The Maryland Park Service is eliminating several dozen park-unique social media accounts, consolidating its messaging on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram into single accounts, much to the chagrin of parkgoers who like and want park-specific information.
Word of the consolidation came on Twitter in postings that read:
“Happy New Year! As part of our resolution to streamline communications from Maryland State Parks, we are merging this account with @MDStateParks. Please be sure to follow that account today to keep up-to-date with events and news! This account will be closed on January 31.”
A memo to park staffers from Timothy Hamilton, the park service’s business and marketing manager, dictated the announcement and said: “The new policy was based solely on improve [sic] the efficiency of messaging and to streamline the flow of information.”
David Taylor said the move strips away a valuable resource that provides a service to niche communities. The St. Mary’s County resident visited the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park in March 2018 for its one-year anniversary celebration after learning about it from the park’s Twitter account, @TubmanSP.
“Lumping them all together is not conducive to what Twitter is,” Taylor said. “I don’t need all that information. That’s why I enjoyed picking the content I was interested in.”
Maryland Department of Natural Resources spokesman Gregg Bortz said the directive “is a primarily proactive measure” that follows a “long-term review of best practices.” He said the goal is to increase content and have the field staff remain in charge of putting it together. The department also plans to establish regional social media teams to handle urgent communication matters.
Most of the park Twitter accounts have been active since March 2012. The number of followers on a given account ranges from as few as 47 users to over 4,000. Bortz said in an email that the department expects the main account to serve a larger audience now.
Organizations do benefit from speaking with one voice, said Emina Herovic, an assistant clinical professor of risk communication and resilience at the University of Maryland.
“With that said, however, organizations must remember to address all members of their audience and ensure their message is tailored to their audience,” Herovic said in an email. “When organizations’ messages fail to meet their audience’s needs, the communication is ineffective.”
Parkgoers say shutting down the social media accounts erases pieces of history and opportunities for instant, on-the-ground coverage and engagement.
The Deep Creek Lake State Park Facebook page, which was managed by volunteers, merged with the Maryland State Parks Facebook page before Jan. 4, according to the memo. Barbara Bailey, one of the park’s volunteers, wrote in a Facebook post that 11 years of photographic and archival history from the park’s Discovery Center were deleted without the page administrators’ knowledge or consent.
“To say we’re heartsick over this loss, especially as we approach the 20th anniversary of the Discovery Center, is putting it mildly,” Bailey wrote. “Outraged is probably closer.”
Followers of the Twitter accounts lamented their erasure, saying each one provides timely and relevant information to their respective communities that might get lost among dozens of other updates.
“I don’t see how somebody sitting in an office in Annapolis can engage with the public in the same way,” said Kate Clifford Larson, a historian and Tubman biographer who served as a consultant on the Harriet Tubman State Park. “It seems like the communications folks don’t really understand Twitter.”
Others commented that some accounts, such as those belonging to Cunningham Falls State Park and Point Lookout State Park, often share updates in Spanish to serve their visitor populations and should remain active to connect with their diverse patrons.
Bortz said in an email that Spanish-language outreach is a department-wide imperative that continues to expand, adding that this past year the park service hired its first multicultural outreach coordinator.
Jeanette Gerrity Gomez, a Parkville resident who follows a handful of the park-specific accounts on Twitter, said the expertise provided by the park rangers on Twitter over the years has added color to her experiences at the parks, where she often goes to hike with her children. She said she’ll miss their voices.
“I know it sounds silly, but I am disappointed,” she said. “It’s really not a good move.”
In 2017, 14.4 million visitors went to the state parks and more than 240,000 people engaged in programs and events, according to the park service’s annual report.
But Taylor isn’t sure he’ll have much interaction with the parks online anymore — if at all.