Today we’re continuing our series "New Service Voices" with guest blogger Cortney White. Cortney has been with the service since 2009 at Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, first as a clerk, now as a Park Ranger in the Student Career Employment Program (SCEP). Cortney completed her B.A. in Public Relations from Winona State University in 2010 and is finishing her M.S. in Outdoor Education. She has concentrated her work at WSU on how to promote positive environmental attitudes in young children.
When I started working with the Service, my job description as a clerk at the Upper Miss Refuge included helping the new refuge Friends group start using social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. When I learned I would be able to communicate the mission of conservation using social media I was excited to help display the refuge in a new spotlight.
At that time social media was new to the Service, and providing a resource for the Friends group to advertise the refuge online helped expand the refuge to a new audience. Like many organizations, the refuge traditionally depended on print or television media to promote a refuge story and communicate to viewers. Social media however, allows the refuge the ability to communicate directly with those interested in its mission.
As we progressed in the development of the Friends’ page, we saw success through increasing numbers of followers. Around the same time, we began receiving guidance and support from our Regional Office to create official refuge social media pages.
One problem we had was receiving support from the refuge staff. Like other refuges across the country, the staff was worried about keeping up with the added tasks that come with using social media. To relieve some of the stress of adding verbs such as “facebooking” and “tweeting” to our daily activities, we felt it was important to create a communication plan.
Aerial of Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, Image Credit: Gary J. Wege
Throughout the process we have found that the most important component in maintaining a social media page is to have an idea of what you want to get out of using the tools. Planning gives you a place to start and a target to reach. Similar to how we plan the way are going to manage the habitat on a refuge, we also need to plan how we will manage the image of the refuge in the community.
By using new media, we can embrace the changes in communication and provide quick, dynamic information to the public as many current, as well as future refuge visitors find their information online. Providing information on sites they are already using makes it much easier to connect with these visitors. Online tools may also attract those interested in volunteering to support the important conservation work happening on National Wildlife Refuges.
So, if you’re nervous about beginning a trek down the social media trail - don’t be. It’s a relatively small commitment to learn new tools, with a great payoff by attracting visitors and creating open discussion about conservation issues.