Tapping Social Media to Help Save California’s State Parks

Strategy: Make Your Case, Take Advantage of Tech

Type of attraction: State Parks

Summary: In 2009, California’s overwhelming state budget crisis led to a proposal to close 220 of the state’s 278 state parks.


In 2009, California’s overwhelming state budget crisis led to a proposal to close 220 of the state’s 278 state parks. In response, the nonprofit California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) launched an aggressive advocacy campaign that included social media to help keep California’s state parks open.  CSPF had a long term relationship with the direct mail company, Adams Hussey & Associates.  Hoping to maximize return while minimizing cost, CSPF contracted with social media expert Brenna Holmes in AH&A’s Interactive department to help them design and implement an online campaign as part of their overall advocacy and fundraising efforts, building on the CSPF’s existing social media outlets including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. 

In just a few weeks in summer 2009, the number of fans for CSPF’s Facebook page jumped from 517 to 33,000 (and by fall 2010, the number of fans increased to almost 60,000).  Jerry Emory, director of communications for the California State Parks Foundation, notes “We hypermanaged our Facebook page for a few months.  We watched it, let good conversations run, and let it self-correct when discussions got off track.”  Emory notes that between his early work hours and the late work hours of his colleague Greg Zelder, director of membership for CSPF, they were able to monitor CSPF’s Facebook page almost 20 hours a day when it was first taking off.   In one case, a Facebook update was posted on June 1 with a 24-hour turnaround to add new fans and gather signatures for a petition before a California budget committee meeting on June 2. 

While CSPF still uses a variety of communications tools for outreach, the success of this social media campaign has led to a dramatic increase in the use of technology.  “In 2008 we had 8,000 email addresses, and now in 2010 we have over 100,000 email addresses,” explains Emory.  While not everyone is a member of CSPF, they have an interest in being kept up to date which CSPF can do effectively and inexpensively via email.   As an added bonus, donations to CSPF are also up, despite the down economy.

As part of making the case for the importance of California’s state parts, CSPF cited a Sacramento State survey found that visitors to California’s state parks spend an average of $57.63 per visit ($4.32 billion annually) in direct spending associated with the state.  In fact, this study found that for every $1 spent on state parks, $2.35 is returned to the state’s General Fund through local purchases, demonstrating that closing state parks actually ends up costing more than it saves.

CSPF’s advocacy effort was a success.  Despite California’s abysmal economy, the governor backed down and did not close any state parks in the state budget passed in July 2009 (though 150 parks were impacted either by service reductions or by partial closures).  Emory credits part of their success to CSPF’s focused mission.  “We don’t get involved in tangential issues related to the state parks.  Our goal is to protect state parks and have them available to as many people as possible.  Having a very specific focus make our messaging much easier.”