The use of social media in the conservation sector

logo: Cheshire Wildlife Trust

Social media is a significant part of the way that we communicate and operate as individuals, businesses and organisations.

Over the past few years the business, charity, education and public service sectors have harnessed the power of social networks to deliver important messages, talk about brand, engage with the public, encourage new supporters, and drive leads forwards.

It's no different for the conservation sector. Whether you work or volunteer in this particular field, social media has a significant part to play in giving individuals and groups a voice and helps those with a cause or an important story to share to reach more people than ever before.

At Cheshire Wildlife Trust it's our mission to protect and create more space for local wildlife for people to enjoy and social media plays a key part in helping us to deliver this message.

This can be anything from regularly posting pictures and video to update followers about our latest conservation projects, highlighting a particular local issue or encouraging supporters to add their voice to a campaign. It's also a great way to share our knowledge, ask for public opinion, create media interest, or lobby local and national politicians.

And who better to help us communicate than the staff and volunteers who are literally in the field? It's a really valuable way of showing people what we're achieving for wildlife and how they can get involved, but it also gives us the chance to share detailed case studies with like-minded followers who want to know that bit more about our work.

Volunteer at Cheshire Wildlife Trust (Gemma Sproston)
Volunteer at Cheshire Wildlife Trust (Gemma Sproston)

We encourage our conservation and volunteering teams to update our followers on projects that we're working on or to share their wildlife sightings, whether that's the first swallow or common lizard of the season to be spotted on one of our reserves, or a particularly rare visitor to one of our sites.

Although we mainly use social media as a communications tool, it can also provide important insights into how people interact with nature. Lots of social media platforms contain millions of photographs of natural spaces that are “geotagged". This can provide valuable information for researchers and conservationists that could inform future projects. Recently we've been using it to ask for people to record their bumblebee sightings in Cheshire with our local Biological Records Centre office which is collecting data to create 'bee atlas' that we will then use to inform the work that we do for pollinators in the future.

For local conservation volunteer groups social media is a crucial and, most importantly, free tool that can aid recruitment and raise awareness for their cause. It also allows groups to network with similar organisations giving them a platform to share resources, knowledge and advice to improve the way they work.

But it's really important for users to understand the importance of using these tools properly which is why, through our Heritage Lottery Fund project Natural Futures, we've been supporting and training individuals and groups to make the most of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Training covers a range of areas such as setting up an account, making connections, creating engaging content, promoting events, publicising surveys, gathering data and raising public awareness.

Skills gained include using insights to gauge what posts work well, learning how to time posts to reach your maximum audience and discovering how to share information and build networks.  

We also point out the pitfalls of using social media. It's a 24/7 medium so we explain the need to reply to messages in a timely fashion and we highlight the importance of reputation management - posts can be shared with frightening speed and an ill thought out or factually wrong Tweet or status update can cause problems very quickly so being armed with the knowledge of how to avoid such situations, or what to do if they arise, is really important.

Yes, social media can have its downsides.   It can become all-consuming and takes time and effort to keep relevant. There are people who use social media to make complaints and post negative thoughts. However, the overall benefits of using this resource much outweigh negatives and having the right skills in place to use properly is a real advantage.

Cheshire Wildlife Trust has a variety of training courses both traditional and modern scheduled for 2016. Check out the website for the full guide and all the details, or contact Beth Alvey, Volunteering and Training Manager, on 01948 820728.

First published in CJS Focus on Countryside Skills (traditional & modern) with Field Studies Council (FSC) on 23 May 2016