SOCIAL NEWTWORKING: A case study on how to use social media to promote countryside

Some things work better on social media than others.

Parking wardens and council tax collectors struggle.

Libraries, parks and countryside can work brilliantly. Why? Because people love them.

There’s several good librarians using social media. Not least the excellent @orkneylibrary.

But  there isn’t many examples of good countryside and park use I’ve seen.

Until now that is.

Countryside ranger Morgan Bowers  is doing some truly great things at Walsall Council. She works for the same authority as I do. But I’d be saying it whichever authority she was working for.

Morgan has set up @walsallwildlife on Twitter and tweets as an real person.

She is leading a team of volunteers recording wildlife across Walsall.   I don’t get newts. But her enthusiasm for her subject I do get.

She tweets about her subject and celebrates a newt find in the same way a football supporter celebrate a 93rd minute winner.

She also talks to people. How refreshing is that?

Rather wonderfully, it works across several platforms. She has also set-up a Facebook page to share her work and also has a lively Flickr stream.

All three are really good examples on how to use each platform. Morgan isn’t alone in Walsall Council’s countryside team in using social media.

Countryside manager Kevin Clements is gradually taking a more active role with Twitter too as @countrysidekev.

Their approach is similar in many ways to @hotelalpha9, the tweeting police officer in North Yorkshire.

A personal face and real time updates that are conservational. It’s a blend that seems to work.

Often, people who work in the public sector think their day-to-day job isn’t that interesting to people.

The fact is any job that you don’t do yourself is interesting to people.  And in 2011, in the public sector why not fly the flag for what you are doing?

Here’s why I think this approach works:

Twitter

A human voice helps put a human face on an organisation.

A niche Twitter stream can appeal to a cross-section of the population.

Responding and listening are good things for an organisation to do. It can drive traffic to other web pages.

It can work in real time.

Facebook

It can connect with people who use Facebook and no other network.

Because half the population are on Facebook in the UK.

It’s good to post pictures here as people can connect with a strong images

Flickr

It’s a good way to showcase images and connect with a wider community. Remember, there’s five billion images on Flickr.

It’s a good way to keep a record of images of what a project has discovered.

It  can can act as a bulletin board to the group and a wider community.

It’s a good way to map the changing of the seasons in an accessible way.

There are a few things that can work in parks and countryside and it’s fascinating to watch innovation in a corner of local government that people have a real connection with.

Pic credits: (c) Morgan Bowers.


GREEN DIGITAL: How parks and countryside can use social media…

If William Wordsworth was alive today he’d be using Twitter.

Not the old stick-in-the-mud he became but the young man fired by revolution.

 

Why? Because he celebrated the English countryside through the media of the day.

How we think of the landscape was shaped by Wordsworth. Before him, mountains were frightful places. After? Beautiful. And Willie cashed in with an 1810 Guide to the Lakes that was the iphone app of its day.

Exploring how our countryside team could use social media made me trawl through some examples.

Whoever said places work can really well on social media were bang on. That’s especially true of parks and countryside. So how is social media being used by to promote the countryside? There’s some really good ideas in patches out there but nothing fundamentally game changing that makes you sit up and write verse. That says to me that there is plenty of potential.

Photography should be at the heart of what the public sector does with countryside and parks. Why? Because a picture tells a 1,000 words. Because they can bring a splash of green into someone’s front room or phone at one click. Criminally, many sites should be promoting the countryside relegate images to a postage stamp picture.

Here are 10 interesting uses:

1. The British Countryside Flickr group has more than 4,000 members and some amazing images. It’s a place where enthusiastic amateur photographers can share pictures and ideas.

2. Peak District National Park chief executive Jim Dixon leads from the front. He blogs about his job at www.jimdixon.wordpress.com and tweets through @peakchief. It’s a good mix of retweeting interesting content and puts a human face on an organisation.

3. Foursquare, Walsall Council added a landmark in a park as a location. The Pit Head sculpture in Walsall Wood was added to encourage people to visit and check-in. You can also make good use of ‘tips’ by adding advice.

4. On Twitter, @uknationalparks represents 15 UK national parks run a traditional Twitter feed with press releases, RTs and some conversation. With 2,000 followers it’s on 145 lists.

5. But you don’t have to be in a national park to do a goods job. In Wolverhampton, @wolvesparkies have a brilliantly engagingly conversational Twitter stream. There is passion, wit and information that make most councils seem the RSS press release machine that they are.

6. National Trust have an excellent Facebook profile. You may get the impression that members are 65 and own a Land Rover. That doesn’t come across here. They observe one of the golden rules of social media. Use the language of the platform. It’s laid back and it’ll tell you when events are planned.

Yorkshire Dales by Chantrybee

Yorkshire Dales by Chantrybee

7. Even more relaxed is the quite new I Love Lake District National Park is quite brilliant. It allows RSS, it blogs and it really encourages interaction. Heck, they even encourage people to post to the wall so they can move shots into albums.

8.  On YouTube, West Sussex County Council have a slick short film on tree wardens that deserves more than 45 views in five months. Or does this show how much take up there is on YouTube?

9. The rather wonderful parksandgardens.ac.uk is an ambitious online tool for images of 6,500 parks and gardens and the people who created and worked in them. @janetedavis flagged this up. It’s a project she worked on and she should be proud of it. There’s a school zone to to connect to young people too and is populated by google map addresses and photographs. Really and truly, council parks and countryside pages should look like this but mostly don’t.

10. Less a government project, or even social media Cumbria Live TV celebrate the landscape they work in utterly brilliantly. Slick and powerful broadcast quality three minute films do more than most to capture the jaw dropping awe of the fells. They self-host some brilliant films on a changing site. Check them out here.

EIGHT things you CAN do aside from write bad poetry about daffodils and shepherds called Michael…

1. A Facebook fan page to celebrate a park or open space. Call it I love Barr Beacon. Yes, the Friends group can use it as a meeting place. But naming it after the place not the organisation leaves the door open to the public too.

2. Give a countryside ranger a Twitter account. Use @hotelalpha9 as an inspiration. Let them update a few times a day with what they’ve been up to. Post mobile phone pictures too.

3. Despite a dearth of amateur good examples there’s potential in short films to promote countryside. You only have to point a camera at something photogenic for people to come over all Lake Poet.

Flowers by Vilseskogen

4. Start a Flickr group to celebrate your patch of countryside. Walsall has 1,000 acres of parks and countryside with amazing views and vistas.

5. Start a blog. WordPress takes minutes to set-up and after messing around only a short time to master. Tell people what you are up to. Whack up a few images. Lovely. For no cost.

6. Make your countryside and parks pages a bit more web 2.0. Use mapping to set out a location. Use Flickr images – with permission – to showcase the place.

7. Add your parks and countryside to a geo-location site such as Foursquare. If the future of social media is location, location, location then venues, landmarks and places will score big.

8. Text. With more mobile phones in the UK than people sometimes the humble text message can be overlooked as part of the package of ways to connect with people. Most councils are also text enabled. Create info boards around a park or countryside with numbers to text to recieve info on what they can see. Change it for the seasons to make best use.

Picture credits:

Newlands Valley, Lake District, UK: Dan Slee.

Wordsworth: Creative commons courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Yorkshire Dales: Creative commons courtesy of Chantrybee http://www.flickr.com/photos/chantrybee/2911840052/

Flowers: Creative commons courtesy of Vilseskogen http://www.flickr.com/photos/vilseskogen/4182443498/