Sunday, June 12, 2016

Expert Panel: Hunters Must Adapt To Social Media

Hunters need to be ready to do a better job telling their story to the people on the margins.
That was the message delivered by a panel of experts in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
The group was convened by the National Shooting Sports Foundation as part of its annual “industry summit.” It's a gathering of representatives from wildlife agencies, firearms manufacturers, gun retailers, sportsmen's organizations and others.
The panel pointed to Cecil the lion as evidence of how, too often, sportsmen and women are late to the social media game.
Cecil was an African lion shot by a Minnesota dentist. His killing, which was later determined to have involved nothing illegal, turned into a referendum on big game hunting on social media, said Nick Pinizotto, CEO of the National Deer Alliance.
That wasn't by accident, said Ryan Bronson, director of conservation and public policy for Vista Outdoor.
He believes anti-hunting organizations were “keyed up” and ready to go on the offensive.
“They just needed a villain to play a role. I think that was part of their strategy. They were ready,” Bronson said.
“What it demonstrated to me is we were not ready with equal force.”
That proved critical, said Jeff Siegel, CEO of Media Lodge, a firearms ad network. If the hunting and shooting industry isn't able to respond quickly, it's often lost the game, he said.
“Social media has such an immediacy with no fact-checking behind it,” Siegel said. “People don't hear the facts after they've moved on.”
Just as important as being ready to respond is having a message that will resonate with people “on the margins,” who are neither hunters nor anti-hunters, Pinizotto said.
Oftentimes, when hunters try to explain to others why they do what they do, they talk about the North American model of wildlife conservation and trying to control wildlife populations and the like. The reaction of their audience is always the same.
“Their eyes glaze over,” Pinizotto said.
It's important to present facts, Bronson agreed. But hunters also need to show people — like their non-hunting friends and neighbors — the emotional side of it.
“We hunt because we enjoy it, because we love it,” he said. “And there's nothing wrong with that.”
Some don't understand the attraction of the sport, especially when they see photos on social media platforms of smiling hunters with bloody hands, Pinizotto said. Hunters need not shrink from that, he said.
But, he added, they must also convey there's more to the sport than bringing home an animal. Hunters get that; others don't always, he said.
“The killing, the pulling of the trigger, the releasing of the arrow, that's the smallest part for most of us,” he said.
Social media is not hunting's enemy, Siegel said. It certainly presents challenges, he noted.
But he added it's also an “on-ramp” for introducing people to what hunting and shooting are all about. The key from an industry standpoint, as with all public relations, is speaking with a singular voice and presenting a consistent message as frequently as possible, he said.
That's not always easy, Pinizotto said. The industry is big and, sometimes, made up of people who want to be out hunting and shooting more often than talking about it.
“We're trying to parallel park a tank here,” he said.
He suggested perhaps the industry needs to identify a handful of representatives to serve as go-to spokesman for the industry as a whole.
Whatever the approach, the shooting and hunting industry needs to keep its collective shoulder to the wheel, said Dan Forster, director of the wildlife resources division for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Changing minds takes time, he said.
“This is really a marathon that we're in,” he said.

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