Signage In The Social Media Age

24/06/19

Ten years ago, before I had even considered any kind of job in the signage industry, I took a trip to Japan and one thing I found fascinating during my time there were the signs.

Like any good tourist, I took a huge amount of photos and a good deal of these were of signage, but being part of the digital age these photos didn’t languish in my camera memory to be forgotten about, I posted them to Facebook and Twitter. While I am fairly certain that these posts will have done little to influence any of my contacts spending habits it is interesting to consider just how far these images travel and just how many people see images of signage in this constant stream of free advertising.

I have always enjoyed visual story telling, I am by nature the first person to start taking photos at events (I still often carry a camera rather than just relying on my phone) and as part of this I am always scanning the area for good photo opportunities. Using signage photo opportunities isn’t a new method of advertising - I remember having my photo taken through cut out stands as a child on family holidays, photos which were almost certainly shown regularly at family gatherings for years to come. In a modern context, these types of photo opportunities are regularly used in clever marketing, particularly at events, but often with an added incentive for sharing online. “Share a photo of you at our stand with #FreeMarketing for your chance to win a new car!” is a powerful tool to get people sharing images with their contacts that could be full of your marketing message. These strong push messages are generally tailored to events where exhibitors need to get the maximum exposure from the cost to be there.

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There are subtler, more long term ways to take advantage of this trend too. Places where people gather to meet friends or family for a good time will generally have an easier time providing these photo ops. A good example of this is tourist attractions - A Zoo could have a sign board printed with sizes of various animals at the park and encourage visitors to share pictures of what size animals they compare to, keeping the zoo’s logo clearly in view will ensure any online sharing is automatic advertising. I frequently see photos from restaurants on my social media feed, some of the clever ones (particularly themed restaurants with clever decor) know people are likely to do this and will include an area for these photos in their waiting area - such as a pink Cadillac (with restaurant branding) in an American Diner or The Simpson’s couch in a pizza joint that has a comic book theme. Making these photo ops quirky and fun, while including branding in a way that keeps it in the images but not in your face is key. This could be done with sign boards, vinyl decals or even banners or pull up banners depending what is most appropriate for the location.

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Sometimes an out of the box idea can really generate some buzz. There are a few business that use A-boards with fun phrases written on them to attract attention. While this practice has been around for a very long time it is still very effective and social media has added an additional layer of marketing potential to it. There are a lot of ways that something like an a-board could push social media engagement. Having your social media links listed or including a funny hashtag are obvious ways to make people think about sharing it, but generally it is the content of the board that is important to getting people sharing. This is not as easy as it sounds but as something like an A-board with a chalkboard area and your branding printed around it is a fairly low cost, versatile signage option it is definitely worth considering purchasing one if your business is in an area with high foot fall such as a high street.

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It’s always worth remembering there are also some great examples of this kind of social media friendly signage that really takes it to the next level. Although constructed well before the social media age, it is impossible to ignore the cultural icon that is the Hollywood sign. This has to be one of the most frequently photographed and shared examples of signage in the world, I can’t imagine a single person ever taking a holiday in Hollywood and not taking at least one photo with the famous sign in the background. This large scale signage approach has been used by other tourist areas. I amsterdam (the equivalent of the Amsterdam tourist board) installed a large sign made up of giant free standing letters that read I amsterdam which has become another frequently shared tourist sign. This campaign has been so beneficial for tourism in Amsterdam that they actually now have four sets of these letters at different locations - with one permanent and the others subject to change.

The average business is unlikely to be considering 45 ft tall letters (like the Hollywood sign) but it always worth thinking about what you can do to make your business more visible and socially sharable, and often there are signage solutions that can help with that.

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