Online Placemaking

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Online Placemaking

How is a community’s sense of place and placemaking reflected online? Where does place exist in the digital realm? This pilot Online Placemaking initiative in Folkestone sought to make the web smarter to help better position this small coastal town for digital visitors.

What is Online Placemaking?

Imagine you have just heard about a town, city or place and want to know more about it. Let’s say you’ve never been to Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone, Ramsgate and want to know more. Chances are, the very first thing you’ll do is to Google it. Let’s look at the results of the most basic search just using the town, city or place as a search term. Here’s what you’ll see if you Google ‘Folkestone’, for example …

google search results for Folkestone

Regardless of where you live or which town or city you’re searching for, the top search results will almost always feature three key sites and sources of information …

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Google Maps
  3. Trip Advisor

Importantly, these will also be the most visible and prominent features of the search results, including the photos you see and those star ratings under the trio of photos on the left.

So making sure these three sites capture and reflect the best of your town is a crucial element of Online Placemaking. In fact, a recent study by economists at the Collegio Carlo Alberto in Turin and ZEW in Mannheim found that a few simple edits to a Wikipedia page could lead to an extra £100,000 a year in tourism revenue for a small city. (You can read the full study, Wikipedia Matters, here).

Heading in the right direction

So once you’ve found out more about a town, city or place and you want to plan a visit… or if you’re really spontaneous you might just get in the car, hop on the train and hotfoot it right over. Thinking about those online and digital tools you use every day, chances are the next thing you’ll do is to look it up on Google Maps, (or Apple, if that’s your flavour). You might want directions, or maybe you’ll want to search for things you can do in the immediate vicinity.

Whatever the case, making sure a place of business, cultural venue or heritage site is searchable, visible and well-represented on the map is at least as important as building a website or running a social media channel …. if not more so. It is literally putting you on the map.

google maps folkestone

The good news is, if you’re not already on the map it’s easy to add a new location. Once it’s added, there are lots more things you can do to beef up the presence of your venue, site or favourite location on Google Maps, which in turn helps better inform how your town, city or venue is reflected on standard Google searches too.

Make the web smarter

Having added a new site to Google Maps, you’ll find it can very quickly take on a life of its own. Anyone, anywhere can add their own photos to a Google Maps listing, they can add or write reviews, or by registering as a Google Local Guide they can even share their knowledge about a place or answer questions that other people might have about it – for example, does it have nearby parking? Is it wheelchair accessible? Is there a cafe or anywhere to have a picnic? Is it family friendly? All of this helps inform the web about a place, what it offers and helps other people to find a place or plan a visit.

Google Local Guides

A world of Wikipedia

Given the importance of Wikipedia as a core source of search and information, how can you make sure you get the most out of this amazing resource? Anyone can create or edit a Wikipedia page – although it’s important to remember all content must be neutral. It’s an online encyclopedia, not an extension of your own website. Does your venue, organisation or heritage site have its own Wikipedia page? If not, why not?

It’s important to also think beyond the obvious… because how people use the web and move from one thing to another is rarely that obvious. Think about those random connections and sparking synapses and how this can help inform a trail that leads back to a place. Think about a person’s interests – or interests that merge with your place – and whether or not the connections you know about a place also exist on Wikipedia.

Take Folkestone, for example. There may be a Wikipedia page already for Folkestone – and for Creative Folkestone – but there’s no mention of the town on Sir Anthony Gormley’s Wikipedia page, although you will find two of his works in the town – one at Coronation Parade and one on the Harbour Arm. Including these on Gormley’s Wikipedia page helps lead those interested in his work back to Folkestone. Ditto for Tracy Emin, Banksy, Yoko Ono, David Shrigley and many more.

Thinking about every possible connection to a place, venue, heritage site or town and then ensuring all these connections are made and visible on the whole of Wikipedia could turn out to be a mammoth task. Same for making sure there are tons and tons of photos and info available about those places on Google Maps or TripAdvisor. This is where volunteers or a good community engagement programme comes in.

Pioneering Online Placemaking

Pioneering Places launched a pilot Online Placemaking programme, with an aim to educate the web about all that our great sites, venues and towns have to offer. The programme had a number of key stages:

  • Stage 1: Identify pilot sites and place them on Google Maps/Apple Maps
  • Stage 2: Recruit volunteers, engage local communities
  • Stage 3: Identify digital skills gaps, provide training and support via our digital partners
  • Stage 4: Support volunteers/community to create and update online maps, Wikipedia Trip Advisor and other key place-based sites
  • Stage 5: Develop and produce Online Placemaking Toolkit, focused on supporting cultural venues and heritage sites

If you are interested in learning more about the programme or getting updates on the Toolkit – please email us at

online placemaking

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