North of San Francisco, in San Rafael, Calif., the Marin County Department of Parks has found social media success, says Katherine Mindel Jones, the department’s external affairs coordinator.

“We’ve found that Facebook and Twitter are the best way to communicate and receive input from the public. They have been the tools for us to get our information out, and also to really reach people in the community. Facebook, in particular, has been a really effective way to get important news out. We now have a well-established Facebook page—we have 900 followers, including a lot of our local news outlets and different organizations in our communities.

“Since we are a parks and open space district, we are able to provide the public with a lot of great pictures. And the pictures are what resonate with people. It’s why they love coming out to our parks and open spaces.”

Mindel Jones has some social media words of wisdom for other parks departments. “The best advice I think I can give, and it’s available on a lot of different social media how-to sites—it’s what guides our posting—is to be conversational in nature, to be succinct. We try to keep our posts to 10 words or less. Of our posts, we make 70 percent of our own posts and about 30 percent of the posts we share from other sources. It’s a mix of our own original posts and the others are interesting posts we find that are relevant from other organizations.”

Images play a role in the social media efforts at the Marin County Department of Parks, especially on the parks department’s Facebook page. “I would say that 90 percent of our posts have an image associated with the post. We don’t post on Facebook without a picture,” says the Marin County Parks’ Mindel Jones.

In state park social media efforts, images are crucial, says Beth Wilson, who manages web content, communications and research for the state of Oregon’s Parks and Recreation Department. “Photos are key for both the blog and our Facebook posts,” says Wilson. “Good photos draw the blog reader in to read the story, and are more likely to be ‘shared’ and ‘liked’ on Facebook. We use Facebook and Twitter to announce our blog posts.”

What draws traffic to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department blog? “Park events and major park improvements stories accompanied by good photos are our most read blog entries,” says Wilson.

The National Recreation & Park Assn. (NRPA) is a resource on social media. The 2013 NRPA Congress and Exposition in Houston will feature a series of 20-minute speed sessions designed to energize and inspire conference attendees.

One of the speed sessions will be on this topic:

Social Media: Embrace or Be Left Behind  Presenter: Janet Weaver

The NRPA Congress will be held October 8-10, 2013.

NRPA has put together an issue brief on social media. The title is: “Using Social Media Marketing to Promote Physical Activity and Health and Wellness in Parks.”
This video celebrates Marin County Parks’ 40-year anniversary, and the new challenges facing the park system.