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Capturing an audience with social media

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BY JEFF WOLESLAGLE
We had a lot to learn when we created the first Facebook pages within the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources six years ago.
But we have come a long way since we first launched our page and social media has become an important tool in our public outreach. Like with any form of communication, the first thing to consider is your audience. Pennsylvania boasts 120 state parks and 2.2 million acres of state forest land. Our goal is to connect people to our state forests and the opportunities they provide. The millions of folks that visit our lands have an obvious love of the outdoors and we found out immediately that posts showcasing our flora and fauna were very popular.
When the Tuscarora State Forest in southcentral Pennsylvania began work with West Virginia University gathering data on golden eagle migration in the state, they placed road killed deer in the forest with trail cameras mounted nearby hoping to capture images of the large raptors. The cameras caught the golden eagles, and also a whole host of other forest dwellers that dine on carrion. There were amazing pictures of black bears, bobcats, coyotes, red and gray foxes, fishers, raccoons and porcupines as well as other birds like bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, ravens and turkey vultures sharing in the feast. A forest ranger sent me trail cam pictures each week which I posted on bureau of forestry’s page and watched the numbers rise. Our audience loved them and I looked forward to the photos arriving in my email inbox so that I could share them with our followers. As we increasingly used trail and web cameras, some of the images have garnered national news coverage.
While social media is a great tool for getting information out fast on unplanned events like extreme weather or fires, the bulk of our original posts are pre-planned. A well thought-out yearly plan can go a long way toward guiding content and connecting with followers in a timely manner. Each January the folks in our communications section sit down to review our content calendar.
Each month we feature seasonally appropriate recreational opportunities on our state forest lands, seasonal landscape photos and related natural history. Starting in the early spring we keep our followers up-to-date with what wild flowers will be blooming. We produced in-house video on Pennsylvania orchids that quickly went viral. In the fall we produce foliage reports to let visitors know where and when to expect to see peak colors in the state. It sounds simple, but these reports are wildly popular and often shared by our followers.
As a general rule we try to make a minimum of three Facebook posts per week, something that is easy to do if you collaborate with other agencies or departments. Share content from like-minded organizations. In the bureau of forestry we maintain a Facebook page for the bureau itself and a little over half of our twenty forest districts also maintain their own pages. We share content all the time as well content from the pages of our sister bureau, state parks. Social media can be a very powerful part of the communication tool box for any agency or organization. By knowing your audience, preplanning and sharing content, you can get the most out of your social media use.
— Jeff Woleslagle is the chief of communications for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry. To view the bureau of forestry’s Facebook page go to https://www.facebook.com/PAForests. To connect it on YouTube go to https://www.youtube.com/user/PAForestry
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