide. How do we provide equity to those who live in the digital divide while moving to rolling programs?  Our answer, we are encouraging our staff to have programs in the CRM at least 45 days prior to start so marketing can export a short run of monthly guides that are text based with boilerplate promotional material. These will be distributed to our library system along with park centers and other receptive outlets for reference viewing. The same short run guides can be requested via our customer service department for mailing. The second leg of bridging the digital gap lies with our customer service team who is available to speak to a citizen and match their needs to our portfolio.

We are excited to see how this strategy plays out in our future. It is always a challenge to break with tradition. So, when the moment comes where you find yourself questioning “Are we giving our customers what they want when they need it?” and you think the answer is no; it is time to explore your options. It is never a bad idea to challenge the process your agency has used since before you arrived.

Updating your Chain / Parks Department to a Facebook Locations Page

First Published on LinkedIN

This article is focused at system-wide social media managers, those managing multiple location pages (more than 10) under a brand. My example is of the Indy Parks and Recreation system which features a Facebook Brand Page and 200+ location pages. The goal of this article is to teach the basics of getting “Locations” added to a brand site and importing sites into the system. Benefits include aggregation of check-ins, improved administrator management inside of Facebook, the ability to export aggravated metrics about your pages to Excel, and “Near Me” mapping on the brand and location pages.

During my time with Indy Parks and Recreation, I have had the opportunity to manage over 100 individual Facebook Location Pages. While our local managers handle content creation for their individual location, managing this large of a network is a headache that many people in my position feel. For a number of years, large companies like Starbucks and Toys R Us have managed their brand through Facebook Location Pages; a feature that you can use if you know how to ask.

Step 1 – Claim Your Locations

You may have Facebook Sites where people are asking questions, complaining, thanking, and posting to and you may not be aware of it. Facebook creates location pages on it’s own and people interact with those pages. It is up to the brand manager to claim them and monitor them. It is fairly straight forward – you need to prove you are a representative of the location. Facebook has a great help topic here. In our specific reference to Indy Parks, I did have to prepare a memo on City Letterhead and signed by our department director with a list of properties that do not have utility bills or fall inside other standard proof of ownership / representation. As with the entire topic, you may have to be persistent with the Facebook team to get approved.

Step 2 – Prepare Your Locations

Facebook requires that all brand locations share a name with the brand page. In my example, our brand page is “Indy Parks and Recreation” but all of our locations were named with the park name (i.e. Washington Park, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park.) You will notice in the example that there is no cover photo or avatar – if this is blank when you port the location into the brand page, Facebook will copy your brand page avatar and cover photo over (this happens only at creation, it will not cascade changes afterwards.)

  • Open each of your location pages and click “About” under the banner picture.
  • On the left-hand navigation click on “Page Info”
  • Change your page name to the exact name of your brand page followed by a location identifier. (i.e. Starbucks W. 16th St., Indianapolis or Indy Parks and Recreation Washington Park.)
  • Save Changes and repeat for each location.

Step 3 – Request the Facebook Location Tab

Facebook is notoriously difficult to get a hold of but I found they respond well using their advertisers contact portal. When you open the link, use the following help criteria:

  • What is your question about? “Pages features or requests”
  • Select one of these options: “Other”
  • Fill out your personal information.
  • Select your top brand (parent) page from the drop down.
  • In the text box state: I am asking for the Facebook Locations Tab to be turned on for our brand page. I administer (enter qty) locations that are children of this brand and would like to take advantage of this feature. I have the spreadsheets and instructions and am able to begin uploading this information on my own as soon as it is set up. Thank You.

Step 4 – Wait for a Response

As I mentioned before, it takes a bit of time to convince Facebook that you know what you are doing. There may be some back and forth, but eventually if you are persistent, you will get your page!

In my experience, the spreadsheet is a bit of a waste of time. It was easier to do them one at a time through the online interface.

Step 5 – Set up the Locations

This is the fun part – seeing your locations map grow.

  • From your brand page (parent,) click settings in the upper left corner.
  • On the left hand navigation, you will see “Locations,” click that.
  • Click “+ Add a Location” and click on the drop down for “Select a Page.”
  • Pick the page you would like to add

  • Enter a Store Number (if you don’t have formal store numbers, you can use the key number from your Customer Relationship Management software or just make one up. It must be numeric and cannot repeat.)
  • The page name must be exactly the same as your brand page.
  • Select the correct subcategories – up to 3
  • Before the street address, I put an identifier (in this case, the park name.)
  • Inspect the remaining information and add a new URL – click Save.
  • It will then show in your Location Pages list along with Total Reach, Likes, and Check-Ins. This can be downloaded for Excel by clicking “Download All” in the upper right corner.

Step 6 – Administration

My key reason for wanting to structure Indy Parks in this manner was for enhanced administrative rights. Because I was the sole administrator for more than 100 sites, I couldn’t answer one of the philosophical questions of work life. “What happens if I get hit by a bus…”

People who have access to the brand (parent) page, automatically have the same access to all location (child) pages. This means you will only have to give senior managers permission once. This also makes setting up a “back-up” admin quite easy, you add and change permissions exactly the same way you did prior to the addition of the locations tab. On your location pages you will find the following notification under settings>page roles:

After which time you can remove yourself as the admin for the location page – your rights are set from the brand page.

I hope you have found this helpful! If you have questions please comment below. I am able to help with the general idea, but can make no promises on getting Facebook to help set you up.

Bringing Big Data to Your Park Programs

First Published on LinkedIN

Employees working in the Park and Recreation industry are faced with limits; limited budget, limited space, and limited staff. These limits frequently preclude professional market research and lead to gut marketing decisions on the part of park professionals. Frequently, individuals in charge of creating, maintaining, and removing stale programs use “little data” that they have painstakingly collected through informal focus groups (discussion with customers and non-customers,) contractors, user surveys, and other various activities.

In the past, obtaining positioning data on a current or possible product was not something exploited by parks professionals. It required contracting with companies like Nielsen who would provide trend analysis. This type of analytic analysis was expensive and difficult to understand. Google Trends has changed this drastically.

The term “Big Data” has crept into the parks and recreation lexicon as late, but is more of a buzzword than something a parks professional has access to. Who uses big data? Health officials use it to track outbreaks well before small data reaches their offices. Marketing professionals use it to know in what neighborhoods to target a new product. Police departments can even use it to help predict where crime will happen.

Google Trends allows anyone with access to a web browser the ability to enter search terms and view how many times the given terms were queried. The information is displayed as a line graph and also a heat map ranging from global to city wide. From this, the user can determine if the topic is trending up, down, staying the same, or has seasonality.Google has even provided a forecast option to attempt to determine future use.

Looking at Google Trends – Health Topics

Let’s pretend you are a public health official and you have seen an early spike in flu cases. Can you use Google Trends to determine where to focus your “wash your hands” campaign? Yes! It is a common thing for people to go to their computers and “Google” their symptoms or their personal diagnosis before scheduling a doctors appointment. By using the graphing function, you would see an unusual spike in queries leading into an outbreak and by adding the map, you may even be able to see where the early pockets of the flu are. These extra days may provide you with the time you need to hit an outbreak with public health notices before the outbreak hits pandemic status.

The colors on the graph relate to the colored bars next to the search terms at the top. You will notice a large spike in the blue “Flu Symptom” line 2009-10 during the swine flue outbreak. (Play with the example)

Improving Your Product Portfolio

By using what people are searching for, you can improve your chances of matching your product to demand. Again pretend that your park agency has blessed your recreation center with a new multipurpose space and you get to program it. You have the choice of art, dance, environmental, and fitness classes along with teen programming. You want to know what classes could be successful from a market position standpoint.

You go to Google Trends and compare the above options (example) and notice that forecast for fitness classes searches is aggressively trending up while art and environmental classes seem to see a slight uptick along with teen classes. Using this data, you determine that it may be a good start to offer some fitness classes and some teen classes as you feel that other demand is met by your current product offering.

It is time to dive into the data and figure out what specific products you want to offer.  Your next step would be to create another comparison with specific fitness classes (example.) You can also use the bottom “Related searches” function to drill into topics. Looking at teen classes from our example, a topic called “Teen Challenge” seems popular and is contributing to the rise in searches for the overall topic. This can help point the programmer to new programs.

Big data is not the end all, be all; it is a good place to look at the bigger picture of trends. As a parks professional, you should take the information gleaned and ask yourself “is there unmet demand for this?” It also helps to see what type of life cycle the product has (Style, Fashion, Fad  reminder,) and to see where product is in its life cycle. Overall, access to big data will continue to become more accessible to everyone, and you must be ready to use it.

Andrew Stephens currently serves as the Senior Manager of Marketing for Indy Parks and Recreation. He holds a MBA with concentrations in Technology Management and Marketing. astephen7@gmail.com

Indy Parks Funfinder | Dynamic Public Website

Prior to taking on the marketing position, I inherited the job of providing content and management of the Indy Parks sub site of the Indy.Gov SharePoint site. This site has well over 200 pages of static data which was in bad need of organization and update. As I began looking into the issue, I realized that much of the data was already housed in one of two databases used by Indy Parks.

I decided to put together a proposal to gather the information into a public site data warehouse for presentation on a new dynamic website in order to provide additional search options to our customers. This would not only reduce the amount of time I had to spend updating web sites, but it would provide users a consistent user experience along with up to date information.

I built the data warehouse, a wireframe prototype in MS Access, business requirements, and accompanying data dictionary. I worked with the Indianapolis / Marion County Enhanced Access Committee to get funding for Apparatus to build the front end of the site. This project was very successful and will continue to become more successful as data is added allowing the search functionality to fully function.

FunFinder Website (requires HTML5 supported browser IE9+, Chrome 10+)
Public Site System Map

Accident / Incident Reporting System

This project focused on centralizing two accident reporting systems into a single application which would provide for multiple patients and/or assets per incident. This structure will assist the risk manager in documenting the scope of any one incident. The software is available via login on the World Wide Web as to place data entry as easy as possible; even incorporating HTML 5 technology to allow a mobile view. The database also adds a single tier approval path and long term data security. The following is the workflow for the process and software.

DPR Accident Reporting