Connecting Outdoor Enthusiasts in a digital world
Two decades ago, staff of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources connected with our customers through letters, the occasional television or radio story, phone calls, and articles in newspapers that were published from press releases we physically mailed out. Fax machines, landline phones, single reflex cameras and typewriters were the communications tools of the day. Employees did not even have desktop computers; the department only had 10 in a lab in the basement.
In the fall of 1994, two graduate students from the University of Maryland—Michelle Bennet and Gil Funk—came to us wanting to create a webpage of their favorite state park. Recognizing the importance of the internet, we embraced their offer and worked with them to create a 36-page website promoting our state parks.
By March 1995, we launched the first website in Maryland state government history. At that time, we were only one of about 16,000 websites in the world. Our domain name was gacc.com:82, because there were no unified naming conventions for government websites at that time. We later became dnr.state.md.us. During that period, our vision was focused on expanding services to the public, saving resources and eventually generating revenue online.
It didn’t happen overnight. Staff initially saw neither the value nor the potential of using the internet and how it would help us do our jobs more effectively. We used the computer lab to give introductory classes and showed hundreds of employees—two per machine—what was being used by regular customers. We showed them bluemountainarts.com, pets.com, washingtonpost.com and even sites for ordering groceries. We explained that this instant source of information was going to end up creating the same type of customer expectations from us. The training worked. Those employees became evangelists for the department, embracing the use of the internet as a communications and service delivery tool.
Services in 2017
Today, dnr.maryland.gov serves more than 430,000 unique visitors a month. Millions of pages are viewed and tens of thousands of transactions are completed using desktops, laptops, mobile phones and tablets.
Our social media presence grows daily, offering both agency-wide and unit-specific pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others to more than 215,000 users. Serving more than 6,200 customers annually, our online store—shopdnr.com—sells items such as conservation stamps, park passports and magazine subscriptions, as well as facilitates our annual photo contest and the popular Gift of Trees program. Other portals allow customers to make park reservations or obtain fishing and hunting licenses. Email marketing has evolved into a major communications tool, and in some cases has a greater reach than articles in traditional newspapers.
We launched a free mobile app for outdoor enthusiasts in both the Apple Store and Google Play. More than 55,000 people have downloaded and are using this location-based tool to find local recreational opportunities, from hunting and fishing to biking and hiking. There are interactive maps, a sportsman’s trophy and even a fish identifier. It’s no wonder the department won the 2016 MarCom Platinum Award. The iWatch version also won two national awards: the StateScoop 50 for Innovation of the Year 2016 and the 2016 Communicator Award for maps and navigation.
A virtual future
The next frontier we are exploring is services for personal assistant home and office devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home. These voice-activated devices are already providing the ability to obtain information, place food and grocery orders, turn lights on and off, lock doors and more. It is our goal to offer licensing and other services this way within the next few years.
We are always looking for the best digital tools to reach, connect with and serve you: our citizens, customers, residents and visitors.
It’s all about making sure that you are intuitively served with accurate, cost-effective and timely information—perhaps even with an emoji or two. :-)
Article by Gene Deems—eGov and digital services manager.
Appears in Vol. 20, No. 4 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine, fall 2017.