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Jack Pearson

Senior Digital Communications Manager

Part of Digital Diplomacy

27th September 2016 London, UK

Our house, in the middle of King Charles Street

Every year iconic buildings across the capital open their doors to the public as part of Open House London. When the organisation was founded in 1992, they wanted to open up coveted spaces to the public to enhance their appreciation and understanding of architecture and design. For 20 years the Foreign Office has been one of the most popular destinations, attracting thousands of guests. By opening our doors and welcoming the public in, we not only allow them to see the incredible art and architecture hosted in one of their government buildings – we also give them a window into government itself.

Walking through the corridors of power and seeing the places where policies are debated and worked through, where world leaders are hosted, helps people to feel more connected to their government. And for those visiting the UK, it tells them about our values and our history as an open and democratic society. With that in mind, we wanted to create the most accessible Open House ever, providing more access, insight and awareness of our work than ever before.

Our efforts had 3 areas of focus:

  • making our Open House as accessible as possible by creating a virtual tour
  • giving our audience more context and insight about the Foreign Office, its history and what happens here
  • raising awareness of our work by working with partners

Our virtual tour gave digital visitors more access to the FCO than ever before – with 360 degree photos, narrated podcasts and an official welcome from the Foreign Secretary himself.  The rich photos gave people a genuine sense of what it’s like to wander through the grand rooms of our headquarters. The podcasts which accompanied them told interesting stories about their past and design – one of the wonderful things about the FCO is the experts who are on hand to provide insight and context and so we were keen to make good use of them! The 360 degree photos also worked brilliantly for Facebook. At every stage, we wanted to make sure we had assets that worked across platforms:

We were also really keen to give our audience greater context and to tell the story of the Foreign Office and its history. The Foreign Secretary welcomed guests and viewers to the FCO, helping to explain our work. His welcome set the tone, right from the very top, that we’re open and engaged. His video, along with one from Dr Laura Popoviciu, a curator at the Government Art Collection, helped to give our social audience greater insight. Open House is a way to show people what the Foreign Office is, does and has done previously. It also allowed us to explore new angles, such as the role of art in diplomacy.

Finally we wanted to reach out and find new audiences. More than this, we wanted to do it in a way which felt natural and engaging. We worked with Instagram to identify top Instagram talent who focus on architecture and design. We selected 3 to come for an exclusive preview event the day before Open House, to help drum up interest and footfall. Their pictures received thousands of likes and helped us reach an audience 32 times larger than on our own. It also generated interesting and stylised content for our owned channels, which performed really well. I particularly liked this one (my own Instagram game is pretty strong and to prove it you can see some of my snaps here.)

So, time for the #HumbleBrag. Our twitter reach was up 186% on last year with engagement up 270% too. Instagram engagement was up 150% compared to our channel average and Facebook drove 46% of traffic to our virtual tour microsite. Our virtual tour page was new this year so we don’t have a like-for-like figure to compare, but it more than met our target of doubling the number of visitors (both digital and physical) to the FCO for Open House.

Whilst we’re pretty pleased with how it went, we’re also reflecting on why some things worked and what else we’d do in the future. Firstly, we worked with a decent lead time, which meant we had effective planning and clear objectives. Secondly we partnered with content experts to get great 360 degree photos because we knew that content was uniquely placed to support the campaign. Thirdly, we worked with partners where there was a clear mutual benefit. Finally, we had an array of content to serve different needs; some was more promotional whilst others gave greater depth.

There’s certainly more that can be done and we’re looking forward to achieving even more next year. For now though (if you haven’t already), take the virtual tour, have a look at some of our content and let us know what you think.