From 'Cocaine Bear' to Dungeons & Dragons, Michigan DNR turns to humor
- The Michigan DNR’s tweets often feature snarky humor, puns and a liberal use of emojis
- The goal: increasing conservation awareness by growing social media audience
- No shock here — the account’s two most-viral tweets both involve bears
Whether it be a breakdown of the movie trailer for “Cocaine Bear” or a Dungeons & Dragons-style animal alignment chart, the Twitter account of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has earned a reputation as the class clown of traditionally stodgy state government social media.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise, since @MichiganDNR is managed by a self-acknowledged class clown, who loves Michigan outdoors almost as much as he enjoys making people laugh.
Tyler Czarnopis is the lifelong Michigander who oversees social media strategy at the DNR. His humor has increased the reach of the department’s social media, which helps with the ultimate goal of spreading the gospel of conservation.
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And if he can generate a few laughs, all the better.
The Greenville native is no stranger to the Great Lakes State’s natural beauty, having grown up visiting a cabin in Naubinway in the Upper Peninsula and going fishing with his grandparents.
He graduated with a degree in media production from Northern Michigan University, and became the DNR’s social media coordinator nine years ago.
“It's a good mix between both things I like,” Czarnopis told Bridge Michigan. “Producing media, producing content for different things, and the love of the outdoors.”
Czarnopis has worked to develop the DNR’s social media presence beyond the serious, straightforward approach used by other government agencies. Department leadership has always been welcoming of his visions for the DNR’s social media presence, he said.
As the department’s social media specialist, Czarnopis is the one to hit send on all social posts, many of which he crafts himself.
We are DNR— Michigan Department of Natural Resources (@MichiganDNR) April 20, 2023
But no longer have check mark
Nature is awesome
(wrote this haiku just for all of our followers today) pic.twitter.com/u8aBYPqHrt
Inspired by meme-y accounts such as the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, which has become known for using popular meme formats and audience interactions on its official Twitter page, Czarnopis started leaning further into trends and humor late last year to make the DNR’s content both educational and entertaining.
“I’ve been a class clown my whole life; doing things for laughs was something I always enjoyed,” he said. “We're here to assist the public, but that doesn't mean we can't have a little bit of fun and make some laughs when we can.”
It’s sometimes a careful balancing act, he explained, as more serious topics such as ongoing wildfires tend to not play as well with the lighthearted tone.
A tweet the department posted late last week about fire danger was tinged with humor, but Czarnopis dialed it back when a dangerous wildfire engulfed 3,000 acres near Grayling over the weekend.
Reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally need rain.— Michigan Department of Natural Resources (@MichiganDNR) June 2, 2023
(still not as many E’s as today’s fire danger map 😩)⁰⁰Conditions are EXTREME so keep that in mind and always have water on hand if you’re having a campfire.💧🪣
Thank you. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/BMtunCDxZJ
“We had a fire break out and I had to shift my tone because I don't want to be disrespectful,” Czarnopis said. “We have a lot of fire crews out there working hard and I want to make sure we're getting information out as quickly and as accurately as possible.”
The DNR also dedicates attention to its Facebook and Instagram accounts, employing varying approaches to engage different demographics.
In addition to weekly meetings discussing upcoming content with a number of divisions, Czarnopis encourages all staffers to come to him with creative opportunities as soon as they come up.
“We have a lot of really creative staff; maybe social media isn't necessarily their job and it's not in their position description, but they're all consumers of it, right? So they have a knowledge of what’s going on, and that just helps me be better at telling our story because they see opportunities that we can jump on.”
When your wildlife folks ask if they can review the Cocaine Bear trailer and you didn't think they were serious...😅😐🤣— Michigan Department of Natural Resources (@MichiganDNR) February 23, 2023
Enjoy (and maybe learn something about bears? 🤔) pic.twitter.com/ITzEIb8xRl
Rachel Leightner is a wildlife outreach coordinator for the DNR, and star of the aforementioned "Cocaine Bear" trailer review. Leightner said she first messaged Czarnopis with the idea of a chance to share their knowledge about black bears via the movie.
“We saw it as an opportunity to talk about black bears,” Leightner told Bridge. “Any opportunity we can find — that is culturally relevant and something we think might pick up as a trend or be interesting to people on social media platforms — we use it as an excuse to talk about wildlife.”
Intermixed with Leightner’s commentary on the movie’s real-world accuracy (a bear likely wouldn’t be “eating a brick of cocaine like a Flintstones vitamin”) are facts about bear biology and behavior, as well as pointers for interacting with bears in the Michigan wilderness.
“The response was overwhelmingly positive, and I felt like it broke down the next barrier for us to continue to use humor and to not be afraid of putting us out there in a different way than we have before,” Leightner said of the video’s reception.
Czarnopis said he thought the trailer review idea was ‘out there’ at the time, but his willingness to continue branching out has paid dividends, numbers-wise.
“Just shifting how we approach Twitter has already increased our engagement. We used to get maybe five or six likes on a tweet, but now most of our tweets get anywhere between 50 and maybe a couple hundred. We're obviously seeing increased engagement there. There's more people willing to talk to us directly on the platform.”
The account’s most popular thread dives into the department’s bear cuddling initiative, with over a quarter million views and thousands of engagements to date.
Did you wonder why we hold bears when we tell you not to? It’s not because we’re meanies.— Michigan Department of Natural Resources (@MichiganDNR) March 13, 2023
There’s a reason and we would love beary much to tell you about it.
Let’s talk about!
(enjoy this 🧵 about 🐻) pic.twitter.com/Kd3JnKPQ3k
Beyond likes and replies, Czarnopis says he’s found people are now more willing to interact and share their insights with the DNR, which then helps him create content that will resonate with the department’s followers. The cub cuddling thread came from a direct message that asked why experts hold bears while telling others not to, Leightner explained.
“They're passionate people that really care a lot about these things that we also care about. And when our ideas don't line up, they're willing to tell us and I always appreciate that,” Czarnopis said.
“There are a few folks that message us directly a lot. I've seen those names come up in comments and in messages regularly. There's one guy who answers the same answer almost every week on my #IdentiFriday posts on Facebook.”
As for the future of @MichiganDNR? Short-form video content and a continued emphasis on interactive conversations over snooze-inducing straight-laced statements.
“It's social media for a reason, we're meant to be social and to have a conversation,” Czarnopis says. “Whenever I see somebody message us about their kid’s first deer, or maybe the first time they went fishing, and they just share a genuine heartfelt moment with us, even if it's in private messages, those always make the day just a little bit brighter.”
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