News Column

Texas Parks and Wildlife Wins Top Social Media Award

March 12, 2013

Michael Barnes

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department turns 50 this year. That doesn't mean the agency overseeing the state's wildlife and habitat treasures is resting on its laurels. Or living in the past.

Monday, the American-Statesman crowned the outdoorsy troupe the top social media producer during a casual Texas Social Media Awards ceremony at Opal Divine's Penn Field.

Nimble and targeted, the agency operates more than 100 social media sites, attracting more than 100,000 Facebook and Twitter followers. Its crisply produced videos -- including a popular series on game preparation and cooking -- have been viewed more than 4 million times on YouTube.

"Social media enables us to interact with a broad audience, including people not traditionally engaged with the outdoors," says agency video and Web producer Whitney Bishop. "This is especially important as Texas becomes a more urban state and people depend increasingly on technology to communicate with each other."

The department's social media doesn't just boost the state's parks or explain hunting regulations. During the 2011 Bastrop County fires, followers could track the swiftly changing news in real time on the agency's Twitter and Facebook pages.

Social media is also cost-effective.

"As we've reduced budgets and shifted resources to adjust, we've actually placed additional emphasis on social media because it allows us to reach large numbers of people at a relatively low cost," says agency spokeswoman Lydia Saldana.

The astronomical YouTube numbers should come as no surprise since Texas Parks and Wildlife has been producing PBS shows for more than 20 years.

"We have a vast treasure trove of video content," Saldana says. "YouTube and other social media outlets allow us to share this content in new ways to reach new audiences with conservation and outdoor recreation messages."

Bishop is the only agency employee devoted chiefly to tending social media. A team of 10 colleagues meets regularly to help plan digital strategy.

"I depend heavily on our biologists and other experts for content and to answer questions," Bishop says. "Additionally, over 100 employees across the state manage local Facebook pages to communicate news from their parks, wildlife or fisheries districts."

Like any other state worker, Bishop hopes for more resources to build on her team's award winning successes. And she thinks other agencies around the country could easily duplicate their success.

"You need someone who knows how to communicate," she says "(And) management that trusts your judgement and avenues for getting content to share."

In a neat twist, Bishop is an ideal customer for all this social media.

"I represent the audience we hope to reach," she says. "I come from a non-outdoorsy family in Houston. I've been amazed to discover all that the Texas outdoors has to offer. It's the feeling you get when you discover something great and just have to share it with people."

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Source: (c) 2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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