Seven tips for moving past the ‘no phone’ rule

On February 2nd, 2011, posted in: hints and tips by 1 Comment

We’ve had a few chats over the last couple of weeks with people who are nervous about launching a mobile in-gallery experience because their visitors aren’t currently able to use phones at all.

In the past most museums operated a simple ‘no phone’ policy in their galleries. A simple rule, easily understood. But, as phones have morphed from simple devices for making voice calls to ones with cameras, access to the internet and a multitude of applications, things have got a little more complicated.

If your collection contains works from the recent past you may well have been wrestling with how to manage the combination of phone cameras, mobile phone tours and artworks that are still in copyright. Or perhaps, you’re a member of the operational or front of house team dealing with a confusing set of old rules that no longer work when faced with an audience who tweet, text, listen and play from their mobile device. If so, you have my sympathy – been there and have the scars to prove it.
Here are my top hints and tips culled from my experience:

1. Identify who’s going to ‘own’ the policy.

Often one of the biggest challenges in establishing a new policy in this area is the number of departments involved each with their own concerns and needs. Without someone taking the lead – and the risk of it not being quite right first time – nothing will change.  A confused or out of date policy will, inevitably, lead to conflict with visitors. This is not an issue you can ignore. The caveat is that everyone who is affected in the organisation needs to be consulted and their needs considered.

2. Make sure the final policy is clear and straightforward.

Everyone in the organisation needs to understand what the policy is and why and be able to communicate that, so no lengthy, complex technical explanations.

3. Accentuate the positive.

Write a policy that includes the type of behaviour you would like to encourage rather than focusing solely on what visitors can’t do. Framing your conversations with staff and visitors in terms of what is possible rather than what isn’t can transform everyone’s perception of the issue: “We’d love you to tweet about your experience today” beats a whole heap of negatives every time.

4. Share the policy with everyone

I learnt the hard way that creating a mobile phone policy is no use at all if the only people who know about it are the three who made it! Once you’ve shared it with the team who work directly with visitors, share it with the teams who may use mobile as part of their service (hint: that’s usually everyone!)

5. Don’t just focus on the ‘what’, share the ‘why’.

If everyone understands the policy and the reasoning behind it they should feel more confident in discussing the issues with visitors and able to avoid confrontations.  Help them identify welcome behaviours versus unwelcome, encourage them to try out and play with smartphones if they haven’t already, role play situations.

6. Identify where you can best share the policy

We all know that signage only works a very small amount of the time. You might want to consider adding the message to any content you are providing on mobile or asking staff at the entrance to mention it to visitors. But remember, keep it positive where you can – for example you might want to consider identifying any images where the visitor can take photos.

7. Admit you won’t catch them all

If someone is very determined to take a photo they will and there’s not a great deal you can do regardless of your policy. A phone may in fact be the best way for them to do this – the resulting image is unlikely to be of print quality!
Do you have any hints and tips on how to use mobile in cultural sites with copyright issues? Whose responsible for the mobile policy in your organisation? Have you seen a particular example of a mobile policy that worked?
Photo by JonnyPhoto – used under Creative Commons

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