Business owners will tell you the most difficult part of making a sale is just getting customers through the door. Perhaps your library faces a similar challenge. Google Maps Business View (GMBV) enables your patrons to take that first step into your library in a way that has never been more convenient—using only their computers or smartphones. When patrons google your library, they’re just one click away from touring your building.
Google describes GMBV as a 360-degree, virtual tour of the inside of your building that is powered by the same Street View technology used in Google Maps.
If you’ve never seen GMBV before, then have a look right now. There’s really no better way to describe it than by just seeing it. Take the Lucas Oil Stadium, for example. (Isn’t that an amazing piece of architecture? One look at that and you’ll be saying, “Here’s a city that has its financial priorities all figured out.”)
Enough with the football stadiums. Let’s see some libraries!
The Fernie Public Library actually predates the 106-year-old former post office where it now resides. The elegant interior of this historic beauty complements its exterior—and the basement kids’ room looks cozy enough to sneak in a nap.
Complete a few chapters of 20,000 Leagues while overlooking the harbor and feeling that exhilarating coastal breeze—all from the sunny terrace at the Gibsons & District Public Library.
Curious about creating your own virtual library tour? Here’s how to get started. . .
At some point in the process, you will need to create and verify a Google My Business account, which is free. It’s not a bad idea to get this out of the way pre-photo shoot. In fact, it’s a good idea to verify a My Business account with Google even if you are not planning on doing a GMBV shoot.
Here’s why: Anyone with a Google+ account can tag a photo to your business listing. If you have verified your My Business account, you can gain some control over those photos in two ways. First, only your posted photo will get top billing when a patron does a search for your library. Second, you can use the “Reporting” tool to get inappropriate photos removed.
Take this library, for example. There are 14 photos posted to this business listing and 13 of them are really great. Then there’s the photo which is just a barcode. If this library wanted to be represented by a different photo, they could sign into their My Business account and specify their preferred photo to always display first in their business listing.
The most common way to verify your “business” is by requesting a postcard. It must be mailed to the address you are attempting to verify. (Sorry, no P.O. boxes.) Enter the verification code found on that card into your Google My Business account.
After you are verified, the administrative side of your My Business listing will look something like this:
The ‘Add virtual tour’ button will take you to the complete listing of agencies and photographers that work with GMBV. Or, to see the listing right now, just go here.
This is a good time to give a shout-out to Views4Business.com. We reached out to several photo agencies while researching this article, and they were, by far, the most helpful. They want to help libraries as well, by offering a 10 percent discount on their services through the end of March 2015. Just let them know you are a library, when booking your session to receive the discount.
(By the way, we received no compensation of any kind for that plug. And this article is not a paid endorsement of Google Maps Business View or any GMBV partner agency or photographer.)
PLANNING FOR YOUR TOUR
• Should you shoot during or outside of normal operating hours?
Well, any people in your shots will need to have their faces blurred. There’s no additional cost for this, but a sea of blurred faces starts to get unsettling. Another thing to consider—people are not still lifes. When the camera spins around, people can get all foggy.
On the other hand, there may be a good reason to have patrons included in a shot. Rossland Public Library captured this great story time moment during its shoot.
• Show off your renovation
You don’t have to invest in a full building shoot. Many businesses choose only to show off the most alluring parts of their building, or even just a single room. When planning the budget for the remodeling of a room, consider documenting the result for historical purposes. You only pay once for the photos and then you own them forever, so there’s never a higher return on investment than shooting immediately after a remodel.
• Avoid the holidays
Try to schedule your shoot outside of the holidays. Decorations are fun, but patrons viewing your digs any month outside of March might wonder what the obsession is with all the shamrocks.
• Clean everything
You know what’s the most underappreciated chore? Vacuuming. (You only notice when someone hasn’t been doing it.) But vacuuming does nothing for carpet stains. Got one that just won’t come out? Ask the photographer if it makes sense to place the camera tripod on top of the stain. The area within the tripod’s feet will not be captured. (Or you can do what my great aunt does and just put a rug over it. So many cats. So many rugs. . . *shudders*)
Get those books up on the shelves and straighten chairs. Replace dim light bulbs. Open the blinds to let in some sun. Remove Post-it notes from the monitors and throw away that bottle of water on your desk. It’s the little things we often forget about that can help make your images really pop!
You went to the trouble of a photo shoot—now make sure your images are seen! Included in your service is the ability to freely embed the 360-degree tour on your site. Consider displaying it on your homepage for a month, so you can gauge traction before finding a nice, permanent place for it on your “About Us” or “Contact” page.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT TO PAY?
The service is moderately priced, assuming you don’t want to shoot every square foot of your library. For many, $400 will cover a sufficient area. Prices vary based on agency and photographer.
I HAVE A NICE CAMERA—CAN I JUST DO THE SHOOT MYSELF?
We were hoping this would be a possibility. And, technically, it is—if you’re ready to give up your day job.
Google offers no self-submission form for GMBV, because it wants to maintain a consistent appearance. Only GMBV Partners are allowed to submit photos. To become a GMBV Partner, you must be willing to meet Google’s requirements to become certified and commit a certain number of hours every week to shooting other businesses.
But! If you’re looking for something a bit similar (albeit, very watered down) that is both free and fun, you should certainly check out Google Views. Unlike GMBV, Google Views enables amateurs to submit a single “Photo Sphere” that can be pinned to an address on Google Maps. Here’s a sample Photo Sphere captured by a visitor at the Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C.
Click and drag the photo to look around.
To submit your own Photo Sphere, you can use an iPhone 5 (or newer model), a Nexus Android 4.4 device, or a DSLR camera. You’ll get the best results with the DSLR, but you’ll need to stitch your photos together using your own preferred software.
For the smartphones, there is a free app that does the capturing, stitching, and publishing for you called “Google Photo Sphere.” The instructions say to hold your phone vertical and close to your body while you slowly spin around. (We assumed using a tripod would work even better, but, in practice, it didn’t make a difference.)
The end result does not have the professional look of GMBV, but, since it’s meant more for fun than professionalism, this is to be expected.
One of the things missing from Google Views is that “See Inside” image and link on your My Business listing that patrons see when googling your library.
WHAT DO OTHER LIBRARIES HAVE TO SAY?
We reached out to some of the libraries that have already purchased a GMBV tour, hoping they could speak to their experience with the service, and answer a few questions relevant to other libraries that might be interested in going the same route.
Questions like, “You’re a library – not a business. What persuaded you to purchase a service called ‘Business View?”
And, “What were your expectations?”
Also, “Have your patrons had anything to say about your virtual tour?”
Unfortunately, we did not hear back from any of these libraries before our deadline. Although, when pressed, one librarian wanted to make sure we knew she had not forgotten about us: “…your thing is at the very bottom of my list.” 😉
But seriously, we want to know. Has your library already done a Google Maps Business View tour or Google View Photo Sphere? Please show it off by posting below!