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When Doors are Closed, Keep Visitors Engaged Through Audio Tours

guidewebinar08202020


August 20, 2020

As COVID-19 regulations continue to impact daily life, venues everywhere have been forced to cut spending, hours and staff — making it nearly impossible for any place to keep its doors open and its history alive. 

Yet, one historical site is taking matters into its own hands. 

Don’t miss our Guide by Cell webinar with John Sigmund of Fairmount Park Conservancy as he shares how audio tours have helped shape their storytelling throughout the pandemic. Learn why mobile technology is vital to any institution attempting to keep their narrative alive and their guests engaged, even from afar.

 



Full Transcript

Dave Asheim  0:00  

Everybody, this is great to have all of you on the call today. My name is Dave Asheim. And I'm lucky to have John Sigmund, outdoors live and in person under a big oak tree in front of that beautiful backdrop. Looks like a Zoom backdrop that you can buy. But actually that's not a backdrop. That's a real house. And I love this. We're just doing this just like Hollywood John, this is very, we're almost over producing this webinar. Fantastic. So if you hear a hawk hawking or dogs barking, it's probably coming from John's camera. I happen to be in a room with a noisy parrot. So if you can hear squawking that's coming from me. We're going to record this webinar, we'll send it all out to all of you tomorrow. Our bird is a parrot. So if you hear that, yeah, she's a yelling parrot. Okay. But that's life of doing a virtual Zoom meeting. This will last about 35-40 minutes. John is new to mobile and audio, which is why I thought he would be a fantastic person to walk you through his decision-making and what he's planning on doing. He's just knee deep in getting this launched. It'll be officially launched in a month or so he'll tell you all about that. But I thought that because he was just starting this journey, you all, half of you have never done this before. So you're going to really appreciate John's comments. The company I started Guide by Cell, we've been around for 10 years or so. I think we're probably the largest provider of mobile services in the country. 4000 or so clients around the world and everything from audio tours to text messaging to fundraising, to smartphone tours, everything that you can do on a phone we offer. All right, Molly. Let's go to the next one. And, John, tell us about Fairmount Park.

John Sigmund  2:16    :   It's a beautiful day here in Fairmount Park, I'm sure you can tell. Yeah, like that TV show says It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I wish that was that. But I'm glad this works. I did want to record with the house in the backdrop and I didn't really have a rain plan. So this worked out beautifully. Fairmount Park is one of the, I used to say the largest city park in the United States, but that's apparently contested so we're just going to keep it safe. Golden Gate might be up there. And we'll take one of the largest city parks in the country, over 2000 acres. Those of you that are from the Philadelphia area know what an amazing asset it is. Unlike Central Park that's very contained and designed by Olmstead, Fairmount Park grew more organically along the river. It was actually originally developed to protect our drinking water. So it was very Philadelphia of us not for high lofty goals but for very practical, clean drinking water as we say here.

Dave Asheim  3:22    :   How do you spell that John?

John Sigmund  3:24    :    You? I used to teach second grade, and a kid wrote it W U D D E R and I said, you're correct. That is correct. That is correct.

Dave Asheim  3:33    :   Good.

John Sigmund  3:35    :   From a phonetics standpoint. Yes.

Dave Asheim  3:37    :   All right. And John, you've been working in this position for how long and tell everybody that very unique role you have and your living situation too.

John Sigmund  3:47    :   Right. Yeah. So I'm with the historic house with the Fairmount Park Conservancy and we are the nonprofit partner of the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Rec. So we work with the city. The city's in the driver's seat, we're in the passenger seat. It's kind of can be a complicated relationship. Sometimes we're in the driver's seat and they're supporting us. So we have a working relationship with the park system. And then I also work with the very unique assets we have here in the park, which are these historic properties. It's pretty, it's pretty interesting relationship. Basically, if it wasn't for these historic houses, there would be no Fairmount Park. They actually are early use of eminent domain and some political wheeling and dealing to acquire the lands from the wealthy landowners that own these country houses. So it's amazing because you might hear some city backgrounds here, some buses going by and definitely we get a lot of motorcycles and all sorts of things. So right now it's very much an urban neighborhood, but this was once the countryside outside of Philadelphia. So these historic houses, there are several, almost a dozen of them in the park. But there are six of them that we call the Park Charms that are the historic house museums. And as I said there is an interesting relationship between the park and them, because if it wasn't for the park and protecting the lands, these houses would have been long gone to the ravages of development. So the houses also have the park to thank for their existence. And also as David mentioned, I have a very close relationship to my work. I live at one of the historic houses that Woodford mentioned. 

Dave Asheim  5:43    :   Excellent, if you could all live near your office, especially in a beautiful park like Fairmont Park. All right, Molly. Let's keep going on our slides and then we'll dive into this. Alright, so we talked a little bit about some of the things we can offer today. We're not going to be talking about most of these, but in case you are intrigued about how you can engage with your visitors, I'll give you my email afterwards. And we will be glad to show you some of these. But let's go to the next slide. And I think the opening question for me, John, is in terms of deciding to do something now. Many organizations are cutting budgets, they're cutting staff, the last thing they want to do is take on a new project. And yet three months ago, four months ago, you called us and said, "We want to launch something this fall." I'm sure that working for the city, they're not giving you a lot of extra money. So, why in the world now and then put that in context with the kinds of folks that are on this call today, as well.

John Sigmund  7:03    :   Yeah, I think David, I think we all kind of have our, our little list of Coronavirus Silver Linings. Obviously, it's been such a terrible situation for the world and for our country and for our economy. But there are some options. There are opportunities that have been able to come out of this crisis. And one of those for us was just we've talked, I've been at this job for about a year and a half, and we keep talking about, oh, we should do an audio guide, it would really supplement what we do. And it was one of those things that kept getting put on the back burner, because we were constantly on the hamster wheel of events, right just events, nonstop events in programming. And this pause really gave us the opportunity to finally address this and I couldn't I couldn't think of a more perfect thing to do. You know, what's great for me is I live where I work. So I can do market research by just stepping into my front yard, and we have seen a huge uptick in park usage. I don't have any hard stats on it, I just have my anecdotal experience, which is, you know, it used to be one or one to five people might stop at our sign a day and look at the sign. Now I'd say there's dozens of people that come to the front of the property are reading the signs. So that's why we reached out. We realized that there was really an opportunity to tell more of the story than was presented on the historical narrative that's presented on the sign.

Dave Asheim  8:28    :   And these are tourists? They're locals? What's the demographic of these folks?

John Sigmund  8:33    :   Yeah, that's interesting you say that because it's been such a shift. So I, as part of my caretaker role, I actually give tours on Saturday which I love, I think it's great. It's so important for all of us to actually have that connection to our work where you really get to interact with the audience and find out what they're interested in and what brought them there. And typically the audience was coming from out of the tri state area, a lot of them were out of the city, a lot of them where they're coming from the suburbs, somewhere in the tri state area or just coming from out of town. And we always lamented, we wish more locals would appreciate these beautiful houses that are open to the public and actually owned by the city. And obviously, this quarantine has forced all of us to pause and appreciate these treasures that that are right in our own backyard. So we've seen a huge increase in locals coming to visit these properties. And that's where we saw an opportunity to really engage with locals and of course, visitors from out of town.

Dave Asheim  9:35    :   There are a lot of things that you could have chosen for your first step into mobile. You could have rented checked out devices, you could have built an app, you could have done a smartphone mobile tour, but you decided to do a very simple "Take out your phone, see a sign, dial a number and press a prompt." If you've been thinking about this for a year or two, what made you decide to go that route? And what's your guidance for others trying to figure out how they can get started?

John Sigmund  10:16    :   It's the same thinking I apply to when I run an event or organize an event, I always put myself in the shoes of a person attending the event. And it's the same thing. I've been in many situations as a visitor to a site where they want you to download an app to experience a specific guide or program they have, and I hate that. I don't want to have to download another app. It's always slow and it's complicated. And sometimes if it's not a well designed app, it's a little wonky. So I really like the simplicity of this, that you can just dial it from your phone you'd and another consideration for Philadelphia that, to be totally blunt, of the biggest cities in the United States, the 10 biggest cities, we are the poorest, big American city. So I like how equitable this is. It's like anybody with a phone, they don't even need a smartphone, you can call from your landline. And also in terms of just reaching different audiences, you know, our audience does tend to be older. So I like the simplicity of, of just a good old fashioned phone call, because people, with too many instructions people get lost. So that was our main reason for that. And of course, I think, David, we realized that on our first call that actually I'd worked with you before, years ago in New York, when I was back in my arts program days with the garden writing awards, and I saw how people really loved using it in the gallery when we did our national Arctic. So it just something that was approachable for me.

Dave Asheim  11:59    :   You know, so many folks will call me these days and say, "Oh, I want a fancy app, I want augmented reality, I want all of these things." And sometimes those things are fantastic. But the average person walking by an exhibit in a museum, walking by a sign, (and we're going to show you some of John's signs that he's working on), there's nothing easier than just dialing a number. So even though this technology has been around 13-14 years when we launched our first client, it is still one of the most powerful services in the world for ease of use. So even though it's not fancy, everybody, don't poopoo that entirely because it's just so darn easy to to use and to get started. John, when you went to your boss or the 25 bureaucrats in Philadelphia that had to approve this, did they think you were crazy asking for money for something like this? And how did you make your case that there's an ROI for this if you had to go that route?

You know, I think it helped that I was familiar with it. But honestly, it's received really, really positive reception from leadership. We have a new executive director at the Fairmount Park Conservancy, Maura McCarthy, and and she felt strongly that we need to rethink our programming in response to COVID. How can we have more self-guided experiences? You know, the way we always used to operate is that we've got these people using the park on their own, let's bring them all together. And now we've had to kind of flip that thinking and say, All right, let's actually keep people apart, but have shared experiences and shared information and technology. So it was immediately well-received because it's responding to the need of COVID and I did apply for a grant through the Pennsylvania Humanities Council that was a small pop up grant that specifically asked for a project that responds to the crisis that we're in. So, yeah, it was well received. David, I can't think of anybody that said, that's a bad idea. I do know that some people said, Oh, shoot there be an app, and we're pushing the app angle. And I pushed back saying, you know, I really liked the simplicity of a dial in format.

I'd love to hear in the chat window, if any of you have any questions for John about how he went about getting approval or if you've had difficulty getting approval. Let's have a conversation going on about that. Alright, so John, once you said, Okay, I want to use mobile, I want to use an audio tour, you selected us, and then you had to do a bunch of things. You had to decide what I want to cover. Do I want to have people leaving comments? Who's going to record the content? What equipment do I need? Was it overwhelming? How did you go about those various things to get this content going? And by the way, everybody, John's still working on his content. Probably in a month, will be launching some of your first stops. But what were your first steps? John, what do you recommend for people that are going down this path?

Well, I don't, I didn't get to see the exact numbers. But if anybody that works at a historic site knows that if you're not careful, you can really get deep in the quagmire. Of course, you have to make sure that you're doing your due diligence with research and information. But I think one of the hardest things, the first obstacle that I really had to overcome was say to people, because we have these signs that have been installed with historic interpretation. I mentioned to you David, they were eight years in the making, right? At my first historic house committee meeting, we have different stakeholders, we bring together the city, my organization, the stewardship organizations that manage the houses, and I said, Let's start the meeting off on a positive note. How about these new signs that have been installed? The conversation quickly went downhill because I found out there were typos. And it went hugely over cost, but they look amazing. And the most important thing, first and foremost was, let's not replicate the sign. If people want to get that sort of cut and dry historic information, they can read the sign. So we really wanted to make sure that we were either enhancing the information and livening the information. And then also really shifting away from more formal, historic interpretation from the cadre of experts and trying to get, I guess, I would say sort of a Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States, you know, trying to get perspectives from neighbors, community members, visitors, staff. You know, it's funny because I feel strongly about this, because as a caretaker, people always overlook caretakers to be kind of low on the rung at a historic site. But we're really the eyes and ears of these properties. We know what's happening. And we have incredible stories. So I think what I loved about this project was all the possibilities. The hard part, of course, is trying to then organize that. How do you then put the guardrails on that, because you can go in so many different directions. We sort of started out with this identifying some aspects, some sort of topics, menu items that we want to identify at the houses like architecture, the grounds, the collection, the history of a few of the families and also workers One thing that is also worth mentioning that the signs omitted was some of these houses did have a history of in the colonial era of, of enslaved indentured servants. And so we felt strongly that this could be the opportunity to actually get that out there. And I couldn't think of it being more timely. Well, really, truly, it's actually very overdue. So we first did the historic interpretation and I basically created a bunch of Google Docs that could be shared between myself and a lot of stakeholders. So we had staff, leaders, so everybody worked on their drafts. But as you can imagine, that process did get a little behind schedule for a variety of reasons, but that's been part of it. The part that I think has been more exciting for me is just reaching out to people who have been involved with these houses and just recording their stories, more of those personal stories. So thinking of it more like Story Corps.

And so you bought some equipment. Very expensive, I'm going to guess, based on your very large budget that you're given. Tell us what equipment you bought, and what you would recommend for the folks that are listening to us.

John Sigmund  19:22    :   Yeah, I'd say obviously, what really serves us well is that we are walking around with computers in our pockets. And especially during this time, we've all been forced to kind of hone our skills. We're working alone where even professional reporters are producing from their own homes. So I was able to just download an app on my iPhone that is called Rev. I just did a little research and that's an app that allows you to record phone conversations. It works really nicely.

Especially if you hit mute while you're on the phone with somebody, it really gets high quality, just because of background sounds. So that was one thing. Another thing is for in-person interviews, using the voice memos of my iPhone. So again you don't have to go high tech here. Voice Memos has so far worked really well for me. But I ordered a microphone off of b&h, you can get it from Amazon. It's a brand called Road. It was only $60 and it actually does have a plug that allows it to plug into the lightning cable. You can see how tech I am, and the lightning thingy. Yeah, that'll work for everybody. Right? The lightning thing. So and it has a win, you know, in case you're outdoors. So I think that's one thing, and then just getting yourself some audio editing software, there are free software out there. So again, you can just do your research, get on YouTube. One that I found was called Audacity. David, do you have any other recommendations?

Dave Asheim  21:22    :   Audacity. That's the one most of our clients use, and many of them are free. John, when you decided to do the interviewing, I think your approach was, let's not make this a narrative that a scholar, a British scholar wrote, but kind of an NPR, Scott Simon ish interview or a StoryCorps interview. So you would dial people up perhaps, or try to meet them in person and interview them for half an hour to an hour and then you're now in the process of taking those little snippets. Because I think you agree, and I found that there's nothing better than having like this lady in the red chair talk about her view of this, because that's what visitors want to know. They don't necessarily want to know, in 1792 Ben Franklin blah, blah, blah. It needs to have some context. So we've got that little video which we're going to play in just a second, but maybe tee that up for us, John, where are we right now? I think I see you all masked up on the left side here, maybe?

John Sigmund  22:31    :   Yes. Yep.

I'm in our Adirondack chairs keeping comfortable. Yeah. I mean, again, it's kind of going back to being more inclusive. And I think that would be one of my criticisms of my experience with audio guides, especially in museums that we have a PhD from Oxford who's telling us what we should think about the painting, and I felt it was really important for these sites, because they are embedded in urban communities. There is a lot of issues that come up around these sites about whether we're really, truly opening our doors to the community. So I felt this project was a perfect opportunity to do that. So I went to some community meetings. We have something called the East Park Coalition that convenes all these stakeholders and community based organizations, and I put it out there, and I heard back from people. People are really eager to talk right now. We've been locked in our homes with our significant other who we're torturing with the same old conversation. So people are really excited to get their stories out there. And I had a community member who emailed me, her name is Monique Gordon, she walks her dog around Woodford and she said, "Do you mind if I come over and share some stories on my dog walk?" And I said absolutely. So we set this up. And she said, I have a poem which was even better.

Dave Asheim  23:54    :   And we're going to try. Zoom sometimes, playing videos and or audio works. So we'll Molly's gonna give this a try. We're gonna listen to it for just 10 or 15 seconds, see if it works. If it doesn't, John will explain it to us but give it a shot here Molly.

John Sigmund  24:15    :   [woman reading poem - not going to edit] and she phones with a mixture of raspberry and terracotta lipsticks. Then walk with my system and my dog two boxes trail near woof mansion, a pollinated pad of laurel and fauna where Ali saw out Frasier where Brian Brian's medicine man on a horse barn grant it with interest listening in morning light. [end of poem]

Dave Asheim  24:47    :   Right. So John, you're gonna take snippets of that, put that as stop number 192 and then people hear from this very wise citizen reading a poem. Now, that might not be for everybody, but it's a treasure for people that really get jazzed about that kind of thing. In a million years, she would never have been able to express her feelings any other way. And here it is, you're kind of bringing this to light.

John Sigmund  25:19    :   And you can actually see my rig there. In case anybody's wondering, there is a little insight into [my process]. Now I know I'm no expert. So I don't claim to know what I'm doing. I'm learning this as I go. But I just got a tripod and mounted my phone to a tripod and then used the mic that I showed you earlier. So I'm using my phone to record it. And then I was filming this with a different phone.

Dave Asheim  25:42    :   Alright, we have another clip. You were telling me, John, that you've been interviewing a lot of different people. And I think that's the secret behind this is, interview a lot of people. You're learning that there's a skill to interviewing and you might interview somebody for 45 or 50 minutes, and unless you ask the right question, you're not going to get the juicy, great story. Let's see if we can play just 10 seconds of this clip, and then you can explain what this is. Yeah, we might have to do a little more than 10 because he was talking about his cat.

I think it was around 1:07. Molly's trying to get it to the right area. Okay. 2:17 or some two something.

John Sigmund  26:30    :   It might be at the beginning.

Dave Asheim  26:31    :   [inaudible - from the recording of the ghost story - not going to edit] I mean, really great again, bye. He wouldn't go out the door. So thinking what can't be must not be an animal or another cat or something. So I poked my head out and there was a man sitting in the character garden, staring at me. Sitting in one of our chairs, like one of our kind of little patio chairs there during back At the end, it was I couldn't really figure out what was going on because he didn't look like he didn't look like a modern person. I don't know how to describe it, but he wasn't wearing. He was wearing old timey clothes. Like, I can't really say but probably like early 1900s. Close, maybe earlier late 1800s close. It was sounds ridiculous. But he he looked even like kind of dusty, but he didn't. All of this era or of this world, and he didn't, he acted like he sat there every night. He didn't react. He didn't react to me like, Oh, you caught me in the garden or I'm trespassing. He just looked at me like, you know, kind of sympathetically in a way does he? [end of ghost story]

Dave Asheim  27:51    :   So all of a sudden, John, you come upon this incredible treasure trove of this very quiet man now telling you that every night he sees a ghost on the back porch.

John Sigmund  28:02    :   That, in the historic house world, that's a goldmine. Like the number one thing I get asked. I almost wear a T shirt that says, "I don't have a good ghost story." Unless you guys see anything over my shoulder right now. You know, that's the number one quote, well, sometimes as a caretaker, people will say, how did you get this job? You know, it's a fascinating job for people. Number two question is, are there any ghosts, and that's a former caretaker, Lemon Hill Mansion. And that was about 50 minutes into our interview, and he was actually talking about his cat that he adopted. And then he kind of segwayed, he sort of paused and said, Oh, there is this other thing. And I was like, uh, Paul, you buried the headline. That's the lead story. 

Dave Asheim  28:50    :   And if you went on social media, and I'm sure you're going to do this, and you post an Instagram or Facebook and you say, want to know whether there's ghosts in this historic house? It'll be the number one thing, and now you'll get a ton of people coming by your house, because they heard that there was a ghost there. Kind of a power of unleashing everybody's views and stories and hidden treasures. And through this very simple mobile device, you're able to do that and and let people around the world, that happened to look at that post, hear this guy who is clearly not a crazy man, very smart guy, nonchalant, like, oh, by the way, there's a ghost.

John Sigmund  29:38    :   And I saw a comment from Jessica saying, in Louisiana, they have ghost stories. Of course, we know there's big money in some cities like New Orleans and many cities that do ghost tours. We've always been a little reticent to do that at the historic houses for a variety of reasons. But what I like about this audio, this cell phone format, it's not us putting a ghost story on a sign and consecrating this story as official part of the historic record. It is a first person primary account and so it really liberates people. I know a lot of people are operating in the historics world know that it can be very questionable to include these things in your official program materials or Official Site materials. But this is a story. There's no reason why. You can't control stories.

Dave Asheim  30:27    :   You know, one of the really important things that John has taught me as I've gotten to know him, and I think, if anybody's taking notes, this is an important thing to hear. John pointed out that sometimes it's very hard to tell the real story. If you work for a big museum, you've got 18 people checking out the font size and how much you're going to talk about and it's got to be looked at looked at looked at. In this case, when john is interviewing somebody, it might be a professor of History, or it might be Monique. Or it might be a guy that has seen ghosts, you can tell stories that maybe would never get approved by the committee with certainly the sign explaining that would never get approved. It's too long, it's too controversial, it's too whatever. But that's what makes going to a museum so fascinating. It's the underlying stories behind that base, that sculpture, that painting, that weathervane on top of the house. So, John, expand on that a little bit would you? Because I think that's just so insightful about the power of using audio as your narrative instead of something in text.

John Sigmund  31:42    :   I mean, I there's just such a slow process to get official printed materials. You know, when it gets written in stone, there's a lot of commitment there. And so what I like about working with Guide by Cell is first of all, you get more than enough recording slots. And you can change these recordings. You know, I'm even thinking now just in the middle of this, I'm having an idea. We could do in October, we could do an all ghost stories Guide by Cell, could be an addendum to our existing program. So I really think there's a lot of latitude with this, you can adjust it as needed. And again, you know, David, I shared a story that I thought was powerful. Right in some of the horrible, horrible period for the country, besides the pandemic, was the racial unrest that came about from George Floyd. I can't remember if I said it, but in the recording, you can hear police sirens going off in the background. There are helicopters. And there was an African American homeless guy that was on our porch. And my boyfriend and I approached him and we were very, very compassionate with him and said, "Can I give you something to drink?" The porch was still in a construction site. We just finished a huge project to have it built and reconstructed to its 1771 form. And so it wasn't safe for him to be there. So we very kindly asked him to step down from the porch and come into our yard. And he sat down, we gave him a soda and a snack. And he said to me, he started very worked up and naturally it was a time where people's heights and emotions were elevated. And obviously, this house, a museum, a place like this, that is really a shrine to the wealth right next to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States. It's a very difficult juxtaposition. And he says, he said to me, right off the bat, my people built this house. And he caught me and I said, "Would you mind if we talked? Can I record you?" And he said, "Yeah, yeah." And then he sat down, and I ended up on my cell phone, recording him for 45 minutes. And he was comparing the 1968 riots to the current situation and he had some really interesting insights. And this Guide by Cell project became the impetus for that conversation. And how would this guy Jonathan Griffin, who's homeless and living in the park, where else would he appear in our official Park programs?

Dave Asheim  34:46    :   And now he'll be a permanent part of telling his view, especially during the whole issues that came up several months ago. I mean, the timing was unbelievable for that.

John Sigmund  34:59    :   And David one thing I'll say that I love, is the feedback option where people can dial zero pound. And in recording our prompt for that, it says, "Do you have a park story?" and then they hit the prompt and then the the outgoing message that I recorded said, like, "We'd love to hear from you, particularly, your experiences during the pandemic and social unrest." So we actually really kind of tried to trigger people to make these recordings as an audio time capsule of this time and place we're in. I mean, this is a huge moment in human history. And these stories are worth saving.

Dave Asheim  35:38    :   Casey has a nice compliment to you in the chat window there John, and I agree. I think capturing these kinds of stories and the stories from Monique, that's what makes your venue relevant to me today. Otherwise, not that many people are going to be interested in a 200 year old building that maybe they can't even tour. But when you connect people that are homeless or Monique, the 90 year old woman reading poetry, or you just talking about some history, it really brings it to life. From a marketing perspective, you're probably still getting your marketing gameplan ready. Molly, let's show the sign that John has created. What's your marketing vision for this short term and long term John?

John Sigmund  36:30    :   Well, short term obviously we just want to announce it on social media. And by the way, this is not our final. After this call, interesting timing for this conversation with everyone because after this, I'm meeting with someone in the city to go over the signage. So this is not the approved version, but I don't think that matters to anybody at this point. But I created these signs and I'll hold the actual version. I did it as a laminate that can be using a restaurant menu that we're putting on a stake. You know restaurants have those outdoor menu holders. And I really felt like, that's the thinking we need. That this can change any time we want to change our options. This is by the way, kind of a generic version. So you'll see, it says "occupants." The final version will have actual names there. So once we have all the signs up and we are launched, which Woodford Mansion will be next week, mark my words. We are going to just take to social media. The phone number is up and running. So we can put the phone number on social media. We can promote the feedback option to hear people's stories. And then the other thing we are doing is, right now we are running a scavenger hunt with an app that's going amazingly well. It's a self guided scavenger hunt through the park. A lot of families are doing it. And so I have the idea that for the fall, we could actually do a Guide by Cell scavenger hunt. We do an all audio scavenger hunt. So the other thought I'm having is how can we build programming activities around these audio signs?

Dave Asheim  38:30    :   Your recommendation for people that are working for institutions that may not be open like yours is what? Just post on social media? Post the dial in number outside your venue? Just get it out there I take it?

John Sigmund  38:45    :   Yeah, get it out there. I mean, I think one my biggest messages that I would, it's because this has been a hard time in terms of when the project started, there were some changes in funding as I think everybody can relate to. Some changes in staff. I had one of my directors retire. So, I think everybody can relate to the feeling of like, the ground keeps kind of slipping out from under us and we're trying to hold on. And I think in a time like this, we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The most important thing is just to get this out there. And it can be a creative process where, obviously what you want to put out there, it should be presentable. You don't want to put something out there that bad and somebody will walk away and say I'll never do that again. But at the same time, you don't want to let the need for perfection prevent you from actually getting the signs out there. So I think step one is just to get the signs out. And then obviously promoting on your on your website, on social media. And, you know, again, this is the solution to these sites not being open. Of the six house museums in Fairmount Park,Woodford Mansion is the only one that has reopened its doors. They are all managed by different stewardship organizations. Two of them are managed by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The other ones, for a variety of reasons, have decided it's not in their best interest to reopen at this time. So this audio tour is going to be a perfect way for the audiences to still learn about their site and engage with their site. And it'll never supplant the personal experience of receiving a tour from a guide, but it's just going to to supplement. 

Dave Asheim  40:33    :   That's the idea that this will never supplant that. But at least in the next six to 12 months, a lot of volunteers, a lot of docents are not going to be staffing the venues even when things reopen. And so putting signs around venues where people can dial and hear a poem, hear from the homeless fellow. How powerful would that be? 

John Sigmund  40:58    :   And I'd say also a lot of our staff have been furloughed, or working from home. And this is really vital. Especially since museums depend a lot on volunteer staff or people who are retired and sort of have found meaning in working in a museum, paid or volunteered. And now it's really hard, difficult for them to be sidelined. And this creates an opportunity for them to still feel valued. And again, I can't tell you how many of them have been so thankful to receive a phone call and say, "I want to hear about your stories and your experience."

Dave Asheim  41:37    :   You know, John, we have a question from Jessica. What app did you use for your scavenger hunt?

John Sigmund  41:45    :   Yeah, sorry if that's a side plug, but I definitely recommend them. It's called Goose Chase. They are based in Canada, great customer service. They really worked with us. And it's still going until Labor Day. I highly recommend it. It's been a phenomenal experience. And I'm going to work with them. And David we'll talk more about this, I want to integrate the Guide by Cell. I'm gonna see if I can marry these worlds. And like I said, do a Guide by Cell. Because we did it for a few of the missions. They call them missions or clues. We did do audio, you have to listen to an audio excerpt. 

Dave Asheim  42:27    :   I'm going to ask John one more question about kind of the future. And while I'm doing that, maybe before we leave, some of you folks on the webinar, get your final questions going. When you think back when you think in the future, John, and all the venues are open again, and it's now six or nine months from now, how do you think mobile is going to continue to play a big role, even when things are back to normal?

John Sigmund  43:01    :   Oh, absolutely, because I mean, first of all, our sites are only open from 10am to 4pm Thursday through Sunday. These mobile signage you put out, that's 24/7 museum visitation. And what's nice is when you get familiar with the Guide by Cell dashboard, you can find out exactly when people call and if they're leaving a feedback story that sounds like they're slurring their words, maybe they left that story about 2am.

Dave Asheim  43:38    :   And you can tell that too!

John Sigmund  43:40    :   The truth might be coming out. They might actually say what they really feel. Oh, that's a great point you make David because some people have asked me, "Do you see this as just a temporary thing during the pandemic?" and I'm like, "Absolutely not." It's become an idea of equity and inclusion that'll continue and the idea of really trying to get people to explore the entire sites. Let me say this. Woodford has an amazing antique collection. But if I could be honest, one of my criticisms is we spend so much time talking about the history, the rich, old white men that lived in the house and the antique collection. We don't talk about much else here. And what Guide by Cell is doing, it's somewhat subversive, is now we're talking about the property. And including some of the gardens that my better half has planted here. We're talking about the visitors, the community, we're talking about uncomfortable topics like the history of slavery. We are talking about just strange stories, people have had here. Caretaker stories, retired people who have had weird experiences, so that whole other category is now accommodated. And people are actually more interested in hearing those stories than the Wikipedia version of history.

Dave Asheim  45:10    :   Now that's what I found. John, when I look at a museum's list of stops, and I run a report and see which ones get the most hits, it's the unusual, it's the clever, it's the funny, it's the ones that are memorable. More so than this silver chalice that was manufactured by Paul Revere. So let's see if we have any any more questions from our our audience. John is a very responsive guy in terms of email and phone. There he is his contact. We'll include that tomorrow in our email everybody when we send out this information. Anybody have more questions for John before we sign off? If so, go ahead and put them in the chat window. John, thank you so much for spending time with us, preparing for this and setting up that very elaborate studio operation in your front yard. Turned out to be great.

John Sigmund  46:18    :   I forgot to tell you, David. We do keep it historic here. This is my drink here.

Dave Asheim  46:24    :    Is that grog or what's the right? What's the right word for that? Something from 1700.

John Sigmund  46:33    :   It's a tankard, right? Tankard. Although anybody that works in historic houses knows this has a lot of lead in it. So it's inside of it. I'm drinking it.

Dave Asheim  46:44    :   Okay. All right. Hopefully you haven't been itching. Okay. Well, thank you, John. And thank you everybody for attending. And hopefully you'll learn a little bit from John and his adventures, dipping his toe in the mobile world. So we really appreciate that, John, and thanks everybody for attending, and we'll send you this correspondence tomorrow. So we're signed off now. 

John Sigmund  47:09    :   Thank you so much.

Dave Asheim  47:10    :   Okay. Bye, everybody.

When Doors are Closed, Keep Visitors Engaged Through Audio Tours

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