Sunday, July 15, 2012

Social Media Potential: My Prologue

Understand the medium. More importantly, understand its potential. 

I am interested in utilizing various types of digital media as a means to engage more people in parks and historic sites. Why? Because I am a nerd, duh. I am a nerd who loves parks and history and digital media. And I know I am not the only nerd who loves these things, either. Over the past several months, I have been reading as much as I can about social media's use (and heaven knows every day a ton of material is produced about social media and its use for marketers and its impact media on society and the list goes on and on and on). I am the lead for my park's social media team and have been responsible for putting many proverbial ducks in a row, readying for our launch.

As it turns out, those proverbial ducks were harder to finagle than I anticipated. What did I say I wanted to use this blog for? That's right: a place to share my ponderings about history and interpretation and how to better engage audiences. So I plan on launching a series of posts about social media's use by parks and historic sites over the next several weeks. Consider this post my prologue to the series. As a means of introducing the series, I thought I would address some of the concerns and possible misunderstandings I have encountered about parks utilizing social media.

But what about visitors to our parks?! They won't want to visit!
No, social media does not replace the visitor experience. Rather, it provides an opportunity for some to enhance their experience. It may even encourage visitors to go out and visit, now that they have an a way to seek information about the site. Nobody is forced to use Facebook or Twitter, but if they want to share with the world their visit, why not provide that opportunity?

Social media is just a phase.
Um, no, no it is not. Sorry. It will be easier if you quit telling yourself this and just accept that this is the our current society and that technology developments only continue to encourage this. I have been a member of some form of social networking site for well over a decade. This ain' going anywhere.

*%^& kids! Get off my lawn and get off your phone!
Let's face it. Up-and-coming generations grew up with mobile phones, many don't remember a time when telephones had to be attached to a wall. They understand that computers come in a size that fits in their pocket and that those tiny computers have the ability to connect to the world wide web via invisible waves and networks. We are not going to change these facts. Why not provide a way for younger generations to connect to sites in a way that is second nature to them?

Digital meets analog when camping in this picture.
Also, I felt the need to include this image
if for no other reason than the fact that there is a
stuffed toy raccoon and a person wearing a bear suit.
Courtesy of maclife.com 
I know of many other concerns and am bound to present and hopefully counter them in my upcoming posts. I consider myself an advocate for social media's use, however, and want my messages to stay on the positive side. We have opportunities to engage the public in new ways! This should be more exciting and not scary! (Although, it appears too often that control over the message interferes with engagement). I do not claim to know everything there is to know about the media, I just know that it can serve as an effective tool in spreading messages. When interviewing another park ranger who utilized social media effectively at his site several months ago, I got an excellent foundation for approaching media's use in interpretation. He told me, "understand the medium you want to use, but more importantly, understand the potential." I am ready to see more of this potential turn kinetic and influence visitors' experiences with parks and historic sites positively.


*Reminder: these thoughts are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Park Service.

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