When Sarah Southerland and her social media team at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation sent out a tongue-in-cheek tweet in January 2022 reminding people that mountain lions have fur and don’t actually need to come inside to warm up, she had no idea just how much animal humor with a purpose would resonate in the Twittersphere and beyond.
Just over a year later, the wildlife organization’s Twitter audience has ballooned from about 8,000 to 200,000, and they’ve even launched on TikTok, boasting 226,000 followers on the platform.
With nearly 50% of TikTok’s audience celebrating birthdays under 30, including 25% ranging from 10-19, organizations that might have appealed to an older (and even local) crowd are now seeing traction with a broader audience. That goes for age and location.
“Growth has been crazy,” Southerland, ODWC’s social media coordinator, tells In The Know by Yahoo. In fact, the wildlife organization has doubled its audience in the last six months alone.
“Which is good, but it makes me nervous,” she adds.
It’s the internet, after all. What could go wrong?
“It created this moment of traffic that was just chaotic and a little unpredictable,” Southerland says. “And we were just like, ‘Oh my God, it’s working.'”
The wildlife organization’s mission is to “manage and protect fish and wildlife, along with their habitats, while also growing our community of hunters and anglers, partnering with those who love the outdoors, and fostering stewardship with those who care for the land.”
While their core focus is on people who live and interact with wildlife in Oklahoma, they don’t mind appealing to people in, say, New Zealand. (Especially when they’re trying to name their supervisor’s baby “Armadillo” — if the tweet gets a million likes, that is.) That said, sharing information about the environment they’re in is their first priority.
“We do have to make references to the part of the world that we’re in and our role in conservation, and that opens a lot of conversation,” she says. “And so we hope that people have learned a lot about our state and where we’re at in the world.”
In addition to educating their audience on species like black bears and badgers, they also offer up hilarious warnings while using popular memes like The Last of Us actor Pedro Pascal munching on a sandwich.
“Us watching you attempt to outrun something you tried to pspspspspspsps after we specifically said not to” reads one recent warning tweet.
More conservation orgs get in on the fun
The Oklahoma-based group isn’t the only conservation organization to use humor on social media to draw a crowd. The National Park Service‘s social media accounts have been listed as one of the funnier entries, according to outlets including Outside and the Washington Post.
While educating its Twitter audience of 1.1 million followers about the sunbathing habits of turtles earlier this month, the social media team included a reference to a famous scene from the 1997 film Titanic.
“I’m sorry Jack, there’s just not enough room…” reads the tweet, showing a photo of one turtle comfortably perched on a log while another fends for itself in the water below. (Presumably, the turtle’s fate was far less devastating than Jack’s.)
“We find infusing a bit of fun and friendly banter goes a long way,” Matt Turner, a social media specialist with the National Park Service, which oversees more than 400 U.S. parks, told Twitter.
The strategy definitely seems to be working, as the NPS Twitter audience has grown from just over 700,000 in January 2022.
The Washington State Dept. of Natural Resources Twitter account, which has nearly 140,000 followers, even recently jumped on the buzz surrounding the Barbie trailer.
While social media is a fast-moving business, as trends and even platforms rise and fall, Southerland says she hopes that the wildlife organization’s audience will stick with them, no matter what platform they log into.
“I’m hoping that we can stay flexible with whatever gets thrown at us as these platforms change, that we can successfully grow with other people who are using social media,” Southerland says. “So whether or not we’re doing the same thing in five years or we’re in a completely different place, I hope that we’re in that place, too, that we’re something that people want to take with them.”
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