A zoo’s perspective on the social media jungle

Here is part two of my look at Potter Park Zoo’s social media efforts, cross-posted from Digital Pivot:

I recently wrote an article for Ragan.com about the use of social media by zoos, focusing primarily on the success being enjoyed by Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Mich.

For that story, I interviewed Jake Pechtel, Potter Park’s “Swiss army knife” of online activity. As I was reviewing my notes and pulling the basics of my Ragan story out of them, I also found pearls of wisdom and insight that I thought everyone could learn from as well.

Here are some thoughts from Pechtel not just about doing social media for an organization, but doing it in a way that he believes leads to success:

  • “I don’t think I market to people on social media, I’m just having a dialogue. That’s one of the key pieces of the code I follow when making any content.”
  • “I’ve really been pushing that they (a social media operative) are your largest audience spokesperson. They are the person with the biggest voice and capable of great or terrible things. You have to make sure they are responsible to your brand at all times.”
  • “Don’t just throw your fans out to your social media sites; don’t forget about your core Web site. Too many places have decided to drive everyone to their Facebook page. Facebook is really popular right now, but it could go away. Then what?”
  • “People like to throw this job at interns, but it’s not an intern’s job. It’s a big unknown, and it’s really easy to mess up, in that you won’t get people to engage. If anybody is taking it seriously, it’s at least half of somebody’s job. In reality, it could be a full-time position. This person is responsible for creating a lot of creative content. That doesn’t always happen between 9 and 5.”
  • “It is possible for big companies to have one person have a major impact on their business.”
  • “I still feel like there’s no true guru of social media, although there are a lot of self-proclaimed ones. People have called me a guru, but I’m just fumbling my way through it like everyone else. The content of social media changes every day — it’s about what people want to talk about at that moment, and that can change dramatically from week to week. “

Two more notes that caught my attention were about the zoo’s blog and how to handle trouble on a Facebook wall.

Pechtel said they treat that blog as another type of social media, which “really helps tie our site to the rest of social media.”

“We do Q & A pretty successfully with our blog,” Pechtel said. “I researched it and big zoos and organizations had great posts, but no comments. So I had to wonder if we should even do a blog.”

He noted they received 12 comments on their first post and have had comments on almost every post since.

“The idea is to have a glimpse of the zoo from every angle. I write, the veterinarian writes, zookeepers write, docents write. It’s a really cool way for people to get a unique view of the entire operation of the zoo. ”

Regarding the Facebook wall, Pechtel said he monitors it continually, not just during the workday, to see if there is anything inappropriate being posted. But what about the stuff that isn’t obscene or a spam link, but a legitimate concern by folks who are not fans of zoos? Pechtel said leaves those on the wall but tries to respond to the questions or concerns.

“If you truly believe in your product, you should be able to defend it,” he said. “We never argue; we educate. We’re doing what we can with the staff and budget we have. If people complain about how we could be doing something better, I’ll often agree and talk about how we rely on our community and invite them to come out and volunteer and help us do it better.

“We don’t go on safari anymore to capture animals for the wonderment of the white man. These are animals born in captivity to be raised in captivity. Most of the time, we have engaged community members who are responding before I even get to it.”

I hope this glimpse into the workings not just of the Potter Park Zoo’s social media activities but into the mind of the guy running it all proves helpful to you. As always, your comments are welcome, and if you have any questions for him, I’m sure he’d be happy to help. As always, I’m available for simple assistance or more complex consulting here.
Oh, and don’t forget to shut your computer off from time to time and go visit your local zoo!   smiley

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