Politics in Michigan are Pure Crap

UPDATE — I’m not sure when it actually happened, but as of Monday, Sept. 13, the video has been removed by the Michigan GOP. I can’t say for certain that my blog posts, the media coverage and many people joining me in deriding this ad had an effect, but I’d like to think so. Thanks to all who commented or sent notes of support.

~ aba


I saw a video yesterday that offended me. I don’t suppose that’s very newsworthy since people are probably offended by things on YouTube every day. But this was a video from a political party who found  a way to misrepresent the community I live in as part of their attempt to smear the record of their candidate’s opponent.

The Lansing I live in is nothing at all like what the Michigan Republican Party has portrayed it as in their video titled Pure Lansing. Unfortunately, both political parties in this state have been racing to the bottom and simply creating a more jaded electorate with their efforts.

I am not going into great detail to rip apart the video I linked to above. Instead, I’m simply going to disagree and practice what I’ve been preaching. I’m going to be positive.

If you want to know what “Pure Lansing” is really like, you can listen to political operatives pandering for votes, or you can listen to the people who live, work and play in a place they are proud to call home.

If you are on Twitter, follow the hashtag #lovelansing. If you are on Facebook, follow the Lansing Breakfast Club or Lansing Happy Hour Club groups.

Or watch this news piece about Ignite Lansing:

Or this news piece about Kiplinger naming Lansing one of the top 10 cities in America for young professionals:

Is everything in Lansing wonderful? Of course not. Is everything perfect in any city? Hardly. But what makes a city a place you want to call home is the community that exists within it. There are so many examples of good things happening in Michigan’s capital city. Visit our capitol or one of the great museums, like Impression 5. Wander around Potter Park Zoo, stroll through Old Town or enjoy one of the many new restaurants peppering the Washington Square area.

Lansing is changing for the better. I wish Michigan politics could do the same.

(Photo courtesy of Brian Forbes.)

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

Zoos are going wild for social media

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ragan.com about the use of social media by my local zoo:

Zoos are going wild for social media
By Ari B. Adler
Facebook, Twitter and Flickr augment the live experience for animal enthusiasts

Zoos and aquariums across the country are joining the online jungle to attract visitors.

Of the 221 institutions that are members of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, at least two-thirds are using social media of some kind, and the number is growing continually, says Linda Cendes, a member of AZA’s communications team.

“It has provided a great way for zoos and aquariums to interact with their communities on a whole new level,” she said. “It’s not only to promote events and other activities, but a way to provide real-time updates to visitors, whether to announce a keeper talk or a closure due to inclement weather.”

For Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Mich., outreach to visitors has been steadily increasing during the 17 months that Jake Pechtel has been on the job. Originally a producer and marketer of video games, Pechtel joined Potter Park Zoo when he got a job there updating its website.

“Potter Park had updated the zoo on the inside, then the project started to bring the website up to date,” said Pechtel, who has earned the designation “Swiss Army Knife” at the zoo. “Our thought behind social media is enhancing guests’ experience, something for them to take home and share with friends and make them want to be fans, too.”

The zoo started a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a Flickr feed in September 2009, but the accounts sat dormant until early 2010. Pechtel said the zoo just recently started using YouTube, as well, having to opt for the channel name “PotterParkTV” because they hadn’t secured their full name earlier.

“There’s definitely a lesson to be learned there,” he said.

Even with all the activity around social media, Pechtel said organizations need to remember to stay focused. The zoo’s newly updated website is still the core component; it’s what Pechtel refers to as a “discovery tool.”

“It’s a landing site for every piece of social media. It beckons to the way social media works,” Pechtel said. “Someone might love to converse with you on Twitter one day, then suddenly might find Flickr and, when they do, you need to be there.”

Better than 1,000 words

Pechtel said their Flickr account is “very interesting” for the zoo.

“Photos can be more emotional than words, and we try very hard to make our experience an emotional one for visitors,” he said. “When the Flickr pool was started, we made an effort to go find people who were already using Flickr to share pictures of their trips to the zoo and invited those folks to join our group.”

Pechtel said he tries to stay active within the group, posting behind the scenes photos as much as possible, which has gotten the zoo invited to join other Flickr groups.

“Flickr, as it turns out, has been as much about participation as any of its social media cousins,” Pechtel said.

The zoo has used Flickr to engage with visitors and make them feel a part of the zoo, in some cases even offering memberships in exchange for great photos to be used on the zoo website.

“I’ve since met a number of the photographers, as they stop by my office when they come to the zoo,” Pechtel said. “It’s a nice translation from online acquaintance to someone you share a chat with.”

Cendes said social media is allowing people to experience their zoo or aquarium in a way that isn’t possible even when visiting in person.

“People can see pictures of newborns even before they are picked up by the media, videos showing behind-the-scenes animal care or updates about current research or rehabilitation of a rescued animal,” she said. “People look to their zoo and aquarium to be leaders in conservation and education and you will often see conversations between an engaged public and the institution.”

For folks like Robin Miner-Swartz of Lansing, Potter Park’s engagement via social media got her to think about the hometown zoo she hadn’t visited in a long time.

“I guess I had begun to think of the zoo as a family place or a kid place, and I was neither. But once Jake started Potter Park’s social media efforts, I began to see the zoo in a whole new light,” she said. “I love Jake’s enthusiasm for the zoo but also for the Lansing community in general.”

Pechtel gives people a view of what’s going on at the zoo with glimpses behind the scenes but he also shows them a lot of what they’re missing if they don’t visit.

Featured content on Facebook

For the zoo, Facebook is the biggest home base away from its website.

“It’s where we can post the most robust content beyond our website,” he said. “I look at the Facebook posts as tent poles. Twitter is used as a way to fill in the gaps between the tent poles.”

For example, when Pechtel was going to visit the bongo exhibit recently for a Facebook update, he used Twitter to alert folks that he was going to spend some time in the bongo yard and he’d have pictures on Facebook soon.

It’s with his Facebook posts that Pechtel tries to tie the zoo into things the page fans might already be talking about. For example, a recent wall post read, “Our Golden Lion Tamarins are sad after watching their home team Brazil get eliminated from the World Cup. Did you know these guys are on loan from the Brazilian government?”

The Facebook page has more than 3,800 friends. Even when coupled with the Twitter followers, it’s a smaller online fan base when compared with some zoos. But Pechtel said the level of interaction is great, even when compared with much larger facilities.

“A lot of zoos have a lot more fans and followers. They might have 10,000 followers and get 30 retweets. I get the same with 800 followers,” he said. “It’s about quality not quantity.”

Of course, the bottom line is still the bottom line, and any outreach efforts are eventually going to be measured against the number of visitors walking in the front gate. Pechtel said the zoo has seen a 15 percent increase in foot traffic this year, which he attributes a lot to social networking.

“It’s tough to measure that though,” Pechtel said. “The end result of social networking is awareness. If you have a good, succinct marketing campaign in conjunction with a good effort in social networking, then the awareness level goes up. And having a user-centric focus has really driven our success. No one becomes friends with a logo.”

Pechtel said the zoo’s Twitter account, @PotterParkZoo, has “a bit of an attitude,” which makes it more personable for its more than 800 followers. It’s an attitude he tries to carry on throughout all of the zoo’s social networking activities.

“Other zoo employees mention that their friends say they feel like they’re talking to a person on Facebook rather than the zoo—and that’s the point,” he said.

Plus, without social media, Miner-Swartz probably wouldn’t have gotten to know some of the animals on a first-name basis.

“They have a pig named Kevin Bacon. How hilarious is that?”