Small Town Department, Big Time Marketing

By Andrew Lance | Posted on October 17, 2018

Andrew Lance 410

All of us have faced the dilemma — how do I get my stuff out there? How do I connect with the people in my community? I know I have awesome programs and events, why don’t people come to them?

Awareness in your city or town can be a big problem, especially if you are a smaller department. Budgets can be tight, time is valuable, and the staff just don’t have the resources to effectively run a major marketing campaign, right? WRONG! As young professionals, we have lived our entire professional career with social media and understand the power that it has. The best part is, it’s FREE, and all you have to do is take the time to work it.

When I came to Lexington two years ago, we had a social media presence, but it was very disjointed — no voice, no vision, and needed help. People were there, and wanted to hear from us, but we had to make time to engage them. In the past two years, we have grown our likes from 1,300 to 3,000+ in a city of only 17,000. There is no secret formula, but here are some tips and tricks to help you improve your social media presence. 

  • Take advantage of free stuff. Need cool photos to use? Pixabay and Unsplash are two FREE stock photo sites that have high quality pictures. Want to make professional looking posts? Try Canva, a FREE site that gives you all kinds of social media templates for posts, covers, etc. and more. Need more ideas? Check out Hubspot for marketing ideas and links. Go on NRPA Connect and the NRPA YPN group on Facebook and ask questions of other people in the field — there are tons of free resources out there.
  • Post videos. Videos will show up more in news feeds these days, so try and post videos when possible. At an event or program? Go live and show off the cool things you are doing!
  • Be personal. This doesn’t mean post as yourself on the department website. People want to see family and friends, so share photos of participants and people enjoying your programs and events. Little Johnny playing at camp will have much more engagement than a picture of a flyer for summer camp.
  • Schedule in advance. Grab a calendar, check out what you have coming up, and then go ahead and schedule your content for the week. Boom, your Facebook week is done.
  • Use your insights tab. See when your audience is online, look at the engagement for your post types, and understand what the audience demographics are. You can then use this information to tailor your content. 
  • Promote engagement. Ask for comments, pictures, gifs, etc. Interaction helps drive your reach, and the more you have, the more people you can reach and impact. 
  • Schedule events. Have a cool event coming up? Make an event on Facebook, then share it. Making an event is so much better than just a post, because it shows up for other people in the “Events you may like” and “Happening near you” sections.
  • Show off your facilities! Parks and rec centers are cool, and sometimes people don’t realize all that your community has to offer. We did a #FallParkSpotlight, and every Wednesday highlighted a different park — people told us they were introduced to parks they never knew were there!
  • Share relevant local content. Cool stuff happening in your community? Share that on your page. It shows you care and encourages other people to share your stuff in return (be sure you can/should share things before you do).

This may seem like a lot, so take a few steps at a time. Start with a plan and work to integrate different pieces as you feel comfortable. By no means is this a comprehensive list — I am learning more and tinkering with the page constantly. The amount of time it takes now to manage our Facebook page is drastically less than what it used to be, but guess what? The interaction and reach we have is so much better now, and we have seen a tangible impact on registration, awareness and community sentiment. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it is all about? 

Andrew Lance is the Parks and Recreation Manager for the City of Lexington, North Carolina.