Small Communities Better Than Big Cities at Promoting Parks on Facebook

Cities, counties, states and other municipal entities don’t want to be left out of the Facebook rush. They’ve begun to create Facebook Pages for everything from their parks to their police departments to their city councils. Inside Facebook has covered governmental efforts on Facebook before, so this week we thought it’d be interesting to see how cities are using the social network to promote everybody’s favorite public service: public parks.

One surprise was that many of the parks Pages we perused had recently started, something one official we spoke to said was the result of an industry trend towards social media. Most Pages we saw tended to concentrate most strongly on the Wall and photos, a few used notes and none heavily utilized the discussion functions.

The vast majority of governmental entities we found on Facebook were cities, however, there were also some counties and states. Briefly, it’s interesting to note that larger entities — such as New York City, Los Angeles County and the State of Oregon — tended to be less successful at creating a unique Facebook community than others, small towns in particular. This is probably because small communities are already tight-knit and so it’s easier to transfer that closeness to Facebook; case in point, some smaller parks used a photo of staff or a local attraction as a profile picture whereas larger entities almost always used an official logo.

Monterey Park Recreation Superintendent Dan Costley said the idea behind his city’s Recreation and Parks Facebook Page is to create a sense of community apart from the L.A. metropolitan area and to do more with less — as is the norm in California these days. Since January 14 the Page has gathered 222 fans and the city’s population is 61,000. Costley tells us that the parks department went ahead with the Facebook Page after seeing multiple queries about it on industry list serves — going to Facebook is a hot topic in his professional circle, he tells us. And in the face of his state and city’s budget crises, Costley says using Facebook for marketing is a free alternative to fliers or press conferences.

“Literally we were told, ‘If you can borrow something from another department, cut back.’ You can look at something like Facebook and say, ‘Nobody is charging us for this,’” Costley tells us. “So if it helps us save money and send the message to the right people, that’s always going to help us.”

Plans for the Facebook Page revolve around creating a community around the Monterey Park community, such as reporting local swim team results, posting pictures of community events or previewing fireworks for the Fourth of July, posting status updates with city facts (Did you know that Monterey Park is 7.73 square miles in size?) or announcing the 2010 Chinese New Year Festival, he said. Costley wants Facebook to become part of the park department’s marketing strategy and, so far, at least many local politicians have taken note and joined as fans.

Perhaps because creating a sense of community becomes increasingly difficult with more people, larger parks entities have struggled to do so on Facebook.

Los Angeles County’s Department of Parks and Recreation on Facebook went up in March of 2009, but only has 55 fans in a county of almost 10 million people, not surprising given that the Page directs traffic to other web sites. There’s information about the county’s YouTube channel, but no phone number, no information about the parks and most links go to other county sites.

New York City Department of Parks & Recreation didn’t fare much better, with 2,058 fans in a city of more than 8 million, most links leading to external sites and no information about parks on the Page. There were local status updates about weather, lots of events and a MyFlickr tab, however. The State of Oregon has under 4 million people but 755 fans and is also still figuring out how to best use Facebook. Case in point, the Parks and Recreation Department recently debuted an online newsletter “Your Parks Go Guide” on a WordPress blog, directing fans to the blog but didn’t link it the Page’s notes.