Sarah Mankelow

Is blogging dead? Or just this one…

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My appetite for consuming blogs has seriously waned.  Seriously. It’s a rare occasion that read a blog post from headline to comment line. I usually scan a headline, and maybe click on a link if it teases my taste buds but I generally just take a quick bite and move on.

Although when I do come across an interesting one, I dive right in and come out on the other end as satisfied as if I’d just consumed a giant slice of chocolate cake and a large glass of spicy red. I found this one ‘A teenager’s view on Social Media; written by an actual teen’ was a pretty good read, even worth a second helping.

Conversely, it seems I’ve not been cooking up many new blog posts either, and it seems I’m not the only one. Have you noticed? It’s been nearly a year since MP’s  last article – and we have a multi-national team of bloggers. Where did we all go?

Priya Florence on WPeka says “As long as there are readers, there will be bloggers.” So Media Platypus readers – are you there? Do you still have midnight cravings for another missive from the Media Platypus team?

In my head I hear your faint echo of a reply… (I have a very vivid imagination).

quote on wellington waterfront.

But I’d rather have your comments. Yes this blog has been a little less than “best practice” lately. But I know for a fact that social media is still high on many an interpreter’s list of something that want guidance and help on.  And the ethos for 2016 in ‘blogging’ circles is to publish long content less often – quality over quantity.

Huffington Post says;

“… to build a successful blog you just need to become a curator of information for a specific community. What you need to do is, focus on a niche audience, discover their needs and give them valuable information and services.”

But enough about what Huffington P says. What should Media Platypus say?

Our niche audience is interpreters. You are our audience.

Our content focus is social media. So we’d like you tell us a bit more about what you want to know.

What information would you like from us?

  • Case studies?
  • Ideas or opinions?
  • Innovations in technology or evolutions in new media?
  • How to 101?
  • The basics or the latest trends?
  • How to use hashtags? (#lotsofquestions).
  • My new favourite recipe for chocolate cake?

Tell us in the comments, or on the Media Platypus Facebook page. Let’s get some great conversations happening. Then we’ll come up with a plan for action for the coming year.

Food poster.

Oh and by the way, if you want to know who we are, you can find out more here

Selfie-help – can selfies make a meaningful contribution to an interpretation toolbox?

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I’m looking for some selfie-help.

During a recent briefing for a new interpretative project I started thinking about selfies.  It’s not such a jump – the project is a new walking trail with a target audience of youth, families and first-time hikers. The trail has cell coverage for most of its length. My client briefing me pointed out a natural feature that was a popular spot for photos and when she said; “I don’t like the idea of people with their cell-phones out in the natural environment;” my response was, “but they’ll be doing it anyway so why not use it to our advantage?”

Selfies used to be considered bad taste; the exclusive domain of self-centred narcissistic teens on Myspace. But a social media culture shift has occurred, and everyone is doing it. Higher quality shots are possible, helped along by the advances in the photographic capabilities of cell phones; with specific selfie apps soon following.

Even I must confess that both my current Facebook and LinkedIn profile pics are selfies.

Even I must confess that both my current Facebook and LinkedIn profile pics are selfies.

Selfies at their core are self-portraits. People have been painting, drawing, photographing themselves since we used to live in caves. Selfies say “I was here”. They are people-focused and not much of a step away from what tourists have been doing for years – taking photos of themselves at places they have visited to ‘capture memories’.

According to Wikipedia the Oxford English Dictionary declared selfie ‘word of the year’ in November 2013. According to Google 93 million selfies are taken every day on Android devices. And in March 2014 a selfie broke the internet when a selfie taken by Academy Awards host Ellen DeGeneres was retweeted over 1.8 million times in the first hour of posting (yes we hear about this stuff, even in the antipodes).

We have seen their power used for evil; that bad taste still rises in your throat when people take selfies that seem to be at odds with the place, events and environment.  

New Zealand’s national museum Te Papa freely admits that sculptures and paintings are being damaged by people backing into them for selfie shots. But that hasn’t stopped them from allowing – and in some places encouraging – their use.

“We want visitors to be able to take pictures and share their experience with friends,” says a spokesperson in this media article.

Shantytown long-drop photo opp...

Shantytown long-drop photo opp…

So how do we harness the selfie phenomenon to help facilitate interpretation? Or should we even try? A quick search and brainstorm came up with the following examples of selfies in interpretation, and some thoughts:

Interpretive sites have often encouraged photographs as a way for visitors to interact with their exhibits – see the Shantytown example above. Te Papa has gone so far as installed a mirrored selfie wall.

Encouraging visitors to share their own selfies on a social media platform is a common marketing tool and creates a community of common experience. Could this be done while on the trail perhaps at one of the huts?

This life-sized ranger sign at the glacier below has unwittingly become the co-pilot in many a tourist selfie. So perhaps the same idea could be used to introduce an historic figure at one of the huts or shelters along our trail?

This life-size ranger was intended to draw attention to safety warnings.

This life-size ranger was intended to draw attention to safety warnings but is now featured in many selfies

Check out this instagram – if Laura Ingles Wilder took selfies

What about an app that reveals a ghost figure from the past if you take a selfie at a certain spot? Or some other information at pre-designated, beacon-marked spots?

I’d love to hear from anyone who has attempted these or any other selfie ideas and are willing to share their experiences. Selfie-help – all shares welcome!

Which platform to use to display your selfie community?

Which platform to use to display your selfie community?

After chaos came community, creativity, and connectivity

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backdrop-sml

I live in Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand. It’s a city that three years ago was struck by a series of devastating earthquakes; the most serious on 22 February, when 185 people died. Our central business district and several outlying suburbs where reduced to rubble.

Three years on, Christchurch has been named the world’s second-best place to visit in 2014 by the New York Times. Living here, it’s hard to understand why; I mean the place is a mess! Of course, one-in-100-year rain events are not helping either, for a city with a compromised storm water infrastructure…

As part of its feature  “52 places to visit in 2014” the New York Times called Christchurch a “city in transformation”, experiencing a “rebirth with creativity and wit”. 

Institutions like the Christchurch Art Gallery have looked for alternatives while doors remain closed – using blank walls and spaces to create “outer space” exhibitions. And with a lot of our heritage buildings reduced to rubble, there has been an increased interest in documenting and sharing heritage resources online.

Public artwork by Wayne Youle; photo Jared Cantlon.

WAYNE YOULE: I SEEM TO HAVE TEMPORARILY MISPLACED MY SENSE OF HUMOUR

Some of the positive, interpretative outcomes of tragedy – both live and digital – that have grown from the rubble over the last three years include:

Cool online maps

Quakemap – this became the go-to website for all Cantabrians, with people flocking to Quakemap after every aftershock. This animated map shows where rumbles are centred, their depth and magnitude with a series of colour-coded spots. You can look back and watch series of shakes by timeframes of your choice. Conceived and developed by Paul Nicholls of the University of Canterbury’s Digital Media Group (Christchurch).

More recently, Google map-based resouces help tourists find the ‘Neat Places’ in Christchurch, to make the most of a visit to our torn-up town.

Strengthening communities and individuals

Neighbours who may have never spoken before turned to help each other post-earthquake. Many of these communities continue to support each other through the rebuild, via neighbourhood forums and events. The Rebuild Christchurch website offers a tool for people to build an online community, based on their neighbourhood.

The internationally acclaimed Student Volunteer Army was a social media movement that mobilised over 11,000 students to assist in the clean-up of Christchurch. It began with one young man starting a Facebook page to generate and guide volunteers amongst his peers. The group is still active, and were out in force this week cleaning up after the latest storm. In 2012 Sam Johnson was named “Young New Zealander of the Year” and Prinz communicator of the year and is a compelling speaker on using technology for social change.

Digital archives – sharing the stories

The collective experiences of a crumbled city are being collated via several portals, several under the auspice of the University of Canterbury’s CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquake Digital Archive project.

Quake Studies is CEISMIC’s formal digital archive to document the Canterbury earthquakes by collecting reports, documents, stories, photos and film to be available to researchers in perpetuity, access-controlled.

Quake stories is for more personal stories, memories, experiences and photos of the Canterbury earthquakes and how they affected people, including the aftermath and ongoing story of the rebuilding. It’s described as a living memorial.

When my home shook is also personal accounts, but aimed specifically at school children, years 5-12, as a part of the recovery process.

Kete Christchurch is a creative commons digital archive compiled by Christchurch City Libraries, and includes several kete or “baskets” of knowledge, including the Christchurch earthquakes.

History these days is told via multiple voices.

New apps and innovations

CityViewAR is a mobile Augmented Reality application that allows people to see how the city was before the earthquakes and building demolitions. Using an Android mobile phone people can walk around the city and see life-sized virtual models of what the buildings looked like on site before they were demolished.

HitLab have taken this even further and used CityView AR to test their ‘Googleglasses’ – the first truly wearable computer for the masses. CityViewAR on Glass also shows panorama images taken after the earthquake, allowing people to look around them and use the head-tracking capability of Glass to see a full 360-degree photo of the city damage.

High Street Stories – NZ Historic Places Trust collaborated with HitLab and NV Interactive to create ‘High Street Stories’ website and a smartphone application, with over 100 stories of the central Christchurch street’s past. Users can wander around the area using an android phone or mobile device and see images of the now demolished heritage buildings and the precinct as it was before the quakes whilst listening to history and anecdotes about life in the area.

High street Stories

Read more about High street Stories in the summer 2014 issue of INNZ Insights

Creation of new groups, trusts and organisations

The response of many individuals after the earthquakes was to do something creatively positive and gather in the energies of others. And because the projects were all temporary by nature, it was a license to ignore the fear of failure – it was just about having a go!

Gap Filler –  temporarily activates vacant sites within Christchurch with creative projects for community benefit, to make for a more interesting, dynamic and vibrant city. Wall murals, poetry, sound garden, pallet pavilion (an open air events venue) and Dance-o-mat are some of the groovy projects, with the latest join the portfolio – the Inconvenience Store – selling things like ‘eyes in the back of your head’!

Greening the Rubble – sticking true to Christchurch’s soul as The Garden City, Greening the Rubble was a grassroots movement to create temporary gardens and public green spaces in vacant sites. Hero projects include the Sydenham Street Coffee Zone, Sound Garden, Nature Play Park, and Pod Oasis.

Children play in Greening the Rubble's Nature Play Park while buildings are demolished around them; photo S Mankelow

Children play in Greening the Rubble’s Nature Play Park while buildings are demolished around them

Ministry of Awesome – watering the seeds of awesome in Christchurch, Sam Johnson and others created this organisation to gather ideas and inspiration, and create events to provide opportunities to see some of those seeds take root.

Yes life has changed since the earthquakes of 22 February 2011. I still have to drive a long way to buy milk as our dairy and supermarket have gone. I can get lost in my home town as every street corner looks the same and there are road works at every turn.

But there’s a ‘new’ creative Christchurch amidst the rubble and vacant spaces. It’s a blank page and we’re colouring flat out, without worrying about going over the lines.

I live in Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand. Come visit.

Lorde! New Zealanders talk funny … ah where is that again?

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“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” William Shakespeare

Lorde performs on September 28, 2013 at Showbox at the Market during the Decibel Festival in Seattle, Washington; photo Kirk Stauffer.

Lorde; photo Kirk Stauffer.

Our whole country has gone Grammy-mad this week, after Kiwi teenager Lorde won two awards. All our news programmes, radio, social media networks are a buzz with this achievement.  There’s no mistaking the fact that she has become world famous in New Zealand. Even her fingernails have their own twitter account.  There hasn’t been this much hype around one person since… well since Peter Jackson won his first Oscars!

Watching the awards show I learnt three things:

  • Americans really know how to put on a good show.
  • Celebrities are experts at using twitter
  • Being famous does not automatically make you funny.
  • Music is the one universal language.

OK so that’s four things. But the last one got me thinking. It got me thinking about culture and communication. And the challenges of getting it right when your audience potentially is the whole world.

How does an awkward teenager from a group of islands somewhere near the South Pole co-write a song that explodes across the globe, in a way she described as mental”? (Yes New Zealanders talk funny). Well, you can read how she did it in this interview with her manager; “How to make it big online”.

Social media has bought people around the world together, regardless of cultural differences and geographic boundaries – creating a global village. It exposes us to new ideas and differences of opinion. It encourages interactions, conversation, debate. It’s a powerful tool. No wonder interpreters are drawn to it like moths to Tilden’s flame.

The downside to all this sharing is that sometimes its hard to maintain a unique voice. Despite the distance, NZ is heavily influenced by all things American, especially in the entertainment industry. This point was bought home to me when listening to my five-year-old talk to her friend during imaginary play – they were talking for their make-believe characters with American accents! Bits of our own culture are being ‘acquired’ too – there’s an American company called Kiwi, unashamedly named after our national bird, and someone in Germany trademarked the name Moana – which means ocean and is a popular girl’s name for our first peoples – Maori.

A lot of the content shared online by interpreters is written and this is tricky too – with slang, colloquialisms and spelling differences even between countries that use the same language. You may have noticed I like to spell programme with two mms and colour with a u.

So with all these extra challenges, how does an interpreter communicate successfully via social media? The advice from Lorde’s manager is that success for a musician starts with a good song. The same goes for interpreters.

Start with core principles.

  • Make it enjoyable.
  • Make it relevant and meaningful.
  • Make it organised and thematic.
  • Make it personal. After all, if its not personal, its not interpretation.

Lorde has struck a chord that has resonated around the world, by writing about what she feels and what she has experienced. But she is a real person, and that’s where it starts – she’s keeping it real. And we are prodigiously proud of her.

Check out some other kiwis doing their own version of her Grammy-winning song. (I didn’t say it was good.)

Lorde's home town sign is altered in a play on the lyrics of 'Royal'.

Lorde’s home town sign is altered in a play on the lyrics of ‘Royal’.

The popularity contest everyone’s tweeting about!

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Forest and Bird e-poster. M Herrick.

OK so New Zealand has a lot of birds. And we’re pretty proud of how unique they are – I mean 87% of them are found nowhere else in the world! We’ve named ourselves after one of the weirdest ones – kiwi.  So it’s no wonder that when Forest and Bird Protection Society launches its annual ‘Bird of the Year competition’ we all jump up in a flurry of ruffled feathers to vote.

Forest and Bird e-poster. M Herrick.

Bird of the Year competition/campaign advisor, poster-designer and general go–to person Mandy Herrick  says that the competition is about celebrating our native birds and highlighting the threats they face.

“The voting page outlines the threats to each species of bird, and outlines how special they are by giving the public the latest (often rather grim) population figures,” says Mandy.

“Last year’s competition received 10,292 votes and we received just over $3,000 in donations.”

Look a little deeper, beyond the figures and the ‘pretty birds’ and you find that there are some very clever reasons why this competition is so successful. Here are three…

1)    Forest and Bird invites people to become ‘campaign managers’ for their favourite bird and makes it easy to do so.

Celebrities make great ‘campaign managers’ of course, but anyone with a passion for birds can be one. These ‘campaign managers’ tap into their own networks and connections, star factor, and ‘friends’. They make the most of the power of word of mouth. “Like me, like my bird!”

Last year, NZ comedian Raybon Kan campaigned fiercely for the karearea under the tagline “NZ’s got talons” and won the competition.

“Enlisting people (celebrities or otherwise) who are passionate about our birds is key,” says Mandy. “One campaigner went to extreme lengths to raise the profile of their bird by inking his bird onto his body last year (the tieke). Let’s just say this really raised the bar!”

2)    They make the campaign visually rich by creating e-posters and sharing these via twitter and Facebook.

“We give campaign managers the chance to create their own poster or they can just give us a tagline and we’ll create a poster for them,” says Mandy.

Forest and Bird e-poster; M Herrick.

 

3)    They keep the “buzz” going with regular updates and postings.

“Last year, we did regular graphic updates of which birds were polling well. This always creates a boost in voting and pushes the smack talk to whole new levels,” says Mandy.

“(The competition) created a conversation about our birds and it’s fun. Some people run information-rich campaigns, others concentrate on more superficial characteristics of their bird; i.e. their looks. Any which way, it helps to raise awareness, and hopefully will lead people on a path to becoming more aware of our birds, and perhaps protecting them in the future.”

So, if you like this post, make sure you vote for the bird that INNZ is backing this year –wrybill/ngutu parore. Wading in with personality and pizzazz it’s the only bird in the world with a beak that is bent sideways – and always to the right!

Why vote wrybill? Because we are all a little bent!

Wrybill_poster

P.S. there’s been no mention of rugby, hobbits or Flight of the Conchords in this, or my last post, so I’ll leave you with this tenuous link – Jermaine Clement’s Pretty bird clip.

Getting Lost in the Wilderness

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I’ve always enjoyed telling people where to go.  I spent five years in one of the most rugged national parks in New Zealand’s South Island – Arthur’s Pass – employed to answer questions like “where’s the toilet?, where can I get something to eat? And where shall I go for a tramp? (US readers, that’s a hike to you and not a reference to the wildlife….)

Nicknamed by the locals “Miss Information” I would spend my days poring over topo-maps; running my fingers up and down steep valleys and passes, explaining the best ways through the wilderness.  Of course to be credible, I had to have walked the tracks and routes myself. (Best job ever!) But no matter how much advice I gave, it was still up to those that ventured out into the wilds to make sure they came back. Self-reliance and the ability to think; to find a route where others may have stumbled; these were the essential tools of the back country adventurer.

Of course, these days there’s an app for all that. Outdoor apps that “connect you with nature” are a growing phenomenon. No smartphone is complete without Google Maps. You can download all NZ Topomaps as an extension to the free app Outdoor Atlas.  MotionX GPS tracks your location while skiing, hiking, running, sailing, geocaching and more. The new NZ-made  ‘Get Home Safe’ app takes it even one step further; it tracks your position and calls for help if you’re missing in action.

It seems these days that true wilderness has been reduced to those small pockets that still don’t have cell coverage.

Google Trekker hits the Abel Tasman. Photo: Project Janszoon

Google Trekker hits the Abel Tasman. Photo: Project Janszoon

A few weeks ago the big news was that Google Street View’s Trekker camera was hitting the Abel Tasman Track, with plans to complete all nine Great Walks of New Zealand. The Trekker – a wearable backpack with a camera on top – has been specially designed to photograph places that are only accessible by foot. Great Walks our premium tracks – well managed and booked – but still remote. The back country of New Zealand will soon be viewed from the comfort of your ergonomically-designed desk chair.

Reading through the archives of Media Platypus this might seem like old news to some of you folks as they visited Canada months ago.  And I love Cal’s discussion on the subject of creating connections to places through virtual experiences. I do really; I’m not just sucking up. I also agree with quite a few of the comments below.  And  I wonder, are we not perhaps, getting to the point where we are giving too much away? In our rush to add more and more content online; to adopt these new ways of telling stories, are we stopping to ask why? Why are we not putting more into making sure more people have the real experience? How do we, as interpreters and managers of wilderness make sure people still value the “real thing” – that they are not content with just the virtual version of wilderness?

A new TV series called “Wild about New Zealand” also visited Abel Tasman this week. It has provided added value to the on-screen experience, with a series of complimentary ‘how to’ video clips such as ‘family friendly tips’. I’m sure it will inspire some families to give the great outdoors a go. But we can and should do more. To become truly “Wild about New Zealand”, you need to experience it!

Just in time for me to get to the point, Richard Louv published this education blog and a great quote that sums it up:

“For every dollar that is spent on the virtual, another dollar must be spent on the real.”
Richard Louv.

This is as true for interpretation as it is for education. Perhaps, as my good friend Robinne suggests, the time is right for a “Get Lost!” movement. Who’s with me?

You will never believe how golden the sand is at Abel Tasman until you sink your feet into it.

You will never believe how golden the sand is at Abel Tasman until you see it for yourself…

 

‘Tall Poppies’ in the land of hobbits

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Like all good leaders, I love to delegate. So this second post from Interpretation Network New Zealand is penned by our esteemed Secretary, Oli du Bern, whose day job title is Visitor Experience Manager for Wellington Zoo. Like all good second-in-commands, he starts off his missive by complimenting his leader; adding fertiliser to the roots of this ‘Tall Poppy’. Enjoy. 

When we (INNZ) agreed to make contributions to Media Platypus, we wanted to provide insights with a uniquely kiwi flavour.  In light of this, I will do my best (in this and future posts) to reference flightless birds, The Flight of the Conchords, hobbits, our rivalry with Australia, and the world’s greatest sport – rugby (in which, we are better than Australia). Sarah did a great job with our first contribution, sharing the success of Sirocco the Kakapo (hurray for flightless birds!).

For this post, I want to address a challenge that we face working with social media and interpretation in New Zealand.

Ever heard of ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’? It is a phenomenon widely recognised in the UK and Canada, but also part of our national identity in New Zealand.

Tall poppy syndrome (TPS) is a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, criticised or cut down because their talents or achievements elevate them above their peers.

Credit: Jo Caird/Rugby Images.
All Blacks do the haka, led by their fearless captain Kieran Read; Credit: Jo Caird/Rugby Images.

A perfect example is our national rugby team, my beloved All Blacks – the world’s number one rugby team, and the greatest team in the history of teams. They recently beat France in a three game series 3-0 – a fantastic accomplishment, as France is a formidable rugby nation, ranked 5th in the world.

At the end of the game the third game our fearless captain, Kieran Read, was interviewed. The first comment from the interviewer was not “well done” or “bravo”, but instead, “A tough game tonight Kieran.  A lot of mistakes were made.   Your thoughts?” To which Captain Read replied, “Yeah, it was a frustrating match…”

Where was the celebration? Where was the “Wow, fantastic! Congratulations on an entertaining series, how does it feel to have beaten France?”

I think this syndrome is a barrier to engagement in social media.  The nucleus of social media is people’s willingness to share things about themselves. Share their lives, their work, what they like and what they are proud of. In a social climate that likes to cut participants down for their success, putting yourself or your work out there can be difficult.

In the big wide world of social media, there are plenty of challenges to conquer. In New Zealand, one of our challenges is curing TPS through the celebration and encouragement of success. In September, at the INNZ Spring Workshop, one of the sessions is social media for interpretation. I, for one, can’t wait to learn from some of the successful social media programmes out there. Hopefully we can share some of our social media tall poppy stories with you all.

I will leave you with these wise words from Bret, Jemaine and Murray of Flight of the Conchords (New Zealand’s forth best folk parody duo).

Jemaine: “Bret dissed a lot of people in that rap thing he did.”

Murray: “Who were these people you are dissing? The only one I could make out was Snoopy! What’s your problem with him?”

Bret: “No, Snoop Dogg.”

Murray: “Yeah, I know he’s a dog, I’m not totally in the dark ages. I do go out every once in a while. But, Snoopy’s loveable! Leave him alone.” 

Flight of the Conchords; Credit: Monik Markus.

Musical Comedy Duo ‘Flight of the Conchords’ – Credit: Monik Markus.

 

Sirocco kākāpō – a social media success story

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Sirocco-kakapo twitter-avatar

He has all the trappings of a superstar. Friends in high places, a viral YouTube video, over 20,000 online Twitter followers and Facebook fans, and a tell-all biography. He has his own catch phrase. He’s charismatic, smells good, chases tail and is generally only seen after hours. And he’s just won an international popularity contest.

So how exactly did a flightless, nocturnal parrot beat out tigers, meerkats and African elephants to win the title of world’s favourite endangered species?

world's favourite - arkive.org.

ARKive celebrated their 10th birthday with a world’s favourite endangered species competition, and kakapo won!

Through the power of social media and a powerful online persona that rallied support from his followers to gain 9% of the total 14,000 votes from 162 countries.

Sirocco the kākāpō is a real bird, and not just a cleverly created anthropomorphic character dreamed up by marketing geniuses (although real humanoids do help Sirocco craft his online content).

sirocco-online, copyright Department of Conservation.

Copyright Department of Conservation.

He found fame on the BBC TV series ‘Last Chance to See’ when he was caught on camera trying to mate with zoologist Mark Carwardine – while presenter Stephen Fry watched and helpfully provided commentary.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) seized the opportunity to harness this viral attention, and leapt into the then-new world of government social media. In 2010 his role was officially recognised by New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key, when he was appointed the ‘Official Spokesbird for Conservation’.

Sirocco is not only a valuable ambassador for kākāpō (of which there are only 124 left – and are found only in New Zealand, on offshore islands) but he also helps spread the wider conservation message to his worldwide fan base.

So what is the secret to the success of Sirocco?

At first glance, he’s an avatar. An avatar is often referred to as your online brand; a small, square image that tells others who YOU are. A good avatar is both eye-catching and memorable – you want people to notice it, and you want people to associate it with you. Sirrocco is a beautiful bright green – so yeah he stands out from the twittering crowd.

The most successful avatars are the ones that help people connect with you (and your brand) on a personal level. To do this well, it has to have a face; it’s been well proven that humans are wired to recognize and remember faces. Sirrocco has got this down too. His owl-like face portrays a sense of wisdom beyond his species but this is tempered against a cheeky characterisation that has earned him dedicated fans such comedian Stephen Fry.

Sirocco avatars.

Sirocco on Twitter and Facebook

But go deeper beyond (or behind) the avatar and you find; “Sirocco uses social media in the way it was originally intended,” says Elizabeth Marenzi, one of Sirocco’s online minders.

“Social media is about individuals, not brands and companies. It’s a place for relationships and conversations. For a big and quite complex organisation like DOC, social Sirocco provides a simple way for people to connect and build a relationship with us. He’s real, he has a face, and he’s charismatic, unthreatening and fun. People really do love him. Establishing a community around him is easy because people naturally feel an affinity and loyalty to him,” she says.

Sirrocco’s online content is about his own adventures, and of other quirky or nationally significant conservation issues. He also makes a point of tying his messages into wider trends, like celebrity weddings, big national events and viral videos, thus spreading the conservation message in a fun, hopeful and culturally mainstream way.

Life of Pi.

Sirocco stays abreast of cultural events

Sirocco not only works his own popular Facebook and Twitter accounts but, importantly, also contributes to conversations happening elsewhere in the social web.

“This approach has captured the heads, hearts and hands of large new communities of people who now engage with conservation in a way that they enjoy and understand,” says Elizabeth.

But does social-media savvy Sirocco actually make a difference to conservation? How can a like or a share contribute to the cause?

living legend; copyright Department of Conservation.

World famous in New Zealand, Sirocco tours the country at least once a year

Just ask 13 year old Natalie Shaheen. This US girl, who has never been to New Zealand, sent DOC over $3,000 to go towards saving the kākāpō . She asked for money in lieu of gifts at her Bat Mitzvah. Why? Because she connected with Sirocco online and wanted to help. It’s as simple as that.

Sirocco keeps us up-to-date with how hard saving the world really is. His top post for 2012 was the devastating news that there was one less kākāpō in the world. “Too sad to skraarrk”, says Sirocco.

Psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden once said “the first step toward change is awareness.” He was talking about self-esteem, but as interpreters we are often just looking to achieve that first step in people. From, raising awareness that might lead onto understanding, from understanding to action. Once we have got people to take that first step, we need to guide them to the next. In social media terms it might be donate now, sign this petition, become a virtual kākāpō, share this story. After that it could be lobby the government, volunteer, become part of the story. Who knows, Sirocco might end up skraarking about you!