by Dawn O'Brien and Dan Slee
It’s one of the fascinating things seeing how social media grows and develops in unexpected places.
Wolverhampton Parks is one of those places and Dawn O’Brien deserves heaps of credit in being one of the true local government heroes.
She has pioneered digital and made things grow at a time when the authority hadn’t really picked up the ball at all.
She works as a business development officer for Wolverhampton City Council for the parks and green spaces service. They look after city parks, district parks, local nature reserves, farm and country parks.
Her day is varied from traditional marketing to monitoring, evaluation, publicity, community engagement and distributing dog poo bags.
@wolvesparkies had their ‘on-line’ birth in 2009 on Twitter with the creation of ‘Wilf’. Wilf is a cartoon character that has come to represent the face of the parks team in Wolverhampton. He is present across a number of platforms - Facebook, Flickr and Foursquare came a little while later.
They’ve really embraced ditching the idea that a Lord of the Rings-style ‘one Facebook page to rule them all.’ They’ve approached it as hyperlocalgovernment. You can choose which part of Wolverhampton parks to get updates from.
In her own words Dawn talks about her approach on different platforms:
‘Wilf’s’ profile pic has helped to remove the more ‘stylised’/corporate image of the Council. Some followers feel the need to ‘challenge’ Councils on their decision making etc, creating a ‘combat zone’. ‘Wilf’ engages with ‘real’ people (some of whom believe ‘Wilf’ is real himself); sending photographs to our Flickr site, telling him what they’ve been doing in the park. In other words, having a conversation. ‘Wilf’ has now been joined by ‘Farmer Pickles’ down at Northycote Farm.
Images on Twitter paved the way for our Flickr account. We wanted somewhere that members of our local communities could post some of the beautiful photographs they take in and around #WolverhamptonsGreatOutdoors. This hashtag was important to us, because Wolverhampton is great outdoors and we also wanted to direct those to the locations of our great outdoors. Wolverhampton’s Great Outdoors group pool now comprises a growing community of 72 members, contributing more than 1,100 images.
We’ve now extended on Flickr to be a little more site specific, with Bantock Park, Northycote, Smestow and West Park Wolverhampton each having their own group with more to follow throughout the year. Giving the contributors the space they own, their own voice and vision, as seen through their own lenses.
I decided that our original Facebook page, though growing in numbers, would be better broken down into smaller, localised chunks … Giving readers more information about their local park, rather than information about all of the parks in Wolverhampton.
Dawn O'Brien is business development and support co-ordinator at Wolverhampton Council.