People often ask me how I got involved in social media for Virginia State Parks. I usually say it’s because I had too much time off last December. That is pretty much the truth, but only part of it.
I am a great leave saver. Working for the state you can carry up to a certain amount of hours over from year to year based on how many years you have with the state. I hit that level the second year I was here so mostly I have to make myself take the time off. The word “workaholic” often comes out of my husband’s mouth. Last year I had about two weeks to take before the end of the year as of early December (well technically before January 9). So I scheduled some time off. The weather was cold and yucky, I hate housework, couldn’t afford to go anywhere, so I started playing around with social media.
Why social media you might ask? Regardless of how you feel about the outcome of the 2008 Presidential election, it is impossible to miss that social media played a big part in the outcome – both for grass roots fund raising and the mobilization of volunteers. It wasn’t a great mental leap to realize that social media could be helpful in getting the word out about all Virginia State Parks has to offer.
Just to put this in perspective – up to November 30, 2008, I had a My Space page with 2 followers – that guy that follows everyone and my husband. I had started a Twitter account @nheltman in September but had never tweeted anything and just didn’t get it. I wasn’t even aware of how much blogging was going on around the internet.
On December 6, 2008 I posted my first blog to a free blogspot account. It is still there. Unfortunately I can’t tell when we set up the Facebook Fan page (of course I had to set up a person one at the same time). We do know that I started the Twitter account on December 11, 2008. We are choosing to celebrate our first anniversary for Virginia State Parks social media on December 11, 2009. The rest is history – 2,000 page views a week on our blog, 2,000 plus fans on Facebook and 7,000 plus followers on Twitter. I also set up a My Space page, Ning page, Squiddo page, but we have pretty much narrowed our emphasis to blogs (now with Compendium Blogware), Facebook and Twitter.
I don’t do it all myself – we have 20 staff blogging and now invite our visitors to contribute. Michael Salotti (@salottimc) who is our Reservations Center Parks Facility Inventory Specialist has done an excellent job with our Facebook page especially with keeping the content fresh and wading through the programming challenges. He also set up a really cook site on My Space for us and has really embraced blogging. Don Byrne, our Parks Information Manager, does a fantastic job with our enewsletter, our early foray into expanding our horizons. More importantly Don manages our events database and set up the automatic feed to Twitter for our events. I tried tweeting them manually during the winter months last year and found that overwhelming! We have a great team and I think that’s the key to our success – that and having the wonderful Virginia State Parks to talk about in all those forums.
Anyway, to celebrate this milestone, we are offering a contest on Twitter. For a complete description of the contest and a list of prizes, click here. If you are on Twitter, I hope you will add #vastateparks to your tweets on Friday, December 11th!
Birthday Cake Photo by Theresa Thompson Creative Commons