Virtual Visitation: Rethinking Atlanta History Center’s Online Experience During COVID

Learn how Atlanta History Center teamed up with agency IfThen for a reimagined digital experience during the pandemic and how this digital experience benefitted from using the Pantheon WebOps platform. 

Swan House, located on the grounds of Atlanta History Center’s main campus. 

When Atlanta History Center (AHC) set out to reimagine their digital experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, they knew they needed an experienced, talented digital agency with strong Atlanta roots. AHC found their ideal partner in IfThen, an Atlanta-based agency led by industry veterans who have created some of the most prominent digital experiences on the internet today, including those of clients like CNN, USAToday, and Sports Illustrated.

The pandemic accelerated the inevitable transition to online experiences for museums, and AHC needed reliable, scalable solutions that allowed patrons to experience their offerings virtually. IfThen was able to deliver an educational, inspirational destination that served today’s and tomorrow’s audiences and effectively communicated AHC’s mission to connect people, history, and culture — serving members of its community anytime, anywhere.

IfThen sought the assistance of the Pantheon WebOps platform both as a reliable hosting solution and to facilitate the development workflow of the new AHC WordPress site. This enabled the project team to work more efficiently and deliver a website with unparalleled speed, uptime, and scalability — one that would better serve AHC for years to come.

AHC’s Past, Present, and Future

Atlanta Historical Society was founded in 1926 as a small, archival-focused organization, and over the following decades, grew to encompass 33 acres of curated Goizueta Gardens, four historic houses, varied programming, and a range of signature and temporary exhibitions housed in the Atlanta History Museum. In 1990, after years of collecting, researching, and publishing information about Atlanta, the organization officially became Atlanta History Center.

Museums have been hit hard by COVID-19, with organizations seeing an average of 35 percent of pre-pandemic visitors. Delivering unique, engaging online experiences is key to weathering not just the current storm, but the long-term changes in patron behavior that are sure to continue long after the pandemic is under control. AHC’s new and improved website has them well-positioned to continue to grow and innovate during these challenging times. 

Extending AHC’s Mission with a Reimagined Digital Experience

In reimagining AHC’s digital experiences, IfThen had four main goals:

  1. Communicate AHC’s mission and offerings. This included clearly conveying AHC’s expanse – their properties, gardens, programs, and vastness of their archives, as well as untangling its identity, by directly and organically building awareness of AHC’s depth and diversity while tying each unique element to the overall mission.

  2. Extend the on-site experience digitally. The website needed to become a central venue for AHC to collect, create, and organize content, as well as immersively display its traditional museum offerings to the general public in a digital fashion. 

  3. Build national relevance. This was important not just for the organization, but for broadcasting the importance of Atlanta itself, in historical, cultural, geographic, and economic terms. 

  4. Increase revenue. The website needed to open more doors for memberships, donations, ticketing, and sales of goods and services. 

IfThen’s solutions included a robust virtual platform for exhibitions, multiple custom content types, including a bespoke area for AHC photography and object collections, and related content modules to tie in related articles, exhibitions, and informational pages.  

All this functionality was essential for empowering the organization to communicate a broader understanding of Atlanta’s shared and complex history, as well as serving as a public resource while supplementing and expanding the on-site activities with rich digital content that adds perspective and evokes curiosity.

Atlanta '96: An Immersive Online Exhibition

As AHC’s new website was being built, the in-person exhibition Atlanta '96. Shaping an Olympic and Paralympic City was being curated. IfThen was tasked with creating an equally immersive, best-in-class virtual experience to run simultaneously. The goal of the online exhibition was twofold: to engage patrons that otherwise wouldn’t see the exhibit in the flesh, and to build interest for those who would. 

The goal of the exhibition was to consider the impact of the 1996 Olympic Games on the city of Atlanta and its residents, placing the event within the context of Atlanta’s history of reinvention and growth initiatives, with the objective of prompting visitors to think about how they can change the places in which they live. 

To bring that goal to life online, AHC team utilized the feature-rich new exhibitions platform developed by IfThen, integrating archived photos, video clips, unique collections from the exhibit, intriguing stories from the Games, and an exhaustive list of additional Zac reading resources.

Taking the Right Approach with The Pantheon WebOps Platform

Immersive web experiences require a powerful WebOps platform to run on and facilitate development of innovative features, both reasons why IfThen chose Pantheon as a partner. In fact, IfThen relied on Pantheon's WordPress hosting with exceptional uptime, speed, and scalability to run the site, and the agency made extensive use of Pantheon's Dev/Test/Live workflow to manage releases of its latest features. 

Dev/Test/Live made it easy to implement and act on internal workflows, helping smooth out content production and the QA process, and it gave them the flexibility to open up Test to AHC for authoring in the pre-launch phase without a degradation in performance. Also, the ability to branch development environments was important as they migrated volumes of content from the previous site. 

In summary, Pantheon kept AHC’s reimagined WordPress site up and running in a seamless, no-drama fashion and demonstrated its value with solid workflows for developers releasing new features destined to wow audiences online and expand the museum’s digital footprint. This is WebOps in action. 

Ensuring Atlanta’s Storied History Is Preserved for Future Generations to Come

IfThen was able to exceed AHC’s high expectations for their reimagined website, growing all engagement metrics and positioning them for growth and future innovation. By expanding its digital presence with a truly immersive site that rivals what you’d experience in person, AHC is better positioned to move toward its goals of building national relevance and increasing revenue, both during the pandemic and beyond. 

Not only that, but this immersive digital experience took AHC’s mission of preserving the ongoing history of the greater Atlanta area online. This is essential to showcasing Atlanta’s historical significance and complexity, especially during the pandemic when the public can’t experience this in person. 

And with Pantheon serving as the trusted WebOps platform for AHC website and facilitating development workflows for the team at IfThen, the public can experience all that Atlanta has to offer online and the IfThen team can continue to push the innovation of a world-class digital experience.

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Topics Agency Partners, Development, WordPress Hosting