WILLIAMSBURG – LinkNYC kiosks have been popping up across the five boroughs for the last few years, replacing outdated phone booths with free calling and phone charging while showing big, glowing ads. Now, they’re opening up that advertising space to local businesses—for free.
The LinkLocal program launched last year as part of an effort to give a leg up to small businesses, said Kate Blumm, Assistant Commissioner for Communications at the NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.
“We don’t have a strict code, but go on instinct,” said Blumm, describing which local businesses qualify for free ads. “Mom and pop, new and longstanding independent businesses that don’t have big advertising budgets.”
Businesses are able to fill out a short online questionnaire through City Bridge, Link’s sponsoring partner, which asks the name of the company and what exactly they’re advertising, before creating ads for the company.
“It’s shockingly easy,” said Blumm. With advertisers like Poland Spring and Jet Blue able to purchase plenty of ad space on Link kiosks, Blumm said the purpose of the program is to make sure local businesses are as visible as possible.
The ads run on area Links for one month, said Blumm, but business have opportunities to sign up again through different local promotions.
“It felt too good to be true,” said Betty Cooney, executive director of the Graham BID, which has 8 Link kiosks on its stretch of Graham Avenue in Williamsburg.
As far as the efficacy of the ads go? Time will tell.
“We’re in a holding pattern,” said Cooney. It is often difficult to judge the response to online advertising, she added, since customers aren’t walking in with physical flyers or coupons. “But from what I’ve heard, businesses feel they’re getting a good return.”
Cooney said she finds the 9-foot tall glowing kiosks “reassuring,” and said that their visibility in the evening, when everything is closed, makes pedestrians feel less alone. They remind her of the old red emergency boxes on street corners, she said. Link kiosks have a button that can be used to call 911 in an emergency.
Last September, DNA Info reported that in North Brooklyn, LinkNYC kiosks were being used to arrange for drug sales, but on Graham Avenue, Cooney said that hasn’t been the case.
“At the BID managers meeting, some worried about abuse [of the kiosks],” she said, “But that’s the exception to the rule. The plusses outweigh the negatives.”
Link kiosks aren’t just for advertising businesses, though, said Blumm. 5% of their ad space is reserved for New York City PSAs, from emergency preparedness notes from the Office of Emergency Management to reminders to sign up for healthcare via the Get Covered New York campaign. New Yorkers can actually use the kiosks to sign up for healthcare right on the street, Blumm said.
Additionally, the kiosks advertise local interest: reminders about Community Board meetings and information about how to find polling places. In June, during Caribbean Heritage Month, one campaign raised awareness of the contributions made by Caribbean-Americans.