How to Organize a National Park Instameet
Since the launch of the #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque movement, the national park community has embraced finding and sharing park adventures through social media. You only have to go as far as exploring the hashtags on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr to see the thousands of stories and moments from across the National Park System.
This is the brilliance of social media: with the click of a button, these platforms bring the parks right to you.
And the best part of social media is that it’s exactly that – social. It involves exploration, engagement, and sharing. It even involves meeting people from the digital realm through in-person get togethers like Tweet-ups or Instameets.
Yosemite National Park recently hosted an Instagram meetup that filled the #FindYourPark stream with jaw-dropping snaps of this iconic park in winter. After gorging ourselves with the stunning shots, we reached out to Yosemite National Park’s Centennial Ambassador, Ranger Kristen, and asked if she’d share some advice on how to put together such a picture-perfect Instameet.
Check out her tips below and then enjoy the visual feast of photos from their gathering!
7 Steps for Hosting a Successful National Park Instameet
1. Pick a park
When planning an Instameet, you first have to consider the location. There are over 400 national parks to choose from so don’t worry; you won’t be limited by options. The choices range from natural, to cultural, to historical parks – you just have to find a place that interests you! Be sure to think about seasonal activities that are best for your event.
For us, the venue choice was a simple one. Since it was a snowy January weekend, we chose Badger Pass Ski Area inside Yosemite for our event. Badger Pass offers many interactive winter recreation opportunities including snowshoeing.
2. Connect with the park
Once you have your eye on a park, coordinate with the park staff and partners who can support your event and help it be even more successful. For a #FindYourPark Centennial Instameet, it’s a good idea to connect with the park Centennial Coordinator and the Public Affairs Officer. Ask about existing ranger-led tours or programs that might be interesting to join, or about any upcoming events that you could experience. It’s also a good thing to ask if there are any dates to avoid.
In our case, we made sure our partners, social media team, and Badger Pass operations staff was looped into the conversation so that everybody had a heads up about the upcoming event.
3. Look at the calendar
Chances are that after connecting with the park, you’ll have an idea about what dates will or won’t work. Some parks are great to visit during certain times of year, but keep in mind that many visitors may also be planning to head to the park during that same time.
There’s nothing wrong with choosing to visit during a high point of the year, but don’t discount the benefits of looking at the off-season! Fewer people could mean you won’t be bumping elbows with everybody else for the same shot.
Yosemite National Park’s beauty in winter was the inspiration for the timing of this Instameet. We wanted to invite people to experience the park during the off-season and to partake in activities that can only be enjoyed in the snow! It was also a great time for park and partner staff to be fully engaged, since it wasn’t during the busy summer season when the park is at peak visitation.
Organizing a winter event attracted visitors to experience the park in a new season and try new activities like snowshoeing and skiing.
4. Choose a hashtag (or two, or three!)
You need to have a unique hashtag to weave together the event. Choose something that is easy to remember – bonus points if it’s something that your event can “own,” in a sense. There’s nothing wrong with using an existing hashtag but for the purposes of connecting the attendees, it’s helpful to have a specific tag you can curate throughout the meetup.
We knew we wanted to incorporate #FindYourPark into the posts since the movement is such an integral part of the National Park Service Centennial celebration. We knew we also wanted to incorporate #TenayaWinter since our partners at the lodge were co-hosting the event with us.
But we also wanted to share content around a hashtag that was personalized for the event, and thus #YosemiteSnowDay came into play. Three hashtags may seem like a lot, but we kept them easy and the attendees were fantastic about using them across their social media channels! Be sure to check potential hashtags before using them so you can ensure it’s one that will be specific for your event.
5. Spread the word
Once you have the where and when locked in, you’ll need help getting the word out. Here’s where partners and influencers come into play. Share the event specifics with community partners and social media heavyweights. Provide an image and copy that can be shared across social media, welcoming people to join the event and identifying the agreed upon hashtags.
Our friends at Tenaya Lodge, Delaware North, and Badger Pass were on board from the onset of the planning process. They helped organize local community partners and tourism bureaus to join as well, who then shared the event details with their networks.
Additionally, we reached out to influential individuals (read: users with great communities on Instagram) who could help raise the profile of the event. As an added incentive for coming to the park, Tenaya Lodge organized special offers for the invited influencers to ensure they had a great visit.
6. Meet up
Make sure to clearly identify the exact meetup location (e.g. north entrance to X-trailhead, or parking lot at Y-part of the park). It’s also not a bad idea to wait 10 or 15 minutes after the start time to give any stragglers a chance to find you.
For our Instameet, we had a clearly marked check-in table where event organizers greeted all of the attendees. It was a perfect meeting place for people to check-in, meet some of the other participants and also rent their snowshoes.
We also had a sign-in sheet where we were able to keep track of everyone’s Instagram handles so we could tag everyone in the group photo and share on the park’s Instagram page. Stickers and fun photo booth accessories were provided for people to use during the meet, including hand-made animal masks!
Once the crew is assembled, begin the adventure! Be sure to remind folks about the hashtags for the day and any accounts you’d like them to tag.
The driving activity behind #YosemiteSnowDay was snowshoeing. We chose a moderate 2.5-mile snowshoe hike as our activity because snowshoeing is an accessible, fun activity that you can do with a big group that also offered a sense of adventure. We were sure to follow wilderness guidelines, and ended up breaking into two groups so that we did not exceed the 35 person group limit.
We had everyone put on their snowshoes and assemble into a big group where we gave general instructions about the event. We thanked everyone for coming and shared information about the NPS Centennial.
This also gave us an opportunity to recognize the partners who helped organize the event and to introduce the special guest influencers in attendance. Then we took a few group photos that we later shared on the YosemiteNP social media pages, tagging everyone in attendance.
7. Stay in touch
Once the meetup concludes, set aside time for editing, posting, liking, and commenting. Explore the photos posted to the hashtags and follow any of your new Instagram friends (who are now friends IRL!). Save a few snaps for some great #ThrowbackThursdays in the following weeks – it’ll give you a chance to reconnect with the folks you met that day.
Since the meetup, we’ve been excited to see the ongoing #YosemiteSnowDay posts! The event even generated some great blog posts and videos from participants.
We hope to stay in touch and host future Instameets throughout 2016!
With the centennial year of the National Park Service now upon us, there’s never been a better time to get out and #FindYourPark at any of the over 400 national parks across the country. And organizing an Instameet is just one great way to enjoy the natural, cultural, and historical treasures within the National Park System!
Need help locating a nearby park? Head over to findyourpark.com to find a national park that’s close to you, event listings, and more. And when you’re out there exploring, remember to take lots of pictures and share your favorite moments with us on the site and through social media using the #FindYourPark and #EncuentraTuParque hashtags!