Parks & Rec Exclusives - September 2019
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Leveraging Technology

By Deborah L. Vence

Parks and recreation facility managers have increasingly been leveraging technology to help run their facilities and enhance their marketing efforts. From recreation management software to social media tools, parks and recreation facilities are improving the way they operate and how they get the word out about programs, special events and more to the public.

"There are many exciting technology options for recreation professionals to use in running their organizations today," said Landon Schenck, solution director for a company in Manhattan, Kan., that specializes in parks and recreation management software. These tools, he said, tend to fall into four main categories: recreation management solutions (RMS), a one-stop shop providing well-rounded capabilities to serve most needs; dedicated module tools that provide specific functions like event ticketing or volunteer management; niche tools, such as background check products or field light management tools; and non-recreation tools, like Instagram, survey monkey and other social networking, communication and marketing tools.

To simplify operations, "When the right tools are in place, once-tedious tasks can be automated or even crowdsourced to the public," Schenck said. "Those weekly finance reports that used to require manual preparation can now be scheduled for automatic e-mail delivery.

"Citizens," he added, "can self-service and perform many of the capabilities that were previously open only to staff (e.g. viewing/printing past receipts).

"Having the right tools in place will free up time for recreation professionals to focus on high-value things like enhanced programming, park maintenance and development, environmental initiatives, community outreach, special populations, and more," he added.

Metro Parks Tacoma uses technology to help run its facilities and turns to social media to get the word out about upcoming events.

For example, Metro Parks Tacoma uses a special technology to conserve irrigation water. Information from Metro Parks revealed that "Awareness of the need to conserve prompted Metro Parks managers more than a dozen years ago to invest in a weather-based irrigation control system. With money from the district's 2005 capital bond issue, the first installations took place in 2009. Now, Metro Parks irrigates nearly all of the sites that use the most water with an automated system, and manages most via computer and smart phone or tablet. System upgrades and additions are continuing, using $170,000 from the bond issue approved by voters in 2014."

Metro Parks Tacoma completed a sustainability plan in 2015. "The three-year plan set a water-use reduction goal of 9% by the end of 2018. As it turned out, Metro Parks was able to cut water consumption by 9.5% in just the first year. Some of the improved efficiency can be attributed to irrigation controls."

Other technology that Metro Parks Tacoma uses has enabled maintenance staff to get things done faster.

For instance, interactive mapping software is used in certain parks to locate buried sewer or water connections that lack above-ground, visible landmarks, quickly. According to information from Metro Parks, "This sophisticated software is so effective that a person carrying a connected smart device can pinpoint his or her location on an interactive Metro Parks map. By loading that map with the detailed whereabouts of underground utilities, the person can use the device to hunt down specific points on those utility lines without breaking ground. This avoids accidentally breaking lines when digging holes to plant new trees, for example."

A few years ago, new recycling and garbage units were installed along Ruston Way and at headquarters, as part of a pilot program that was conducted in partnership with the city of Tacoma.

"The new solar-powered trash-compacting units help us reduce our carbon footprint by enabling us to make fewer trips to the landfill. They have the ability through compaction to accommodate an estimated five times the quantity of garbage than a traditional garbage can. These 'smart' units also send notification to let us know when they are reaching capacity, taking the guesswork out of when to schedule pick-ups."

What's more, in 2018, Metro Parks' social media efforts resulted in 12.4 million impressions and 148,000 engagements. This led to an 18.4%increase in followers.

Examples of successful results include the Eastside Community Center grand opening. "In the two months leading up to the event, the Eastside Community Center Facebook page, which at the time had around 1,200 followers, had 160,500 impressions and 4,367 engagements. The average daily number of users on the page was 3,003. Total number of fans increased by 27% in that time, and the best success of all—there were more than 3,000 attendees at the grand opening," noted Anne Winters, digital media coordinator, Metro Parks Tacoma.

"We create and execute digital communication plans for every capital project, and master plan related public meeting," she said.

In 2018, for example, communications for eight meetings resulted in 372,211 digital impressions and 34,343 engagements, which led to above-average attendance at the meetings. Impressions increased over the previous year by 68% and engagements increased by 53%.

"We use social media to drive attendance at events and programs, but social media is also a way to connect with our community," she said. "The use of social media to get information and make decisions is an everyday part of life in the 21st century. Metro Parks' presence on social media platforms helps communicate organizational priorities, reinforce our messaging, support our partners and sponsors and enhance credibility. It also provides a great opportunity to deliver outstanding customer service by gathering input, answering questions and listening to feedback.

"With over 10,000 messages received from the public on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook last year," she said, "social media 'listening' and customer service are an essential part of our strategy and are critical pieces of reputation management for Metro Parks Tacoma."