Over at the NPS Employees Facebook page there was a recent, fascinating conversation about the need for National Park Service units to have a social media presence. The conversation was prompted by this comment:
The NPS should not be building a social media presence. Do [sic] to resource issues related to visitor impacts, it is not in the best interest of the parks to promote and advertise themselves. A social media presence is also counter to the ideological foundations of the park system as a whole. Parks are the safe haven and the escape from “modern life”, why then are we building straight into that?
I strongly disagree with this point of view. For one, the NPS Mission statement says nothing about creating safe havens and escapes from “modern life.” The historic and natural sites the NPS runs are in actuality a part of “modern life”: they are living, breathing entities that are preserved, interpreted, and patronized by and for humans living in a modern world. Moreover, the NPS exists for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone. Contrary to the above statement, it is imperative that the agency “promote and advertise themselves” to the very people whose tax dollars help subsidize the agency’s operations. The sites exist for their enjoyment.
There is ample justification in the agency’s mission statement for the NPS to have a social media presence. The statement calls for the NPS to promote “enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations” of the agency’s natural and cultural resources. NPS social media promotes these goals. Off the top of my head I can think of five ways NPS social media advances the agency’s mission:
- Provide updates on park conditions & news (particularly important when non-NPS related social media can often share incorrect information across social media and NPS websites take more time to update than social media).
- Make announcements for upcoming programs and events at NPS units.
- Share relevant scholarship through books, journal articles, online articles and research conducted by NPS staff.
- Promote safety and conservation of history and nature.
- Expose the agency’s holdings to an online audience that may not have the opportunity to visit a site in person (one commenter pointed out that his friend enjoyed looking at pictures on his phone of NPS sites shared on social media during his lunch break, which is a fantastic example of promoting the NPS Mission to an online audience).
At the end of the day, if you’re interested in getting away from “modern life,” you have the freedom to log off social media and enjoy NPS sites without technology.