Capitalize On Social Media

By Keri Schwab and Madison Ventura

With Smartphone use ubiquitous, and teens, tweens, and even soccer moms posting frequently on social media, participant recreation and leisure experiences have become two-fold—one part happens in real-life and real-time, and the other occurs in virtual time, which is sometimes during the event, and sometimes after. But no matter when those fast fingers post to social media, the process to create images is the same—during the event, activity, or game, and with an eye toward the sentimental, silly, or sometimes saucy! Consumers are no longer satisfied with holding mental memories of a program or activity. Now, they crave the ability to create eye-catching images they can keep, share, or use to boast about later. Recreation professionals and business owners can help participants do just this by providing opportunities for capturing those Instagram-worthy images. By doing so, businesses can capitalize on public sharing by including logos, brand names, or other iconic images that help promote their business or facility. Here are a few tips from the pros on how to offer opportunities for creating images at your facility or event, and become part of the participants’ social-media montage.

Uniquely You
Not just any photo makes it to someone’s social-media feed. To score a spot on Instagram, which is more important than a photo being aesthetically pleasing, is the message it sends about the poster. Most people use social media not to show the trials or doldrums of everyday life but to create a new identity, one that is happy, lively, engaged, and likely to be envied by their friends. Teens especially seek to create posts that showcase their uniqueness. They don’t want to be the same as everyone else. Posts that boast of adventure, novelty, or excitement are more likely to make the cut. Capitalize on this by also showing what is unique to your department! Do you have the best climbing wall in town? Have wall leaders offer to take photos when participants reach the top, or install a remote-control camera. Does your park have the toughest 18 holes in town, the tallest water slide, or oldest living tree? Remind program participants, or even place a small sign near these iconic images suggesting a photo. Any way you can heighten the perception—the look of an adventurous, novel, or exciting experience—the more likely the participants are to capture that identity for themselves and post about your parks and rec department in the process.

All The World’s A Stage
Shareable images usually have one of two things—authentic facial expressions or highly dramatic, awe-inspiring natural settings. Help participants create these by explicitly pointing out ideal spots around a facility or event for photo ops. Include ”photo op” on a map, place a sign at a particularly beautiful place, or even suspend a photo frame at a place good for portraits. While most dramatic locales are self-evident to participants, the social etiquette to move out of the way and let each person or family take a photo is not. By indicating spaces for photo ops, you create the social norm that photos will happen here—so get in line and wait your turn! By placing your logo or business name on a (somewhat) discreet sign within photo range, you again capitalize on social-media sharing.

Photo Booth
What newly dating couple or group of teenage girlfriends doesn’t love a cozy photo booth to express their silly, saucy, or sweet side? But you don’t have to rent a full, automated, black-box photo booth to make this happen. Just set up a blank background (black or white cardboard works well), place the department name and logo at the top or sides, and put out a box of event- or theme-related props for participants. Think big sunglasses, goofy hats, and fake moustaches. If staff members are available, offer to take photos with a tablet or smartphone, and then you have photos for your use! Offer to email the photos to participants, and make sure you have a photo release first!

Up For A Challenge?
Finally, engage customers with photo challenges or contests to help create unique content for and about your recreation facility. Everyone likes to win, so try out one of the following contest ideas to motivate customers to take and post photos to your social-media accounts.

·         I Spy. Hide something in the center or facility, perhaps a different item each week, and challenge customers to find it; snap a selfie or take a photo and post it to your page. Require the use of hashtags or tagging the center in the photo to make sure recognition comes back to you. Whoever posts the photo first, or posts the best photo, wins!

·         Choose a theme for the week (or month) that relates to the department or current offerings. Ask guests to take and post photos that relate to the theme and include the facility, services, or staff members in the photo. Encourage unique poses, places, and faces—again speaking to consumers’ desires to write their own adventurous story. Make sure you provide hashtags or business name tags so the department gains attention. Consider abstract themes as well as literal ones. For example, if there is a new sports program, the theme could be sports-related, like “jump shot,” or it could be broad or intangible like “bounce,” “sweat,” “tough,” or “play.” Consider the audience you want to engage and pick a theme that will resonate. Enlist a panel of staff members to choose a winner, or let the most “likes” or “shares” win.

Social media is a constant thread in your customers’ and participants’ lives. They use it to create a personal image, tell their story, and share their adventurous, dramatic, or unique experiences. Capitalize on both the ever-present nature of social media and customers’ desire to design attention-grabbing photos by providing opportunities to create such memorable content, and that also contain your department name, logo, or iconic image. Doing so engages customers and helps them attach meaning or a memory to your department or brand, and once shared on social media becomes part of their—and your—ongoing story. The opportunities for mutual benefit are endless, as customers share and publicize their unique experiences, and your department receives the credit.

Keri Schwab, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor for the Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration (RPTA) Department at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Reach her at

Madison Ventura, RPTA alum of the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, contributed to this article.