MBP and Eurosite have collaborated on two guides to social media use by wetland centres and nature reserves. You can read part one here. In 2021 we made the more advanced guide. We asked MBP and Eurosite members what they would like from such a guide and created the chapters you see on this page.
We are releasing the chapter each week between the MBP annual Meeting 2021 and the end of the year, with a downloadable PDF available in January 2022.
It is possible, but difficult, to use social media to get the attention of journalists. It may be possible to reach local media with news of visitor activities, or appealing photographs. In most cases there are more direct ways of reaching them with these updates.
Manage your expectations. Social media is not the most direct way to reach journalists. For national outlets, contacting a press agency is often more effective. The first line of a press release is not much longer than a Tweet, but it may carry the information you wish to get across more directly to the right person.
- Supporters in a personal capacity
- They cover an environmental ‘beat’
- They are local journalists
- They are picture editors
In all these cases, the journalist likely follows many people and places; it is hard to stand out to them.
You can use social media to build relationships with journalists, which would then move beyond social media to more direct contact methods.
Asking them to follow you (they might say no – do not take this personally!); then sending them direct messages (DMs), and eventually emails. They may share their professional email address, and if they like what you provide, they may share contact details for editorial functions such as the picture desk, the duty editor, or the editorial coordinator; all those these would be shared inboxes. This means that by emailing them you have multiple chances of getting your message to people who can publish it.
Twitter lists: See Guide Part 1 Page 10); consider making a Twitter list of relevant journalists.
Being reported for trending
Some media outlets share Tweets about a current trending topic. This means a relatively large number of people are commenting about the topic. If this is your reserve or visitor centre, it may be praise or it may be criticism, so there is a risk involved.
The other possibility for being shared on websites is by being humorous and innovative. This is a full-time job! An example is the Museum of English Rural Life.
They promptly engage in trending topics – this requires staffing by a ‘digital native’, always watching for trends, with a large supply of work-related photos to hand. The tweets are witty, kind, and reinforce the value of the museum, in a manner that allows a wide segment of potential visitors follow.
Wikipedia: an advertising campaign is a series of advertisement messages that share a single idea and theme, which make up an integrated marketing communication (IMC).
In the end, it all boils down to three questions:
- Do I have a demand and/or a call-to-action?
- Do I have the reach to make a campaign a meaningful endeavour?
- Who is my audience?
Points 2 and 3 don’t require much creative thinking but funds to make the campaign fly in the selected media channels and needs a specified target group for our messages. If we don’t have funds, we have to rely on the power of social networks. The big myth here is the “brilliant media asset” that went “viral”. While this happens, it happens astonishingly rarely, and close to never when “not so interesting or polarising” subjects are communicated. Going viral on issues such as peatlands restoration is virtually impossible. Going viral on animal tests, on the other hand, is still challenging to achieve but more likely because the underlying theme and the detailed pictures can be provocative and shocking, which may stir uproar and thus shares.
Often, one’s network reach is overestimated, and, more importantly, the engagement of partners in such campaigns is more than often an unsatisfactory experience. Plus, networks cater mainly for the bubble we live in. But the one big reason for campaigning in the first place is reaching audiences outside the bubble. That means that a campaign should have funds for paid advertising. With a few thousand euros in social media and specified target groups, the reach is encouragingly quite large.
Point 1, however, requires deeper thinking, creativity and the understanding of communication through pictures. First of all, we have to answer the question, “why do we want a campaign?” The answer is primarily an issue we want to communicate to the outer world connected with a demand or a call-to-action to resolve that issue. Eg, the problem is dirty clothes, and the call-to-action is to buy the suggested washing powder.
In landscape conservation, the issue could be climate warming or species extinction, and the resolving demand is the restoration of peatlands. We could also add a call-to-action such as “become a member”, or “join us”, or “donate for the rewetting of the bog XYZ”.
When we have a clear line that establishes the issue and calls for a solution, we have to find pictures that tell the narrative emotionally, fostering a bond with the audience. There are many ways to achieve that, but whatever imagery I’m using should be relatable to the target group. Asking for rewetting peatlands and showing brown wasteland won’t cut it. But showing interesting, young people on a peatland’s boardwalk make the issue instantly sympathetic, even to the layman.
Campaigning out of the blue isn’t a great idea. Asking “why do we do the campaign now?” helps to understand the campaign’s reason beyond the issue we want to communicate. Perhaps there’s an event that can be used as a homestretch? Summer holidays are starting soon, and water quality might be an issue? Christmas is due in a few weeks; a donation might be a great present?
On the media channel side, we should focus on our target group. Instagram nowadays is turning into a video platform that is still mainly serving the younger generation. Facebook typically focuses on the middle-aged and older mainstream. But like Instagram, video content does better than pictures. Lastly, besides the political domain, Twitter is firmly on the rise for the young generation and also prefers video content within the tweets.
That said, creating such content isn’t just done in between. The quality and professional design pay into the campaign considerably. Craft matters. So does constant campaign monitoring and optimisation, which in itself is an art. That’s the reason why there are agencies, which do these things for a living.
Lastly, after the game is before the game. Successful campaigning must be sustainable. But when we campaign with heart and engagement, social media campaigning is a successful tool to find a sympathetic ear in the population, the political domain, the science community, wherever we identify our target group. And don’t expect results to be immediate. Campaigning is a long-run endeavour.
Producing social media can be time-consuming. Few organisations can afford to dedicate an employee full-time to social media; for instance it was 2021 when WWT, with ten sites and close to one million visits per year, was ready to employ a dedicated social media officer.
It is important to dedicate time to planning and producing your social media; and to have some capacity to respond and interact with public responses to your social media, so that their experience of your social media is positive, no matter what the content.
To identify your best human resource, first consider the audience. Facebook users tend to be older, preferring stunning photographs and jokes; while Instagram has a younger audience with more smartphone skills and interest in activism; and dedicated photographers, who are often regular visitors or members to nature sites. Who can understand these audiences, and provide relevant language and images to them?
It is clichéd but often younger people are more interested in running social media accounts. This can mean sharp content and a strong awareness of trends in which to engage.
A few simple rules for when multiple staff / volunteers post to the same social media accounts:
- Check before posting or sharing an item – a team-mate may have already posted it!
- Resist the automatic urge to click ‘like’ on a good post made by a team-mate. What external users will see is that your organisation posted something and liked it, which either looks very arrogant, or like a desperation for social media likes.
It takes more than just the person behind the computer to deliver social media. People working on the reserve will often see fun or interesting sights while at work. Encourage them to send these to a colleague in the office who will have time to check the spelling, maybe crop the photo, share to the right social media platforms, and save for reuse (see chapter TK on re-useable content). Meanwhile, your colleague out on the reserve continues with their job, and has helped draw more visitors or supporters.
Photographs are essential for most social media platforms. If you can easily reuse a photo a few months later on a different platform or output, you have made better use of the effort of taking that photo. The more you can reuse it, the better.
But: to reuse a photo, it must be effective. A crummy photo can make you look cheap. You probably don’t want to look cheap even once, and you certainly don’t want to look cheap repeatedly by reusing the same poor quality photo.
Photo management is very helpful and helps you save time.
The cheapest way to do this is to use folders on your office network. However it require you to write very detailed filenames and use the ‘tags’ function if you are using Windows. It is tempting just to copy the photos as say ‘I’ll do that later’.
There are some free services, which require access to reasonably fast internet. Google Photos offers 15 GB of storage. You can access it by desktop computer or mobile device. It uses Artificial Intelligence to identify the contents of photos, in broad terms. You can use the Search box to for simple keywords such as ‘bird’. So even if your photo filename is ‘IMG00345.jpg’ you might still be able to find it. It is also easy to add information to individual photos, including description and location. This is good practice.
Permission: You must keep permission forms for photographs that include children. These forms should be signed by a parent or guardian and stored securely, meaning on a system that requires a password.
Ask that all your colleagues think about what they can provide for your social media. Reserve staff will see interesting biodiversity every day. A smart-phone photo may be ideal. A phone-scoped photo will suffice in some circumstances, though it may be off-putting for audiences who are less keen naturalists – the blurred edges of a phone-scoped image can distract people from the content, if they are not accustomed to it.
MBP member example: Maison du lac de Grand Lieu:
We generally publish new contents. But, we have a photo/video library to use or reuse photos for seasonal events’ communication.
If you carry out regular species monitoring, you are well-placed to deliver this.
Some of your wardens or reserve staff will likely interact with volunteer bird counters and photographers, and chat about species of interest on the reserve. As well as bird sightings, they are in a position to share information that may help give visiting birders and photographers a more pleasant day – such as information in advance if they expect to be disturbing certain areas though reserve management work on a certain day. Integrating them in your social media can bring multiple benefits. Depending on how you segment your visitors, you may prefer to use separate outlets of even platforms.
You may wish to run family-focused Facebook accounts, an Instagram account for photographers, and a Twitter account for naturalists. The species-based account could be unashamedly expert in its content, but also succinct and professional.
Case study: Maison du Lac de Grand Lieu
The most of our posts are videos and photos of the flora and fauna of Grand-Lieu Lake. Currently, there is also the monthly nature photo from the professional photographer Erwan Balança.
Case study: WWT Slimbridge
Slimbridge Sightings is a Twitter account, with one password shared between three reserve wardens at WWT Slimbridge. It has 11,000 followers.
The account is branded differently from WWT visitor centres but includes the official logo and follows the staff social media guidelines.
The tree wardens all have the account on their phones, so they can tweet live as things happen. It might be this what they see during the day, or reports from volunteers or visitors; they also retweet relevant tweets they have been tagged in.
Between 8am and 11am they send their main batch of sighting tweets, to update on the morning’s sightings and we also try to tweet about reserve work taking place where there may be disturbance, or the work is of interest.
There is an active local birding community on Twitter under #GlosBirds so they try to include this where possible to spread the news further. They don’t usually use the account to directly promote membership, events or other sales but hope that by providing good up to date information to everyone they will encourage visitation and secondary spend, and membership.
Source: Scott Petrek, Warden, WWT Slimbridge.
There are some specialist platforms, such as eBird. This might be useful if you are in a hotspot, with enough sightings coming in to make it appear in the ‘Top 100’ that the website generates per country. If you are in that lucky position, you could promote the page to the public via your social media and website. To make it worthwhile you may need staff to input sightings at lease every week.
Live video can connect with many different audience segments in many different places. The audience gets a sense of direct connection both to the place and to the person hosting the live video. If you are used to talking to visitors, you may have the essential presentation skills.
You can use the skills and equipment to provide paid-for education services, remotely delivering lessons to schools. Instagram and Facebook make it difficult to keep such sessions private. In a low-risk setting you can use unlisted live streams on YouTube; however it is better to use one-to-one platforms such as Skype or Zoom.
Live streaming depends on a few essential factors:
- Good internet access
- Technical skills
- Presentation skills
- Technical equipment
- Consideration of the audience and platform
Good internet access
This is a technical consideration which will affect what you can offer. If your site has no 4G or 5G mobile internet, you will be less likely to be able to use Instagram live, because this requires a mobile phone to operate. If you have a building with internet access, you can still do live streams from there.
You may have dedicated presenters or hosts, who are well-equipped to host live video. However they may need to adjust their manner of speech. Visitors to a guided talk may expect to be ‘talked at’ as a group; but someone watching a livestream does so as an individual, and so expects softer speech. Deliver your talk as if to one person, as if you were on a video call to one representative of your target audience rather than dozens of different people.
Be responsive. Keep an eye on the comments, and if you can, read every one of them out loud, to reward the people who participate.
Live streams are based around either a smartphone or a computer with webcam. WWF in Hong Kong combines these by having a leader in the office at a laptop, with colleagues on smartphones at birdwatching hides, including one with a phone-scope adaptor to give close-up views of animals. They connect to each other via Zoom, and livestream the Zoom meeting on other platforms like Facebook. As of mid-2021, this requires a paid Zoom account. For the most up-to-date way of connecting Zoom to Facebook, see the Zoom support pages. See chapter TK on Zoom webinars.
WWT Washington in the UK streams direct to Facebook from smartphone. They use a mobile phone on 4G (in this case an iPhone XS Max) with a tripod and phone holder, an external microphone (Rode Videomic GO or Rode Videomic ME); and a Rode iPhone dual TRRS adaptor for multiple microphones, e.g. when the host talks to a colleague who is standing a safe distance away in a pond.
Audience and platform
The audience may be quite small compared to traditional broadcast. As always, identify the differences between the different platforms in your particular audiences. Consider the time of day.
Instagram: typically, younger people. A light-hearted, less formal style, where one or two people with a single smartphone, hand held, will suffice.
Facebook: sometimes blocked on corporate networks, so consider the audience to be less professional, more suited to daytime audiences who are not at work.
YouTube: the most diverse. Can be done by one person, but more efficient with one lead presenter and another looking at the comments, replying & moderating where necessary in the comments and mentioning them aloud to the camera too.