Explore America's Parks Online and Via Social Media
Established in 1916, the National Park Service (NPS) is entrusted to conserve and protect America’s national parks for present and future generations. To aid in this endeavor, NPS has begun to utilize various social media platforms and has utilized its .gov website to engage with audiences and connect them to the heritage and spirit of America’s national parks so as to get them outside where they can be active and have fun..
By Rebecca Johnson, Strategist, Digital Integration and Innovation
At present, the National Park Service (NPS) oversees 395 park units that cover more than 83 million acres and include sites like national monuments, seashores, recreation areas, historic sites, military parks, battlefields, and other designated units.
In this era of digital connectedness, NPS has realized that engaging with and educating park visitors and potential visitors (be they U.S. citizens or not) is something that shouldn’t be limited to the physical confines of the park, but rather can be possible on a continuing basis. To do this, NPS has expanded its digital presence by creating a YouTube channel, launching a Facebook fan page, developing park-specific podcasts for iTunes and creating microsites within its current nps.gov website that are focused on specific educational and outreach programs.
Although these efforts have broadened the reach of NPS’s mission, because the resources exist in various disparate locations, NPS is losing out on effectively providing users with complete, robust and easily findable national park information and stories.Implications and Action items
While the National Park Service’s use of YouTube, Facebook, iTunes podcasts and microsites represents a giant leap for this government agency, NPS’s efforts have left a lot of room for growth and offer us much to learn from.
- Think beyond the structure of your website. Promoting specific NPS initiatives and outreach programs? The nps.gov information architecture and layout weren’t built for that purpose. Rather than sticking with that site’s template, NPS created internal microsites (e.g. www.nps.gov/americasbestidea) that allow them to break the mold of nps.gov and create digital experiences streamlined for specific content and messaging.
- Emphasize the main call-to-action. A big challenge for NPS is to create content that enriches visitors’ park experiences but doesn’t result in 1) visitors walking around parks with their headphones on and eyes glued to devices, not the park; 2) decreased park visits because of virtual technology. To avoid this, NPS should focus on creating content that’s best viewed before or after visiting a park, such as a guide on animals to look for or bird calls to listen for, and content that expands on what visitors may have seen and learned during their visits.
- Create a central portal that builds cohesive, rich stories. While NPS gains a lot of exposure by posting pieces of content in various formats and on various channels, NPS has not used the functionality of these platforms to create cohesive and robust information sources for its park units. Rather than forcing users to scour for information, provide all of it in one place and organize it in a manner that contextualizes content. Then park enthusiasts can easily find what they’re looking for and understand the full weight and significance of its meaning.