I’ve got my sesquicentennial creds by golly! Been out there on the fields, in the early mornings… and those warm evenings. And I’ve seen many of you out there too!
And those of you who’ve walked the guided tours and attended the events, have seen a lot of the NPS Social Media team. The park service explained the role of this team in a press release earlier this year:
Since April of last year, the National Park Service has focused efforts on commemorating significant events of the Civil War on their 150th anniversaries. With dozens of battlefields and historical sites dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of sites relevant to this critical time period, this is an opportune moment to tell compelling stories, connect the public to the past, and show the importance of the NPS as caretakers of our history.
Beyond traditional onsite interpretation and visitor-ranger interactions, the NPS has begun to embrace new technology to improve visitor experiences. Social media, in particular, have proven to be a valuable resource for reaching our goals of increasing visitation, reaching diverse audiences, and providing better pre- and post- visit interactions between visitors and parks.
By dedicating knowledgeable staff and taking advantage of new Servicewide guidelines, the NPS can create and maintain a vast online cadre of “followers,” “fans,” and “virtual visitors.” With less than three man-hours a week, a typical park can proactively post interpretive content, advertise upcoming events, share park project updates, and provide an interested supporter with information about anything the park wants to release. Providing this everyday content will increase the park’s fan base and grow their overall presence online so that when special events are held, more people will be interested and informed about them.
To make the most of these new resources, National Capital Region created an interpretive media team to support parks involved in the Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration. Helping the parks to start and grow Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr pages, the team has dramatically improved the virtual outreach of the region’s Civil War parks.
An especially effective area has been event coverage. With a dedicated team on the ground at large commemorative events, the team can capture and share thousands of images, post interpretive articles and live tweet speeches and presentations, answer online inquiries, and provide a quality experience to people unable to attend events. By making people limited by accessibility issues, geographic distances, or previously uninformed into “virtual visitors,” the team can form a positive connection between people and parks.
The tactics used by the team at the CW150 events at Manassas National Battlefield Park and Shiloh National Military Park have shown great success as far as numbers of people interacting online with NPS sites. By using the momentum gained through the documentation and online presentation of these events, future events can benefit greatly.
The NCR interpretive media team has been working closely with parks inside and outside the region, planning for the 150th anniversary events of the Peninsula Campaign, Second Manassas, and the Maryland Campaign. Building on past successes, the team’s efforts are expected to push visitation and “virtual visitor” numbers even higher. The unique format of social media allows for a great deal of information sharing between parks, helping us to create a seamless experience for our visitors and using interest in one park to increase the online presence of many sister parks….
This has been, in my humble opinion, a major win for the park service, the event, and overall for awareness of the sesquicentennial. “Tactics” are perhaps the right word to describe the mode of operation. As my good friend and college buddy Ed Peterson will tell you, social media is not just sticking some tweet on the internet. You need a plan and a goal in order to “sell” your product. And the folks working with these social media resources have that down to a science.
I’ve seen these folks work (I think Ranger Garrett Radke has a camera permanently affixed to his left hand). And while most of us out there are enjoying the events, they are out there working on photo angles, filming the interpretation, catching sound bytes for tweets, or uploading content to the social media platforms.
For those who can’t be there in person, you can see their recent work at Manassas and Antietam hosted on Facebook (here and here), Twitter (here and here), YouTube (here and here), and Flickr. As they said in the release, you can be a “virtual visitor.” For those of us who were out on the “campaign” it’s a great way to catch up on what we missed, or recall what we saw.
I do hope the folks up at Gettysburg (not just at the park, mind you) are paying attention here.