NPS: Why Won’t You Answer Me?

Bike trail bridge near National Airport
A very icy and dangerous section of the Mount Vernon Trail near National Airport. Photo by Michael Neubert.

I recently attended Social Media: What’s the Right Strategy for Your Agency?, a forum put on by the Federal Communicators Network. The event was a roundtable discussion of best practices from social media experts at the CIA (really), VA and USGS, among others.

It was a very interesting discussion but one point stood out for me as a government communicator: good federal agencies know that social media is customer service. They realize that Twitter and Facebook are more than just broadcast vehicles; they exist to help the public get answers. Social media is a chance to change the perception of Big Government by providing information to the public in a timely manner.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Smart federal agencies like the VA and USGS have teams in place to respond to public inquiries. They’re setup as customer service centers and pride themselves on letting no question go unanswered.

And then we have the National Parks Service, who never ever ever respond to anyone who asks them a question on Twitter. They’re too busy tweeting about TV shows and Junior Rangers to reply to us taxpayers.

For example, the bike trail (you knew this would come back to bikes, didn’t you?) along the GW Parkway is one of the most heavily traveled bike commuter routes in the region. It’s essential for people coming from Alexandria to get into the city.

Does NPS plow the bike trail like Arlington County does? No, they let the trails turn into ice-covered ruts that endanger walkers, runners and cyclists.

What’s worse is that they never ever respond to anyone (and there’s been a lot of people) who ask them about it on social media. Do you think the phones at NPS go unanswered? No, of course not. They have people to answer the phones. But when it comes to social media they let it ring and ring, the public be damned.

Not responding to the public is one of the cardinal sins of this age. Agencies with budgets much smaller than NPS will reply to your tweets, like the DC Department of Transportation. We in #BikeDC forgive their lapses in snow removal because we know that they’re trying.

How do we know this? Because there’s a real person who answers their Twitter! You can get angry at a big agency but when there’s obviously a human being on the other end of the computer – you feel empathy for them.

Even WMATA, who literally lets customers die in a fire, will reply to folks on Twitter. Sometimes they’re even helpful.

The National Parks Service has a budget of $2.6 billion. They have a staff of 21,798. You can’t find a couple folks to answer tweets?

If the National Parks Service cannot maintain their social media accounts, they should shut them down. Their poor customer service is embarrassing the rest of Big Government – and that’s saying something.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer and photographer from Washington, DC. He is the author of the mystery novel The Swamp, as well as articles, short stories and screenplays. In his spare time, he likes wandering about the city with a camera.

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