Central Park may be as analog as an institution can get. But it turns out you don’t even have to be in New York to take a tour through Central Park — just follow it on Periscope. If you are in the city and happen to be strolling through the Sheep’s Meadow, be sure to affix the hashtag #CentralParkMoments to any tweets, or at least geotag that selfie. You may get a retweet from the park’s official social media accounts.
But it wasn’t always like this. Central Park’s blossoming on social media in many ways mirrors the park’s renaissance in recent decades — and that’s by design. After years of decline through the 1970s and ’80s, the management of Central Park was taken over by the nonprofit Central Park Conservancy, which has transformed a once-run-down public space into the city’s crown jewel. But even many locals have no idea.
“We started taking care of the park in 1980 through a contract with the City of New York and a lot of people don’t know that,” said Ann Sublett, social media senior manager at the Central Park Conservancy. “So a great part of our strategy is building awareness and telling people who we are and what we do.”
Toward that goal, Central Park through the Conservancy maintains a robust social media presence — from Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram to Twitter and even Periscope — pushing out different types of content depending on the platform. While it uses Facebook and Twitter for general announcements regarding closures or events, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine and Periscope are prioritized for promoting getting people to like and share posts — as well as physically getting involved with the park.
On Instagram, for instance, Sublett leads the program “Instameets,” where she occasionally gets a bunch of Instagram influencers together for a walk-and-talk through the park. They stroll through some of the most iconic features of the Park, snapping and posting Instagram pictures.
In another ongoing program on Instagram, visitors to the Park are also encouraged to use hashtag #CentralParkMoments. It was launched as part of an in-park marketing campaign that encouraged people to think about and capture their Central Park moments, and is also the hashtag being used to celebrate the Conservancy’s 35th year in the Park, centering around the phrase “Powered By You.” The hashtag has been applied to nearly 9,000 photos since being launched last fall.
On visual platforms like Vine, Tumblr and Instagram, the Conservancy makes an effort to subtly highlight how far the park has come since the bad old days. On Vine for instance, Sublett looks for moments that make her smile, or stop, or gasp. These little snippets stand in stark contrast to the years the park was deserted, deemed unsafe or too run down — still an assumption many people make — without being too ham-fisted about it. “One of the things I’ve found is that saying things explicitly is not a great way of telling a story,” she said.
The organization uses Twitter for its promotions and real-time potential, engaging more deeply and personally with visitors, retweeting a tweet that captures someone’s marriage proposal at Bethesda Terrace, for example. Sublett has also been using Twitter’s live streaming service Periscope to document her commute through different routes in the Park every Wednesday as part of a weekly feature called #WednesdayWander. She hosts trivia walks, such as one that was held on the birthday of Central Park architect Jacob Wrey Mould recently. Within the past few months, the park has amassed over 8,000 followers on Periscope.
— Central Park (@CentralParkNYC) August 29, 2015
“We try to highlight the things that we do, and those often have an element of education, celebration or community pride,” said Sublett. Apart from building engagement, the Conservancy also uses its social accounts to help people understand the complexity of relationships between the Conservancy and the several other nonprofits that operate out of the Park, including the City Parks Foundation, which is behind the popular SummerStage concerts, The Public Theater, which hosts Shakespeare in the Park, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, which maintains the Central Park Zoo.
Through its social experiments, Central Park now has more than 400,000 Facebook followers and 108,000 Twitter followers. And while it continues to spread awareness about the work it has done and continues to do today, it eventually hopes that people will progress from mere advocates into donors and members.
“My biggest goal right now is awareness of the Central Park Conservancy, and if that leads to memberships or donations, that’s great,” said Sublett. “But since our efforts are so new, we’re looking at the very beginning of a long game.”