Technology is Connecting Towns and Users One Smartphone at a Time

Technology is Connecting Towns and Users One Smartphone at a Time

Gabe Bailor
Director, Downtown Cranford

Vanessa Quijano
Director of Small Business Development, JCEDC

September 10, 2019

Smart phone use is omnipresent. According to Statista.com the current number of smartphone users in the United States is estimated to be 265 million. Besides social media, how can a downtown community connect to these smart phone users?

Apps All Around
Sometimes websites aren’t smartphone-friendly. They can be content heavy and not even mobile enabled. Apps present information consistently and can be easier to navigate. There are apps that focus on community like NextDoor. The scope is narrowed to a block-by-block radius, offering a secure environment for neighbors to communicate about everything from local events and lost dogs to ongoing construction projects. There are also proximity marketing apps that ‘push’ advertising content to smartphones through localized wireless distribution associated with a particular place. Transmissions can be received by individuals in that location who wish to receive them and have the necessary equipment to do so.

Downtown Cranford has partnered with Distrx, a location-aware app for downtown districts. The app includes a nationwide network of downtown commercial districts that choose to participate, with each district showing up as a clickable point on a regional map once the app is opened by the user. The district does the initial set up, but businesses control their own listings within the district. The main components of the app were recently made free to districts and businesses, with paid services such as walking tours and scavenger hunts supporting platform development and maintenance.

Cranford’s Main Street team engaged the community to populate the app content.  In addition to a business directory, the app provides a geolocated map with parking and business locations, and a calendar of upcoming events in Downtown Cranford. Distrx is also a marketing tool where businesses can offer special promotions to Distrx users. Bonus capabilities (for a fee) include creating walking tours and scavenger hunts using proximity beacon technology.

The free Distrx app was originally designed for Main Street America communities across the US, but has broadened its scope to any community that meets their definition of a commercial distric.. Now, any manager of a district can register for a free account to create a custom greeting visitors will receive as they arrive downtown, add pictures and descriptions of the community and links to the website and social media, pin parking and area attractions, and promote upcoming events.

After three months with positive feedback, Downtown Cranford will continue to promote and educate users about the Distrx app to make it a successful technology resource. Distrx is just one of many app platforms that downtown’s can use to promote their district and businesses. The price (or lack thereof) and national network are certainly some strong positives for Distrx. Some communities may be looking for more forward branding and/or customizability out of there downtown app. In that case, a paid platform may be more suitable. Some other servicers that have created apps for NJ downtowns include MyDowntown Mobile (Glassboro), Visit Widget (Margate), and RSN Digital (Freehold), among others.

Interactive Digital Billboards
Smartphone users demand wi-fi access too. Besides cafes offering this service to customers, how do towns provide free public WiFi? Jersey City chose to partner with Smart City Media for their CityPost technology and kiosk equipment.

The first 18 CityPost kiosks went live in May and are positioned at the highest pedestrian-volume areas, such as transit stations and Special Improvement Districts. The remaining 32 kiosks will be installed at parks, art centers, and schools all over the city. These CityPost kiosks are free to install, and the vendor maintains and manages them. If there is an issue with graffiti or software, or if the equipment gets damaged, the vendor fixes it for free.

The kiosks are loaded with mass transit information, including real-time transit feeds, wayfinding for local small businesses, emergency alerts, info on community events, local news, and public WiFi. The fully interactive touch-screen kiosk allows a user to learn more information about each post area and make the experience their own. A user can look up coffee shops near each kiosk, get directions, and then push the information directly to their smartphone. Local small businesses have the opportunity to post ads and get exposure for just $150/month, with the first three months free.

In addition to free WiFi access within 100-150 feet of the kiosk, they have 360-degree security cameras on them. With Smart City Media, Jersey City is delivering information, wi-fi access, and safety to residents and visitors 24/7.

The Distrx app and CityPost are just a couple examples of the multitude of new technology tools to help your downtown to communicate with residents and visitors. How are you taking advantage of technology to market your districts and reach your community?

For more information about Downtown Cranford, visit www.cranfordnj.org/downtown-cranford and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

For more information about JCEDC, visit the www.JCSmallBiz.com and follow @jcsmallbiz on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.