Shopping malls and stupid rules about photography

I am periodically reprimanded by some security guard for taking photos of or in the vicinity of a shopping mall. I have essentially been told that taking photos in or of shopping malls is banned with no real rationale. I took a photo of a renovated space inside Balfour Park yesterday and I was told about the ban and also that photos have been banned for more than 20 years. No-one has been able to give me a reason for the ban. The closest was Melrose Arch where I was required to complete a film production request for filming before I could take photos.

I don’t think I have talked about why I even want to take photos of malls. One reason is that I am fascinated by some of the designs and architectural elements. I don’t know much about design or architecture but some of these buildings fascinate me and I feel this compulsion to share my experiences.

Touring the new section at Melrose Arch - 11

This compulsion brings me to the main reason I take photos of these sorts of places and other areas I visit. I think of it as local tourism powered by social media. It really struck home for me how empowered we are if we have a decent mobile phone with a camera and access to our social networks the other day when we were at the Joburg Zoo. We were walking from one section to another and passed a family where everyone was holding a camera-phone. Rather than visit all these local destinations oblivious to their various appeals, I like to capture the interesting and attractive things I see and share them with my communities on the various social networks I frequent.

A number of shopping malls in South Africa have undergone fairly extensive renovations in an apparent effort to make them into lifestyle destinations rather than just a series of shopfronts. The owners appear to want visitors, local and foreign, to frequent their malls and spend as much time as is possible there. Heck, the parking rates alone must make longer stays lucrative. It isn’t always possible to travel outside of your hometown for a break so local destinations are so important. Consider this tweet I noticed on Melrose Arch’s Twitter page:

Melrose Arch preferred destination.png

When you overlay a social media and the social Web, experiencing local destinations becomes a social event if we can capture our experiences and share them. Geolocation means you can take a couple photos or videos while you are having lunch somewhere or just taking the little ones out for a walk and have that content show up on a map. Those maps can be pretty handy for other people who want to have similar experiences. You know, they guide those potential visitors to the locations their predecessors frequented.

I don’t know why shopping malls prohibit photographs and I wish someone in the know would explain it to me. It just seems to me that the people who make the decisions are missing a valuable opportunity to put their destinations on the map in a very meaningful context, literally. Visitors should be encourages to share their experiences at these destinations and interact with them as much as possible. What about QR codes on shop windows linking to their websites or information about the shopping malls themselves (design, history, future plans). Visitors to these malls are increasingly online, mobile and connected and shopping malls have thusfar only managed to achieve lackluster engagement with the social Web. Here are how two of the higher end shopping malls are doing online:

Imagine if visitors were encouraged to capture their experiences and share them? It must be possible to manage security and safety concerns and still facilitate this? I don’t think that shopping malls can really afford to neglect the social Web as a tool in their marketing toolkits. These malls need to realise that engagement with their customers is more about just throwing up a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page. What about engaging with those customers in the malls themselves and encouraging them to share their experiences on location with their social networks. Remember “word of mouth”? Well, this is how it works.

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