In this time of fake news and false outrage, it is critical to share solid data with stakeholders to counter negative assumptions and tell the real story of what’s happening in your downtown. A row of empty storefronts can create the impression that the entire district is doomed. Or a sensational crime report may lead to the belief that an area is unsafe. But what’s the real story here?
Using data helps bring the truth to light. While there may be an uptick in commercial vacancies, leasing numbers collected by your organization can provide a clearer picture and tamp down fears. Collecting information from your local law enforcement agency can demonstrate that one high-profile incident does not mean there is an overall rise in crime.
We at Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., have invested in a robust data collection and dissemination program. Working with our partners at the City of Santa Monica and County of Los Angeles as well as our own vendors, we are collecting, measuring and comparing all data points available to not only tell the true story of our downtown, but to keep all those involved honest and on track towards meeting shared goals.
We have a dedicated data manager on staff and ensure that whenever we contract with an outside vendor that we look at ways to collect data. For instance, our marketing team uses software not just to schedule social media posts, but also to measure how people are engaging with content. When buying advertising, the marketing team makes sure to get detailed reports on how these campaigns performed. Springboard has also been a great partner, helping us track pedestrian counts on our world-famous Third Street Promenade.
While we have been fortunate to have funding available for hardware and software to facilitate our data collection, there are plenty of free resources as well. Social media platforms provide insights as part of their services. Google Analytics is rich with information on who is visiting your website, which pages they spend the most time on, and how they came to find your site.
During the height of the pandemic, our friends at the International Downtown Association provided members with a survey template to gauge consumer sentiment and learn how business and property owners were coping. IDA also produces a biannual Staffing and Salary Survey to benchmark the industry. In addition, each year marks a new cohort of the Value of Downtowns reports, which focus on creating a data-driven narrative for participating districts about the contribution of their downtown to the city and region. The Vitality Index (which is freely available to IDA members online) includes fifteen key metrics for measuring downtown vitality. Even if a member district is not yet a part of this Index (and IDA is working to expand this), this could provide a good framework for the right metrics to be tracking.
Reach out to your partners in the city to collect as much data as possible—from sales tax and business license information to parking structure occupancy rates and crime stats. Then, collaborate with your marketing team on the best ways to present this data, and how local media can make effective use of it to inform their reporting. We all love a good yarn every now and then, but when it comes to our downtowns, it’s all about fact, not fiction.