Discover more from Link in Bio
Use This "Venus Flytrap" Strategy to Drive More Clicks on Social
How the Washington State Department of Natural Resources increased link clicks on Twitter by over 1000%.
It would be a disservice for me to try and explain the genius of the Washington State Dept. of Natural Resources’ Twitter presence, so I’ll just give you this sampling:
Sometimes when I share more humorous accounts like this, I hear feedback like “there’s no way that this style of social applies to my brand” or “this strategy doesn’t drive meaningful engagement”. And with this interview with Rachel Terlep, Senior Social Media Manager at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, I’d challenge you to rethink that belief. Below you’ll read about how data still plays a big role in “funny social” or learn about Rachel’s “venus flytrap strategy” that increased link clicks on Twitter by a cool 1700%. Accounts like the Washington State Department of Natural Resources understand that it’s not enough to just post—you need to entertain. I think there’s a takeaway for any kind of brand here.
Rachel Karten: First, can you tell me about your current role and any past social (or not!) roles you've had?
Rachel Terlep: I'm the Senior Social Media Manager at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, a position I've been in since April 2021. I head a two-person crew that manages the social accounts of the agency and its elected official. Previously, I worked in higher ed social media at IUPUI (the Indianapolis campus of Indiana University). A lifetime ago, I was a sports reporter for a small newspaper in northern Indiana. It was there that I first realized the true power social media had to facilitate a personal, immediate connection with an audience.
RK: How would you describe your social media philosophy?
RT: I like to think of social media management as an art and a science—a mix of strategy, creativity, and a dash of gut instinct. I realize I'm not saying anything super profound here. In fact, Sun Tzu said it first: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” He wasn't much of a social media manager, but that philosophy still rings true in our industry.
RK: Talk to me more about this idea that social media is both an art and a science.
RT: Every post is the derivative of something we learned from its predecessors—the length of the tweet, the tone, whether it's text-only or has an image, whether an Instagram post is a carousel or a Reel. We're constantly looking under the hood and breaking down what worked, what didn't work, and any common denominators. Those analytics and audits are the science part of social media.
But then you have to do something with that data. You have to take what you learned about your audience and the type of content they respond to, and then you have to go and make something with it. And you start with a big slab of clay and you have to mold it into something pretty, something that simultaneously tells your brand's story and also engages a distracted audience. That's the art side, and it's often more difficult than the science side. Numbers don't care if you're funny.
RK: How does this approach to social media guide your work with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources?
RT: When you think of "outdoorsy government accounts," you probably think of either the parks or the animals. In Washington, DNR doesn't oversee either of those. So my challenge was figuring out how to get people to care about the work DNR does—the forestry, the geology, the habitat restoration, the wildfire fighting, the recreation management.
And the result was developing our specific brand of infotainment—what I like to call our "venus flytrap" strategy. We draw folks in with something fun or flashy, and we lock them in to learn something. (I could simply call this "entertain first, educate second," but I like how dramatic the venus flytrap analogy is.) When a tweet starts to blow up, and we slide a landing page link in one of the replies, we see 900 link clicks where we used to see 50.
An example would be the hook of this entertaining tweet:
And the follow-up reply of this educational tweet:
RK: What does your creative process look like? Every single tweet is so good. Is there a team that you brainstorm with?
RT: Yes! The communications team at DNR is this incredible blend of people who are super passionate about the work the agency does and also the funniest people you'll ever meet. Nearly every tweet we send is the result of some sort of collaboration with one of my comms teammates.
As far as the creative process goes, sometimes, it's "Hey, it's Labor Day weekend and fire danger is high, let's get some prevention messaging up" and sometimes it's "So, this 'She's a 10, but...' thing is trending, can we join that conversation?"
When it's the former, we start adding layers to the original idea until we land on one that we think will really resonate. The "graphic design is my passion" tweet started as: Let's tell folks to not set the state on fire. Oh! Let's make a cutesy graphic to go with it that serves as an emotional contrast to the severity of the message. Wait, better yet: Let's make it an ask from my boss, and she's just barely tolerating my nonsense. Let's have her play the role of the exhausted bureaucrat as a foil to the devil-may-care social media manager. The final product—the thing we tweet—is always a few layers deeper than the original idea.
RK: And, on the flip side, what does your reporting or metrics process look like?
RT: We use Sprout Social, and I'll compile monthly reports for our communications leadership. On a weekly basis, our director, Mary, and I will chat through any notable takeaways and how we could apply those learnings to future posts.
RK: Is there a post that you're particularly proud of? Tell me how it came about!
RT: I think it has to be our Kate Bush/tsunami tweet from this summer.
That was our first tweet to do those kinds of numbers, and it was a perfect storm (ha) of the height of Stranger Things in the cultural consciousness and the announcement of our new tsunami evacuation maps. Everyone was singing "Running up that Hill," which just so happens to be solid tsunami evacuation advice. We knew we had a real opportunity to thread that needle. The end result was a ton of tweet engagements, which is great, but the real win was the 2,000+ link clicks we drove to our tsunami evacuation map website. That was really the birth of the "venus flytrap" strategy that has driven our content ever since.
RK: I also want to call attention to your use of alt text. So many brands ignore alt text, but the Washington State Department of Natural Resources account really seems to embrace it and even has some fun with it. What's that process like?
RT: First off, I want to give credit to Alexa Heinrich. We first crossed paths in the higher ed social media sphere, and she's since become the foremost advocate of accessibility in social media. I learned (and still learn) so much from her. I try to be as detailed as possible in describing what the image actually depicts, but the image is often also our punchline. A dry, literal interpretation won't resonate on a screen reader the way it will with our sighted audience. So I try to add some flavor to the alt text to replicate that punch line. Never so much so that it overwhelms the original intent of the description, but just a little bit of spice to replicate the flavor.
RK: Are you hopeful for the future of social media?
RT: Oh gosh, have I ever been? Haha, it's been hard to watch Twitter slowly circle the drain and it's discouraging to see state and federal government slowly banning the use of TikTok on agency devices. It sort of feels like we're at an intersection of the slow death of old social media (what we millennials grew up with) and the birth of its successor. I'm not really sure what the next generation of social media will look like, but it feels like it'll be some mashup of smaller, more intimate connections (like Facebook groups or Snapchat streaks) mixed with impersonal entertainment that you're getting from creators (TikTok).