Is Town Wi-Fi Really Worth It?

Town wi-fi brings in visitors

Asking whether public wi-fi shapes up is like asking whether houses, roads or pavements are worth the bother.

Of course they are, but it’s the wrong question. A house is nothing until it becomes a home. A road is useless without carrying vehicles. A pavement is redundant with no footfall.

Perhaps a better question is: What benefits does public wi-fi bring to a town, and how can it be used to best effect?

free wifi sign.

What’s your grand design?

It’s no wonder that some are challenging the efficacy of town wi-fi. Many UK towns have invested in a ‘set and forget’ wi-fi scheme which assumes its benefits are entirely self-generating.

They aren’t. Like a house requiring skilful design and a road opening new frontiers, public wi-fi demands a clear and compelling strategy behind it in order to succeed.

Its rollout should be part of an over-arching town plan which defines its purpose, understands the opportunities it can create and measures the ROI it will deliver.

The most appealing and inviting towns create their prosperity by building solid relationships – between residents, business, customers and visitors.

And this is the gift of town wi-fi. Way beyond connectivity, its benefit stems from the opportunities it offers to build these enduring relationships, giving visitors a genuine reason to return again and again.

MORE: Surviving The Digital High Street Revolution

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How wi-fi helps tell your town story

Wi-fi can only help tell the story of your town if you know the story and see the value in communicating it.

Rather than attracting hit-and-run bargain hunters who storm the shops and disappear, you want people to engage with your town in a deeper and more sustainable way.

When visitors arrive and log in to your wi-fi system, you have the perfect opportunity to give them up-to-the-minute, relevant and engaging information.

Whether they log in via a portal on your town website or a link which flashes up on their phone, this is your chance to direct them wherever you want.

With a reliable internet connection, you can help them explore every aspect of your town while they are physically there – shops, markets, arts and craft, galleries, leisure centres, adventure playgrounds and local attractions for starters.

Think of the opportunities to hook them in with history, heritage, walking trails, natural attractions, architectural landmarks and local beauty spots as well.

If they choose to stay a while after raiding your local shops, a far wider selection of cafes, pubs, sporting facilities and tourist outlets stand to benefit from their day or weekend of leisure.

A centralised website helps maximise the impact of wi-fi, telling and selling your town to the widest possible audience.

MORE: 9 Digital Ways to Modernise the High Street

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Making a splash: Absolute beachfront is a feature of St Ives, Cornwall.

The importance of a splash screen

Public wi-fi also offers a perfect marketing opportunity for business, local authorities and town managers.

As soon as visitors log in to your system, they arrive at a splash page – your ‘blank canvas’ just waiting to be filled with bold visuals and punchy info about your town’s shops, events, attractions and leisure opportunities.

The price of fruit and vegetables or your latest meat-cut discounts have a role to play in bringing customers into your town.

But think bigger. Don’t you want them to stay a while, explore and sample all the other attractions of your place?

It’s possible to turn your splash screen into a sophisticated marketing tool with genuine reach which embodies the spirit of your place, as well as its bargains.

A well designed page should be more than an events list or shopping directory. Make it inventive, cheeky, innovative, artistic. Whatever the unique character of your place, let it shine through here with:

MORE: Whole-town Marketing

Town wi-fi’s marketing potential

Here are some ways to harness the power of public connectivity:

The latter point is an important one. Once you know the locations being overlooked or avoided, you can work out a way to popularise them again – drawing your solutions from the areas attracting the biggest crowds.

Shoppers provide with you with vital data every time they visit a town. Knowing where they go can provide an insight into what they really want. When wi-fi is combined with street sensor technology, real time heatmaps reveal the movements of everyone carrying a mobile phone.

MORE: Become a Real Digital Hub

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Pirate invasion: More than 14,000 dressed up in Hastings for a World Record gathering.

Excited about town wi-fi?

Well, town wi-fi is something to get excited about. But only if you understand its wider implications and milk its full potential.

But rolling out wi-fi is not an end in itself. It’s really only the beginning when it comes to telling the unique story of your place and truly engaging with people who connect.

And the story doesn’t end when the visitor goes home. Think of it as just the start of a relationship you’re building to keep them coming back for more.

Offer a series of personalised updates promoting compelling reasons to return, including:

All delivered in a manner which maximises appeal and minimises intrusion.

The benefits of wi-fi for shoppers are easily measured. A Devicescape survey of 400 small retailers published on smallbiztrends.com showed almost 62% of traders reported customers spent more time on their premises, with around 50% stating that average spend went up.

Multiplying this effect across a town centre can make a huge difference to the viability of marginal businesses.

MORE: The Real Towns Approach

Wendy Riley
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Wendy Riley

Editorial Director at Real Towns Limited
I love working with words. As a journalist, blogger, editor and award winning creative writer, I have extensive experience in British and Australian print media and now specialise in digital content. I'm excited to be part of the Real Towns team and proud of our innovative approach.
Wendy Riley
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