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How Discovery and OPEI used social media to spread the word about environmental stewardship

Discovery Education and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute’s Education and Research Foundation have partnered to create TurfMutt, an online, science-based program designed to help elementary educators teach an appreciation of backyard and community green spaces and landscapes.  We spoke with OPEI and Discovery about the role social media played in spreading the word about the program. An edited version of that conversation follows.

You’ve set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account as part of this initiative. Why did you choose those particular social networks?

We set up a TurfMutt blog site, Facebook page and Twitter feed that convey stories, information and news about how we can take better care of green spaces all around us, appreciate the benefits and value they bring, and encourage future generations to become environmental stewards.

We chose Facebook due to its vast use among the general population and its format, which allows for easy (and visual!) sharing of information among compatible users that share the same interests. Also, its very nature is to start a dialogue and get a sense of whether or not someone “likes” certain commentary or shared information. We needed a place that was easy for people to participate with TurfMutt, see updated video and photos, and get engaged in conversation about the topics that TurfMutt addresses.

Also, Facebook users are also quite generous in sharing what they like and commenting on what they do not like. So, the TurfMutt educational program would not only be shared far and wide, but we could get instant feedback on what consumers valued or not.

Twitter is more like a steady stream of conversation, connections and referrals. It allows for small bits of information to be spread far and wide. The TurfMutt Twitter account also has allowed us to keep a pulse on what other individuals who are interested in lawn, gardening and managed landscapes believe; get more third-party information to share with our “friends and followers”; and be part of the overall dialogue about the benefits of green spaces.

Facebook seems more intimate, like a cocktail party. While Twitter is more like participating in a summit or a large trade show of individuals who just naturally gravitate to one another. Both are valuable and support one another. But, they operate differently.

You’ve also created a contest, Landscapes Across America, that challenges students to illustrate the their local ecosystems. How are you using social media to get the word out about that?

We post information about the Discovery Education program on all our social media platforms. We find that posts and tweets that include an action item, such as a contest, get shared more overall and more frequently. In addition, today’s teachers are very tech-savvy, and look to social media for more information about resources they can use in the classroom. Discovery Education is using their expertise in the education space to help us bring this message to relevant edu-bloggers.

How do you measure success in your social media activities?

There are several ways. First, the number of followers and “likes” on a Facebook page can be deceiving. Just having high numbers doesn’t mean we are moving the dial. Rather, it’s the quality of traffic (meaning we are reaching the right people) and the level of engagement from those people. We find that most of our tweets are retweeted a few times, which we deem as a good measurement that we are sending interesting messages that people care about. We also look at our impression numbers and number of comments on the Facebook page.

It’s interesting to see what piques people’s interest. We find the science around the benefits of managed green spaces seems the most interesting. Also, tips and techniques to grow plants, grass and other green growing things are also received quite well.

We also have tracked the conversations that a number of bloggers in the green area have treated the conversation around green spaces. We find that they are now paying attention to the science that proves green spaces help the overall environment from cooling surrounding areas, helping slow storm water run-off, sequestering carbon and producing oxygen and the myriad of other ways turf, plants and shrubs contribute. We can track that back to the launch of TurfMutt more than a year ago, when we began to tell that story.

Lucky, the face of the program, is one cute dog. Where did you find him?

Lucky has quite the back story! Check out his story.

Image credit: OPEI Education & Research Foundation

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