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Filoli Estates: Enhancing Visitor Experience with Text Messaging and Mobile Website Engagement

Filoli Estates came to us earlier in 2016. The cultural institution and botanical garden wanted to increase visitor engagement, saw technology as the answer, but soon realized that it couldn’t depend on its weak internet connectivity in a rural section of the San Francisco Bay. That’s when Filoli discovered Guide by Cell and the power of text messaging-powered engagement (SMS).

The institution had an upcoming festival, its largest of the year, and wanted a solution in place to engage hundreds of visitors to participate in dozens of daily activities at the festival.

“The ability to use someone’s own phone [text messaging] was very attractive,” said Beth Lau, Filoli Estates Marketing and Communications Manager. “The simplicity of the Guide by Cell platform made it a great option for us.”

The organization also wanted to speed up its response times to visitor inquiries, even if the visitors were on-site, perusing exhibits. It wanted a tech-infused solution to show its guests how it had grown and improve visitors’ understanding of the facility’s exhibits and cultural significance during its ongoing centennial celebration.

“We do things with a focus on our visitors and don’t want to cause any frustration,” Lau said. “We want to facilitate information to guests as seamlessly as possible.”

All this had to be accomplished without alienating docent volunteers, who could have viewed technology as a threat, a replacement to their contributions.

Filoli Estates subscribed to a Guide by Cell suite of services that included Audio Guides, Text Messaging, Visitor Feedback and Mobile Fundraising. Prior to the fall festival, the organization emailed ticket-holders, informing them about the text message opt-in option. The email had a 72-percent opt-in rate, receiving over 200 SMS sign-ups prior to the event. Onsite, signs and cards handed out by docents directed attendees to text “PUMPKIN” to a number and receive updates about activities and news. Over 600 people participated in total, during the event day.

Afterward, Filoli distributed a survey by text message, increasing engagement further. The event marked  Filoli Estates’ first mobile engagement activity of any kind. In coming months Filoli will evaluate other needs for Guide by Cell solutions. One identified project, targeted for spring 2017, is a fundraising campaign.

Although the organization contracted with Guide by Cell for a specific visitor-centric set of services, it found flexibility and ease of use in the platform, and decided to test it for internal volunteer and docent training purposes, such as an audio and mobile tour targetted at first-time visitors to the facility. Lau created a dial-in message, explaining how best to begin an experience. That transitioned to a text-to-learn-more tour of exhibits. The tour led to a mobile website with multifunctionality. “The mobile platform is great for photos and additional info,” Lau said. ”You can adjust it to be new every week. The platform is easy to learn and adjust to your needs.”

Volunteers and docents enjoyed the experience, and understood that Guide by Cell will increase the opportunities for visitors to learn without replacing their valuable contributions. “This enhances the visitor experience,” Lau said. “Our docents know the history of the place. Guide by Cell allows visitors to go deeper into a subject. We think this will be seamless for our visitors, because they use this technology elsewhere.”

Traditionally, Filoli Estates prefers to partner with local companies. But if Guide by Cell was located across the country, the service would have been just as easy to onboard and get started, Lau said.

Filoli Estates is quickly realizing that several of its departments can benefit from Guide by Cell solutions,  including development, interpretation, membership, guest services, finance and fundraising, garden and horticulture, curation, and marketing. When used together, the services can tell a complete narrative about the history and future of the institution.

Filoli Estates: Enhancing Visitor Experience with Text Messaging and Mobile Website Engagement