Brittany Howell, Pennsylvania Game Commission
Conversations about state wildlife management happen online whether or not your agency has a digital presence. By developing social media outlets of your own, your staff will be aware of hot-button topics, provide answers to black-helicopter theories and guide conversations with official responses.
State agencies also can use social media to start online conversations. In fall 2014, the Pennsylvania Game Commission used social media to educate the public and move them to action and influence the future security of wildlife conservation officers in the state.
Following the tragic death of a wildlife conservation officer in the line of duty, the Game Commission purchased body cameras to be worn its officers. Studies have shown the use of body cameras by law enforcement personnel significantly increases the safety of officers in the field and plays an important role in gathering evidence. Unfortunately, the wording of a new state law allowed municipal and state police officers to use body cameras but prohibited any other type of law enforcement entity from using them. The Game Commission lobbied for a bill that would permit its officers, which passed the state house of representatives. However, as the end of the session neared, the bill had not yet passed the state senate. It appeared that there was little the agency could do to move the bill forward to a final vote.
The pubic was largely unaware of the benefits of officer body cameras, or that it would require a change in the law for wildlife conservation officers to use them. The Game Commission went to work, posting information on its social media pages. Several articles about the increased safety for officers who wore such cameras from national news outlets were shared to the agency’s social media pages. Social media posts explained the situation in Pennsylvania and how it required the state Senate to act. The social media posts included a call to action, requesting residents contact their senators to share their thoughts about the bill. A link to legislator contact information was included.
Call to Action Answered
Public support for the body camera bill grew and many individuals contacted their senators. Prompted by the Game Commission’s social media posts, several local newspapers also ran editorials about the bill, which educated an even larger audience. One week after the first strategic communication was posted on the agency’s Facebook and Twitter pages, a senator called to say the bill was moving forward for a vote. Shortly thereafter, on one of the final days of the session, the Senate unanimously approved the bill. It was the third-to-last bill signed by the governor that year.
This is only one example of social media being used to gather support. Grassroots support that used to take thousands of man-hours visiting local businesses and holding public meetings can be matched with much less manpower, as long as your audience is available to talk to through your social media channels. The two-way communication offered by social media does require much more care and feeding than simple press releases, but in the end the support is much stronger and crafty social media messages can call people to action much more effectively than ever before.