I started tweeting at work on March 21, 2011. That’s 2 years, 1 month, 2 weeks and 4 days. To be honest, I never thought that the @WalsallWildlife twitter feed would meet with the success that it has, and to this day I’m still convinced it’s more of a testament to just how much the people of the West Midlands love wildlife rather than anything that I’m doing in particular.
My aim was to emulate @HotelAlpha9 – a tweeting police officer providing a glimpse into life on the beat. I wanted to give people a window into a day in the life of a Countryside Ranger, and to find a way to network with people at events, and to generally use social media as a way to engage people.
Generally speaking, through twitter and facebook, I can schedule and book events, surveys, projects and more, without ever needing to advertise, put up flyers or write press releases. For example, I did a bat survey at Merrions Wood last week and had 15 volunteers show up to help! On average, 50+ people attend each astronomy event we hold on Barr Beacon, and large-scale events like our annual Peregrine Watch day is attended by hundreds of people.
It also works as a direct-line for people wanting to report findings to our team, ask questions about upcoming events, and even just send in photos of their garden wildlife for identification. Of course, the immediate access and response can sometimes blur the line between ‘work’ and ‘life’, so I still use my personal twitter account for general chit-chat that isn’t work related. I have to enforce a few loose ‘rules’ on myself – one of which is to treat enquiries that come in via social media with as much weight as any letter, email or phone call from a member of the public. As a council, we need to accept the fact that this is simply how an increasing number of people communicate now.
So does this mean the death of the press release? Has video killed the radio star? Not yet at least. I need to remain mindful that not everyone is social media savvy, and so for larger events I do go a bit ‘old school’, and especially for positive stories and achievements, which it’s great to share with the online AND offline wildlife fans out there.
by Morgan Bowers,
Countryside Officer for Walsall Council