“Before we were assuming that people would find the information. We weren’t trying to meet our audience directly.”
Three North Carolina State University Extension professors found it critical to educate landowners in their state about the effects of climate change on forest growth.
Collectively, Dr. Susan Moore, a retired NCSU Extension associate professor, along with Dr. Mark Megalos, NCSU forestry and environmental resources Extension professor, and Dr. Robert Bardon, NCSU associate dean of Extension, developed content and provided technical assistance for a website that served as a repository for best management practices about forest resilience to climate change.
To improve this existing effort, Megalos, Moore, and Bardon attended the National Extension and Research Administrative Officers Conference (NERAOC) in San Antonio, Texas where they participated in the eXtension Issues Corp, now rebranded as the Impact Collaborative.
The Impact Collaborative is a proven process used to innovate, accelerate and amplify local impact. During the process, Cooperative Extension professionals from land-grant universities across the country form teams around an idea that aims to create a quantifiable impact in their local programming.
Moore said the process revealed the missing links between what they were doing and how they might better reach their audience. “We had trouble driving people to this Extension resource that we built over a six to 10 year period. We built it and no one came,” Megalos said. From this experience, the group quickly learned that creating a website is one thing, making sure people know about it and use it for its intended purposes was another.
The process includes four steps which are design thinking, key informant expertise, growing base of evidence-based practice and dynamic synergy. Each step comes with objectives that serve to change the way the teams work. After completing the process, the teams leave with a new plan allowing them to work more effectively.
“Before we were assuming that people would find the information. We weren’t trying to meet our audience directly,” Moore said.
The process that helped the trio see their problems is called concept mapping. Concept mapping is a method used to show the connection between relationships. Megalos said by mapping out their process they were able to critique each step and find the weak spots.
“We identified what we needed which was more input into social media. We already had enough material on the eXtension website, we just had to find the hook. What was going to get people to get one more click and view our website,” Megalos said.
As a result, the team took a different approach and began using social media strategically to link people to their site.
First, they began partnering with groups such as the Southern Region Extension Climate Academy and the Climate Learning Network. By linking to these organizations Facebook and Twitter social media accounts, they were able to tap into their niche audience.
“We leveraged each other’s work and that continues to this day,” Megalos said. He mentioned some of it existed before they attended the IMPACT Collaborative, but they became more consistent with their approach.
“Towards the end, we were getting about 1,000 contacts a week just on Facebook. On our Twitter we had reached about 18,000 connections a month,” Megalos said. This allowed the team to be able to share all of their research and best practices with landowners and foresters. They determined they were reaching more landowners and foresters through the use of social media analytics which reveal items such as demographics, link clicks, and growth.
Moore said this was important because it helped to spread the word that valuable information was available to landowners. “If they can access our information, they could better adapt their forest to climate change,” Moore said.
She added that this information is beneficial to landowners who make up a large part of Extension’s client base. “It’s a great concern if you’re a forest owner. Your forest is like a bank account, it’s an investment, it’s one of your assets so you’re going to want to take care of it,” Moore said.
Now that the information is reaching the audience they desire, Moore and Megalos both agreed that the experience was invaluable.
“We learned a lot. It stirred us to think more creatively about our issues and to solve them through teamwork,” Moore said.
Megalos, who continues to use social media in his daily efforts to educate landowners said, he now views social media as a networking platform and marketing tool. “It’s low cost, provides an easy way to collect metrics, and pushes awareness which drove them to our site. We had nothing like that a year ago,” Megalos said.
You can contact Dr. Megalos at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written By: ChaNaè Bradley
Senior Communications Specialist
Fort Valley State University College of Agriculture, Family Sciences, and Technology