Extension Master Gardener volunteers are a crucial part of the N.C. Cooperative Extension mission, partnering “with communities to deliver education and technology that enrich the lives, land, and economy of North Carolinians.” Under the auspices of the N.C. Cooperative Extension, the mission of the Extension Master Gardener (EMG) program is to learn about issues related to urban horticulture that are research-based, practical, and environmentally sound and to educate the community on these issues.
One effective way to educate the community is through social media outlets. As Master Gardener volunteers (MGVs) increasingly utilize social media to extend outreach, the need to establish continuity of the NC State Extension Master Gardener program’s brand in these outlets becomes more apparent.
The foundation of a good social media strategy involves setting goals and objectives. Like any media strategy, this includes considering the target audience and how to reach them, identifying the desired objectives, and creating a plan to achieve those goals.1 The Extension Master Gardener Social Media Training site provides two resources on planning: a Social Media Strategy Worksheet from the University of Florida (UF/IFAS) and National Extension Master Gardener Guidelines for Posting to Social Media Channels.
The NC State Extension Master Gardener program brand, when used by all county MGVs in their interactions with the public in print and on social media, becomes more immediately recognizable across the state. Product logos that we use and see in media often bring to mind the benefits or qualifications of that product. This same principle applies to the NC State Extension Master Gardener program logo. For this reason, we have developed this EMG social media policy. While the design focus will be on the logistics of setting up an EMG Facebook presence, we will also cover best management practices that will translate to other social media platforms.
With one logo, all MGVs are united and recognizable as knowledgeable consultants who share valuable, unbiased, research-based information with the communities they serve.
1 NC State Extension “Social Media Strategy and Best Practices,” Version 1.1, July 15, 2010, p. 2.
Social Media Outlets
There are many social media outlets that provide opportunities for MGVs to extend educational outreach to their communities. One of the main outlets, Facebook, is covered in detail below. Other types of social media include Twitter (micro-blogging 140-character messages and images), Tumblr (blogging), Pinterest (pinning collections of images, ideas, and videos), YouTube (videos), WordPress (website tool) and many others. Regardless of which social media outlet(s) are implemented, it is essential to have a plan in place.
Planning and Training
When you make the decision to include social media in EMG outreach efforts, you should first meet with your Extension agent to share your long-term plan for the selected media before moving forward. Use of social media outlets for outreach is a commitment that will involve many volunteers in a variety of roles.
Software@NC State Information Technology listed some ideas for getting started in social media:
- “Create a plan.
- Identify your target audience.
- Identify what you intend to share.
- Identify what result you are looking for.
- Set goals. Your goals should be: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely (SMART).
- Make time. You should have the dedicated time and resources to maintain new content on a regular basis as new content is critical to thrive in social media communities.
- Conduct research. Before starting a social media campaign, research other organizations on social media networks for ideas on what works and what doesn't.
- Get involved. Listen to conversations, engage with comments, answer questions, and keep your account fresh with regular posts.
- Measure success. Determine what success means for your purpose and goals2.”
The National Extension Master Gardener (EMG) Social Media Task Force has designed a National EMG Social Media Training site. With your Extension agent’s approval, this training is eligible for an EMG certification. The site notes that the objectives of the MGV track are to “learn basic knowledge related to the use of social media on behalf of your EMG program to:
- provide consistent messaging,
- support the EMG brand, and
- increase engagement and reach for the program.”
To complete the Extension Master Gardener Social Media Training, visit the EMG Social Media Training site.
2 Social Media Best Practices, Software@NC State Information Technology
Creating or Updating the Main Page
There are certain elements of a Facebook page that must meet logo and naming protocol requirements when establishing or updating your county’s EMG Facebook page. Meeting these requirements ensures that branding is consistent for EMG Facebook accounts across the state.
As with any MGV social media endeavor, first meet with your Extension agent/coordinator to discuss the goals and objectives for the page before you start your EMG Facebook page. While an MGV may serve as the administrator of the EMG Facebook account, the Extension agent must be added to the account and granted administrative privileges. MGVs who establish Facebook accounts may eventually become inactive, leaving a page without an administrator.
To create the page, choose “Company, Organization or Institution.” From the drop-down menu choose “Education” and enter the company name following the naming protocol below.
The name found on the large cover photo must include the registered service-marked title and be entered as “NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteers,” followed by the county name, as seen in the sample from the NC EMG Facebook page from Pender County (Figure 1).
Change the Name of an Existing Facebook Page
If you already have an existing page and need to change your EMG page name to meet these standards, and if you have less than 200 likes, you can change your page’s name by clicking the word “About” on the page’s Cover Photo, then “Page Info” in the left column. Hover your pointer over the “Name” section and click “Edit.” You can then enter the name with the naming protocols discussed in the previous section.
If you have greater than 200 likes, you will need to submit a name change request. You will know that you are not able to change the page name by editing because that link will be unavailable when you hover over the “Name” section. Instead, you will see the words “Name Change Request”. Click on that link and request a change following the previously listed naming protocols.
Change the Category of the Facebook Page
Under the page name on the large cover photo is the category. “Education” is the only category to be used for EMG Facebook accounts. If an account has been established using “Agriculture,” “Non-profit,” “Community Organization,” or any other category, those categories will need to be changed to “Education.” To change the category, hover over your current category, click “Edit,” select “Companies and Organizations” from the drop-down menu, and then “Education” from the next drop-down menu.
Use of the Extension Master Gardener Logo
The approved logo for the EMG program should be used as the profile photo. The use of the logo on Facebook accounts should follow all requirements found in the publication Using the NC State Extension Master Gardener Program Service Marks and Logo. Visit the NC State Extension Master Gardener Logos and Marketing webpage to download the official NC State EMG logo and for usage, color, background, size, and other considerations for using the EMG logo in online materials. Select the square version for use on Facebook.
Select the large cover photo from photos taken by MGVs or the Extension agent in your county. Cover photos are the first thing observed and should be changed often to stimulate participant comments or contributions.
Creating and Updating the About Page
The “About” page shares essential information about not only your county’s Extension Master Gardener Volunteers, but also NC Cooperative Extension in your county. It is essential that the same information be included in each EMG Facebook “About” page. When every county includes the same information, it provides continuity of EMG Facebook experiences for participants throughout North Carolina.
Sections of the “About” page should include a short description, long description and address, phone, email, and website information (Figure 2).
The “Short Description” should include a brief statement about the EMG program in your county. When referring to the EMG program in your county, please remember to use the correct registered, service marked name and logo: “NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteers” or “Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Association” in (your county).
The “Long Description” must include at least the following information but may also be supplemented with specific information about the EMG program in your county:
N.C. Cooperative Extension partners with communities to deliver education and technology that enrich the lives, land, and economy of North Carolinians. NC State Extension (formerly the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service), established in 1914, was authorized by the Smith-Lever Act and designed as a partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), North Carolina State University, the land grant university (authorized by the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890), and local government. This federal/state/local partnership provides a network of professionals in every county in North Carolina.
Since 1979, NC State Extension Master Gardener volunteers have been guiding homeowners in making environmentally sound decisions in their gardens, lawns, and landscapes. NC State Extension Master Gardener volunteers are a crucial part of the N.C. Cooperative Extension mission, partnering “with communities to deliver education and technology that enrich the lives, land, and economy of North Carolinians.” Under the auspices of the N.C. Cooperative Extension, the mission of the Extension Master Gardener program is to learn about issues related to urban horticulture that are unbiased, research-based, practical, and environmentally sound and to educate the community on these issues.
© North Carolina State University. North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.
The “Contact” information of the “About” page includes the address, phone, email, and website.
To reinforce the relationship of the MGVs as part of NC State Extension, the contact information for the county Extension office must be included. In addition to including the address, phone, email, and website information for the county Extension office, the specific contact information for the EMG program may be included as well. Other websites that may be included are the NC State Extension website, the gardening portal, and the NC State Extension Master Gardener Portal.
Anatomy of an Effective Facebook Post
Effective Facebook posts share a common anatomy. They are composed of an image, text, and appropriate timing (Figure 3). A photograph or an illustration that is shared at an appropriate time or season, or in response to an immediate need, can inspire the intended audience to start conversations, make comments, or ask questions.
Good posts share research-based information from North Carolina’s land grant universities (NC State and NC A&T), but are short and conversational. Participants visiting social media sites often do not stay long enough to read long wordy posts, so succinct posts are more effective. Finally, humor is another way to inspire the audience. Share humor in images or text judiciously and never include others as the focus of your humor.
Examples of effective posts would include sharing information on upcoming Extension and EMG programs and events, updating the community with new research, providing timely information on insects or diseases, or identifying timelines for landscape maintenance. EMG social media should not promote products or businesses, share family photos, or respond unprofessionally to negative posts. Administrators posting on an EMG Facebook page (or any social media outlet) represent N.C. Cooperative Extension. The National Extension Master Gardener Social Media Training site offers an example of coordinating posts by using an Editorial Calendar from UF/IFAS that may ensure that all posts are effective
As MGVs review their opportunities for involvement in social media as a means for outreach, it is essential to identify the reasons for social media involvement and which outlets will be most effective to reach the intended audience. Master Gardener volunteers should define goals and objectives for the selected social media outlet. Understand the chosen social media and the amount of commitment required to effectively implement that media. Meet with the Extension agent/coordinator in your county before beginning any social media campaign. It is crucial that any EMG program involvement with social media is met with planning and professionalism.
Social Media Best Practices, NC State University
Social Media Best Practices and Guidelines, NC State University
Social Media Policies & Best Practices, University of Arkansas Extension
Extension Master Gardener Social Media Training Site, EMG Social Media Task Force
Social Media Strategy Worksheet, Extension Master Gardener Social Media Training Site, EMG Social Media Task Force, developed by Emily E. Eubanks, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology for the March 2014 eXtension Master Gardener Coordinator Webinar: Social Media Strategy
National Extension Master Gardener Guidelines for Posting to Social Media Channels
Publication date: May 29, 2019
Other Publications in NC State Extension Master Gardener Program Guidelines
- I. N.C. Cooperative Extension
- II. NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program
- III. NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Training
- IV. NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program Policies
- V. NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program Procedures
- VI. NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Fundraising
- VII. Sources of Additional Information
- Appendix A. Master Gardener Volunteer Position Classifications and Descriptions
- Appendix B. Examples of Master Gardener Volunteer Roles
- Appendix C: NC State Extension Master Gardener Program Student / Intern Code of Conduct Form
- Appendix D: NC State Extension Master Gardener Program Volunteer Recertification Code of Conduct Form
- Appendix E. State and Local Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Associations
- Appendix F. Social Media Policy
N.C. Cooperative Extension prohibits discrimination and harassment regardless of age, color, disability, family and marital status, gender identity, national origin, political beliefs, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation and veteran status.