The National Wildlife Federation is a Powerful Force for Good
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is a nationwide federation of state and territorial affiliate organizations, with nearly six million members and supporters across the country. Formed with the idea of uniting sportsmen and all outdoor and wildlife enthusiasts behind the common goal of conservation, they act as unified voice for wildlife. They are fiercely dedicated to protecting habitats and inspiring the next generation of conservationists.
Recently, we had the honor to sit down with Dani Tinker, NWF’s Community Manager. An amazing inspiration to environmental social media managers everywhere, we got to discuss strategy, community, and how to educate and move supporters to action.
Here’s what she had to say.
ActionSprout (AS): How long have you managed social media communications and where did you get your start?
Dani Tinker (DT): My background is a strange combination of outdoor education and digital communications. When I was teaching back in Oregon, I remember a good friend of mine, Danielle Brigida, lured me into the world of social media by saying, “Imagine you get to lead a classroom of thousands, instead of ten.”
(AS): Tell us a bit about where you work. Why did you want to work with the National Wildlife Federation?
(DT): At a basic level, I’m a huge nature nerd. Each wildlife sighting makes me smile and renews my passion for the outdoors. Now, my curiosities about the natural world influence much of what I share with the NWF community. And then there’s Ranger Rick. Who doesn’t remember Ranger Rick magazine growing up?
This organization is filled with passionate people. We occasionally have lunchtime nature walks around the building (we have several ponds and trails out back). There’s an internal Naturalist email list, consistently sharing wildlife sightings, identification questions, mystery photos and friendly debates. During a meeting yesterday, a number of us were distracted by a hawk, just outside the window, feeding on a frog it plucked from one of our ponds. It’s a place where people can’t help but ooze passion for wildlife, and it drives the work we do every day.
(AS): What do you wish other people knew about your nonprofit?
(DT): That we’re a true federation—a collection of organizations who may have different viewpoints but still work together to forward a common goal—and that creates a big tent of all types of members and supporters (gardeners, sportsmen, biologists, teachers, activists, etc.). Last year, we created a quiz (What’s Your Wildlife Personality?) to engage and celebrate our wonderfully diverse group of supporters. We recently created a campaign to bring “Butterfly Heroes” from across the country together for a single purpose: to create habitats for monarch butterflies and other pollinators, and we have upcoming initiatives that support topics from clean water to camping to environmental education. Our audiences’ unique differences and strengths make us a powerful force for America’s wildlife.
(AS): What do you think will change about NWF over the next five years?
(DT): We are truly unique in being a federation of regional affiliates across the country. I think that in the next few years, we’ll see that federation strengthened as we use new tools and strategies to coordinate our communications with each other and our audiences. If we can all be talking about the same things, at the same time, we’ll have a much greater impact.
(AS): How has your strategy / options about Facebook changed over time?
(DT): We’re always adjusting and testing to find the most effective ways to engage with our community. As an extremely visual person, I’m obsessed with finding photos that creatively communicate our message. This became a lot more fun (and time-consuming) when Facebook changed the layout for multiple images appearing in a single post. This guide has been incredibly useful as I test various multiple image posts. Two of my favorite examples of using multiple image posts were the monarch life cycle and a fox diving into the snow. This is just one of the many changes over time I’ve personally enjoyed adapting alongside.
(AS): What’s something you wished you learned sooner in terms of social media?
(DT): Play. I get a lot of questions about what is the best time to post or the best practices of what to post. And the truth is that while there are a lot of great suggestions, each community is completely unique. One of the best ways to keep an audience engaged, time and time again, is to get creative and try new things. This scared me at first. Feedback is immediate and public on social media—positive and negative. I had to change my mindset. If you know your community and make decisions with them in mind, that is a success. Some things may not resonate, and you have to take that feedback, learn from it and move on to the next idea.
(AS): Tell us a bit about your Facebook Page (What’s the audience like, what kind of content do they enjoy, how often do you post?)
(DT): Our Facebook community is inspiring. We’re a community filled with gardeners, biologists, teachers, sportsmen and animal lovers. Our connective tissue is wildlife. And let me say, I’ve learned (from experience) how sharp our community is. There were a few times when I first began where I’d post a photo, and a few moments later would be corrected on the species. I loved it! They push me to be my best, and for our organization to be its best.
Our community enjoys content that teaches them something new, challenges them or gives them the opportunity to take action for wildlife. They appreciate it when it’s relevant to current events, as well. For example, a suggestion to recycle your pumpkins for wildlife in the spirit of Autumn and Halloween helps them associate their daily activities with wildlife. The Superb Owl during the Super Bowl took them to a blog post that helped them learn more about owls and gave them the opportunity to help protect them. And the most popular day of the year on Facebook is by far Squirrel Appreciation Day, which reminds people to live together with wildlife.
Another thing that our Facebook community enjoys are community photo albums. This is when we provide a prompt, people post photos, and we add them into an album. It’s a fantastic way to build a sense of community.
(AS): What organizational goals do your Facebook efforts support?
(DT): We want to spread the message of wildlife conservation in a way that includes as many Americans as possible. When we remind people why they care about wildlife regularly, and then ask them to take specific actions to support it, we are cultivating lifelong conservationists to help us care for the wildlife around them. Our Facebook efforts support specific strategic campaigns that direct people to specific actions, including signing up for events and activities, and donating to our priority campaigns.
(AS): What kind of social calls to action do you use?
(DT): There are a variety of different calls to action we use on social media. We have traditional “take action” posts, asking folks to sign a petition, send a message or tweet their decision-makers. With our educational posts, we want people to pass along and spread the knowledge. Specifically with our Facebook community, we’ll occasionally ask them to share photos and upload them to a community album. We recently had a great response for our Bald Eagle Watch Month community album. And we’ll mix in a few fun or unique calls to action as well, like our engagement quizzes.
(AS): Tell us about a recent successful social campaign or series of posts.
(DT): One of our big goals right now is raising awareness about the rapid decline of the monarch butterfly. Building a social media strategy revolved around content. We thought through all of the types of content we could provide, including:
- News: An article from our magazine explaining the decline.
- Engagement: Quiz – Can You Tell Monarchs From Their Look-Alikes?
- How-to: Find and Choose Native Milkweeds for Monarchs
- Education: Visual Journey Through the Life Cycle of a Monarch
- Political Action: Send a message to protect native grasslands for monarchs
- Individual Action: Take the pledge to plant a garden for monarchs by becoming a Butterfly Hero
We worked alongside the USFWS, contributing to their #savethemonarch conversation on Twitter. Partnerships and building relationships like this allow exposure to a new community. We can share their content, and they can share ours from time to time. We also launched our own campaign supporting the White House’s call for action on pollinators, Butterfly Heroes, to engage kids and families to get involved in helping monarchs in a fun and easy way.
(AS): What did you learn from this success more broadly? / Is there anything you do differently now?
(DT): Quality content and strong visuals are critical to success. We developed content that is relevant and useful. We also found strong visuals to inspire folks to protect the monarch butterfly. As a result, our posts were shared far and wide.
(AS): What did you learn about your audience from this success?
(DT): They want to be informed, learn something new and act. If we can provide resources that empower them to do all three, we’ll be a powerful force for wildlife.
(AS): How did you measure this success? What metrics do you focus on?
(DT): This particular campaign had a goal of raising awareness. We focused on Page views for our content and shares. Shares carry a lot of weight for me, personally. If people find our content valuable enough to pass along to their friends and family, that is a success to me. Ultimately, for folks to be more informed about the issue and how to take part, we need them to see our content. For a campaign like Butterfly Heroes or an Action Alert, we measure the number of pledges or actions taken.
Key Takeaways for Nonprofits:
Build relationships. Treat it like a friendship; would you brag about yourself all day to make new friends? No, you’d exchange interesting facts, information and news about the things you have in common. For NWF, that connective tissue is wildlife. Build relationships so that when you need your community to step up and take action, they’ll be ready and willing.
Actively listen and engage. “When I post a photo of a monarch, and someone comments about the time a monarch landed on their head, I ask questions or comment back on how incredible the experience must have been. When I get a photo of a blurry snake asking what it is, I try to respond and help identify the snake. Answer questions, ask questions and comment back. Capacity for this can be a challenge. Think about the times you felt strongly (positively or negatively) enough to comment on an organization’s post. If they never engaged with your comment, you might just never do it again. Then consider how you’d feel if they answered your question or replied to your comment!”
Invest in content. Quality content engages the community, is shared widely across networks, and increases visibility for the organization. Great content never truly dies as it can be repurposed, reshared or revived through search over time.
Experiment and don’t be afraid to try new things. The truth is that while there are a lot of great suggestions, each community is completely unique. One of the best ways to keep an audience engaged, time and time again, is to get creative and try new things.