Social media has become a fact of life now. It has inspired positive in the world around us, brought us closer to lost friends and brought a stream of great cat videos. It also has inspired negatives in the world around us, enabling genocides, given rise to fringe politics and letting your parents (or grandparents) to share all sorts of fake news.
The British sitcom The IT Crowd hilariously lampooned social media in a faux commercial for a social media site called “Friendface” from the episode with the same name:
But can social media be a boon for mountain biking clubs and land managers who what to let users know about trail conditions and other trail updates?
Understanding how social media works
Typically, most social media works like this: a user connects with other users by reaching out to them or allowing others to reach out to them. At that point, information posted by one user can then be seen by users that can view that original user’s post. On most social media, those receiving users can than repost, or share, the originating post to their respective listed connected users. This mechanism of passing an original post to an ever-increasing field of users is how a small number of users, or a single user, can see their posts “go viral”. This isn’t so great when it your great aunt posting some nonsense about how vaccines cause autism or a country attempting to sow dissent in another with fake news. But it’s exactly what you, as a club or land manager, what to have happen with news about the local trails.
Think about it: the number of people that might care about the day-to-day happenings at a trail might be relatively small. Maybe as small as a few dozen people. But the number of people they could be connected to that small number of people might have a concern about trails, though not a day-to-day interest. This would be especially true if the local trail or park sees high numbers of weekend visitors. Those visitors likely don’t care what happens at the trail or park during the week, but come Saturday morning, they suddenly care.
That ability to go viral matters when, for instance, rain or some other circumstance closes the trails on Friday night. As that message gets out to a few people, they share, comment or “like” that message, forcing that message out to an increasing set of eyeballs. In simple terms, social media allows messages to find their audience, whether that be big or small.
What forms of social media work well for trail conditions?
There are many social media sites and apps. But for this discussion we keep it to the big 3: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. So, which is right for your needs?
Well, that is going to matter based on several factors:
Instagram can be used for this purpose also, though it’s a little more complicated as Instagram is so focused on the photo, with the text as a small aside. Some organizations have started creating templates that use a photo or short video with large imposed text like, “trails closed due to rain” with further details in the Instagram description text. The one note to Instagram is that its character count for a description can be longer than Twitter (2,200 characters vs. 280 characters), but that might not be that much of an advantage as it seems because brevity is usually better when it comes to this type of information.
For long form posting, or link/sharing posting Facebook is king of the roost. The sheer number of different types of content you can post on Facebook is numbing. You can post a link to a club event with one post, talk about a need for volunteers with another. However, these very strengths can be a weakness for trail conditions. Posts do tend to get lost in the shuffle if you post a lot of content. Also, the Facebook app on most mobile devices requires a few more steps to post to a club’s Page. Another issue is that your post might get lost on your follower’s respective pages if they receive a lot of content. In other words, your important post about the trail being muddy can get lost among follower’s posts from their Aunt Edna about cute cat videos.
What terms of service/moderation work are you willing to endure? This is a big one for a lot of reasons. First of all, let’s make this clear: all these social networks want to steal your soul. Satan himself could not write a more complicated legal contract than those of any of these social networks. No amount of fiddling is going to save your butt from getting pitchforked by any of these companies. This a real concern as if your club works in conjunction with local government units, as those governmental units likely have rules as to what their employees can and cannot use during the workday for social media, what they can endorse or say.
Additionally, Facebook, does not allow pages to be created without a person with a Facebook account to manage them. The problem being, of course, that someone in your club has to be willing to be on Facebook and then create the page. Then you have to have several administrators, who also have Facebook accounts, for the Page to ensure that you can moderate content.
Moderating content is an issue, as soon enough, you will get some dummkopf posting “not the image we want to project” content. Whether it’s just gross, bigoted or political there will be items you will have to clean up on a regular basis. Twitter is worse as far as moderating because it’s hard to see who is following and reposting your content. No one wants to find out that their trail conditions posts are being shared by “MAGAHitlerLuvin69”. Because Instagram is largely a single point share source (your club), with followers (the public), it’s a little easier to moderate content.
Regardless, there should be some discussion with all the concerned parties, I.e. your organization and any organizations you work with, as to what aspects of the terms and services they can tolerate and how to moderate comments and users.
How will you be primarily posting information? Because of the different targeted audiences, each of the major social media platforms have different ease of use with phones, tablets and computers. This matters because depending on who is doing the updates and where they may be doing them from, having a easy to use platform will make posting faster, easier and mistake free.
If you are planning to use a phone or a mobile connected tablet from the trails, both Instagram and Twitter have pretty good apps. Instagram is as easy as it gets, with only a few buttons to share a photo. Twitter’s app is equally easy, anyone can fire off a tweet with little effort, as certain politicians make all too clear.
Facebook’s app is trickier, especially for updating Pages. It’s not impossible, but it does require changing the app to the page and making sure the posting is attributed to the page versus the person. (Remember, with Facebook, Pages are tied to personal accounts.)
For posting from a computer, Facebook and Twitter are both fairly easy to use. Twitter’s online interface is as easy as the mobile app, with a single posting area. Facebook’s can be as easy or as complicated as you want to make it. Instagram, however, is weird. Signing in to their site will display your feed, but by default will not allow you to post items. To post while on a computer, you need to set your browser to display in tablet or phone mode, tricking Instagram into its default mobile display. Yes, it’s as annoying as it sounds.
So, depending on where you will be posting from and how often that posting is happening, certain platforms may be better for your club than others.
Getting all the gardens to talk to one another
Each of these social networks is designed to be a walled garden to maximize your addiction to the site and to maximize their ability to make money off of you. They are not designed to work together.
Instagram and Facebook are the best as far as integration between the two because Facebook bought Instagram. But that being said, it’s been noted that posts originally placed on Instagram look pretty good on Facebook whereas posts on Facebook don’t look as good when pushed to Instagram.
Getting Twitter to talk to Facebook and Instagram is a bit more complicated. It requires the use of an intra-Facebook app or a third-party scripting bridge like Zapier or If This Then That (IFTTT). Facebook’s internal app has been noted to be flakey and sometimes doesn’t update as fast as it should. Third-party scripting can be a savior here. They allow greater flexibility than the bridges and apps built into the framework of most of the social networks. While IFTTT is more popular, for ease of use, Zapier is hard to beat.
What can a club or land manager do to make this easier? Honestly, it all starts with choosing what platform carries what information and working out from there. If, for instance, you decide to use Twitter for your trail conditions posts, you would have to then determine how those posts will get pushed to Facebook and or to Instagram. If, however, you choose to use Instagram, of course, sharing to Facebook is easy and can be configured in Facebook. But getting that into Twitter will likely require a different set of choices.
Typically, clubs are using Twitter or Instagram for trail conditions updates and pushing out from there. The reason for this is that most clubs want the ability to use phones to do the updating and both Twitter and Instagram have fast and easy to use apps. From there many use IFTTT or Zapier to push those updates to Facebook. This directional nature of posts makes things easier because it’s just one place for updates and only one thing to manage for those updating trail conditions.
A few pointers
We’ve covered a lot of the basics, but how are clubs actually using social media for trail conditions updating?
First, as mentioned above, most clubs are finding Twitter or Instagram the bees knees for updating trail conditions. Not only do these platforms have good mobile apps, they also allow quick posting of photos or GIFs along with some text.
Clubs have also noticed that adding photos are a great way to get the point across. As previously mentioned, some clubs use template pictures with text on them for updates. This is especially true if Instagram is your platform of choice, though it works almost equally as well for Twitter. Over time, these photos become a code in and of themselves. The users know if they see the photo of the mud, trails are muddy and closed, for instance.
Another thing clubs have noticed is that using hashtags only make sense if they mean something to the audience. So #muddytrails isn’t as powerful as #closed or a hashtag for a location like #localparkname. In other words, use the hashtags to call out something specific, like a place, a trail name or condition, not some random description of something. Again, over time these hashtags become a code that your audience can quickly glean information from.
A real live example
A good example of using social media for trail conditions is the Stillwater Area Scholastic Cycling Advocates (SASCA). Now, let’s be clear, there are many other clubs and groups doing a bang-up job of using social media. Some clubs are large enough to have dedicated people for their social media accounts, with slick photos, graphics and even videos. SASCA isn’t one of them. However, what makes SASCA unique is how a very small group is doing a great job with few resources. That is what likely matters for your club the most: doing the most with the least amount of investment, in time and in materials. Seeing an example like SASCA who isn’t putting together videos with Final Cut Pro, but with an iPhone and selfie stick, is an encouragement.
Look at some of the examples of the updates they have put out:
Trails are open -
Trails are closed -
Boom! No questions. Also notice that SASCA isn’t wasting time with long descriptions or trying to be cute. They know their followers want to know if they can go ride the local trails. For trail conditions, that is what matters.
The fact is, as technology evolves and our relationship to it changes, the way we communicate important information will too. For now, social media is a wonderful way to communicate trail conditions to the larger world. It does exactly what mountain biking and land manager organizations want: leverage the users of our trails to tell other potential users about those trails.
Depending on how the future goes, maybe trail conditions will be done with holographic video depictions of the trail conditions or it may be done by a town crier letting us know the radroaches have moved on, but for now social media is the best way. It does take some forethought and dedication, but even the smallest organization or land manager can use social media to update trail conditions.
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