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National Park Service on success using humor: Meet GSMCON keynote Matt Turner

Mar 09, 2021

Meet Matt Turner from the National Park Service at the virtual Government Social Media Conference, March 23-25, during his keynote session. Tickets are still available.

Add a touch of snark, some subtle puns, mix in helpful info, wanderlust and natural beauty, and you’ll get a seemingly unlikely social media account: the National Park Service.  

Matt Turner — the hilarious Public Affairs-Social Media Specialist behind these famous social media accounts and keynote speaker at #GSMCON2021 — uses humor combined with relevance to reach new audiences, share visitor experiences, and promote a deeper understanding of our public lands.

“The way we use humor is a fine line, and it’s very subjective. There’s definitely a time and a place,” Matt said. “We found success using humor, packaging it for the park world and to look at those connections that would be appreciated by people of all ages. For government accounts, the use of humor and pulling it into the world around us is a great way to keep relevant and stay relevant. Package that relevant content so that everyone can participate in it, and always be asking: How can I fold this into our mission?”

Part of the shock and awe of the NPS social media is that people are surprised when a federal government account has a personality, he said. But, it’s all part of Matt’s master plan: hook them with a pun, keep on the line for the important info, then release back into the social media world with a smile and some good park facts. A perfect example? Matt’s viral tongue-in-cheek bear safety PSA. “Please don’t run from bears or push your slower friends down in attempts of saving yourself,” the post hilariously begins, before getting need-to-know info with more humor mixed in to keep the reader’s interest. The viral post was picked up by multiple news stations for the funny message, he said, but it was the important info attached that was also amplified along with it. 

Social media management wasn’t always part of Matt’s plan, but it’s been “quite the adventure.” Matt started at the entrance station of the Fort Pulaski National Monument in Georgia before working guided tours and living history demos. With his background in graphic design, natural storytelling and passion for the outdoors, Matt moved to Washington D.C. to take on the NPS accounts in 2018. In three years, Matt helped the NPS accounts gain over 1 million followers online while in-person visitation has decreased during the pandemic.

“We’re trying to be that place of positivity on social media. Our accounts can be that escape,” Matt commented. “We showcase the places that people might not be able to get to right now, but we also try to showcase that there’s most likely a park right in your backyard.” 

When thinking of ‘National Park,’ the big names come to mind, but there are 423 national park sites in the United States ranging from the Statue of Liberty to Gettysburg. Matt warns fellow social communicators to watch your humor-use with historical sites — showcase the story, he said, refocus and respect all your resources along the way.

“Pay attention to your audiences,” he says to other government social media professionals. “Always pay attention to what they’re saying and how they’re interacting with you. Understand how to engage with your public, and if you can, combine some dry humor, wit or quips when it fits, and hope that the people go on the journey with you.”

Matt’s looking forward to connecting, listening to other social media communicators, resonating with other people in similar positions and sharing stories with each other on online adventures at virtual Government Social Media Conference, happening March 23-25. Connect with Matt and learn more during his keynote on how to focus on your agency’s mission, where to find inspiration and using humor combined with relevance.

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