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X's (formerly Twitter's) unlikely star says goodbye and shares tips for spreading joy

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Not sure how much time some of y'all are spending on X, formerly known as Twitter, these days. But for a long time, one ray of light on the platform has been the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation account with smart reminders on how to stay safe outdoors...

SARAH SOUTHERLAND: (Reading) Listen, bear spray does not work like bug spray. We would like to not have to say that again.

RASCOE: ...And some sage life advice.

SOUTHERLAND: (Reading) Some of you desperately need to wash your emotional support water bottle.

RASCOE: Those posts earned the account a cult following, and behind them all was Sarah Southerland. Sutherland is now moving on from her position as social media coordinator for the department. And we thought we'd talk about her tenure and why official communications don't always have to be so serious. Sarah, welcome to the program.

SOUTHERLAND: Awesome. Thank you.

RASCOE: So government social media posts are definitely not, you know, typically associated with fun. But did you think that people would respond the way they did?

SOUTHERLAND: No. Like, we were just trying to do better. We weren't necessarily shooting for viral or recognition. We were just trying to do better than, like, logging into Twitter and being actively bullied.

(LAUGHTER)

SOUTHERLAND: So this is just bonus. The way that the social media team worked at the time was there's one person, so that's me, the social media coordinator. And that is the full-time person committed to social media. Everybody else is just a volunteer from the communication section or even, like, another section of the department who just wanted to help the cause. And that's kind of what that voice is from, is that group of, like, volunteers. And so we did have a - I call it a come to Jesus meeting where we just all sat down and we're like, we've got to do better on Twitter because we were enjoying the other platforms, but Twitter was becoming a real - I think there was a point where I just was even considering, like, could we not even use Twitter anymore? And this was in 2020, 2021, pre-X, pre all that tension going on, I guess. And we decided that we would just try something different before we quit.

RASCOE: Well, you and your team, like, you really cultivated this really joyful corner of the internet, you know, when everything can feel so down and so gloomy. Was it important to you to kind of bring a lighter side?

SOUTHERLAND: Yeah, because, like, that is - logging into Twitter was a day - like, a part of my day. And it's a part of everybody's day who uses it. And, that feeling of being, like, why do I keep subjecting myself to this massive bummer, kept coming up. And so, we were very intentional about not being a part of that for other people.

RASCOE: You know, after your time there, do you feel like, you know, using humor is a good way to communicate, you know, sometimes serious information to the public?

SOUTHERLAND: Yes. I think using humor is a great way to get your point in people's long-term memory. So bear spray does not work like bug spray - that's going to be hard to forget once you laugh about it. And things like that. So I think it's definitely a way to connect with people long term.

RASCOE: Sarah Southerland is the former social media coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Thank you so much for being with us.

SOUTHERLAND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First. As host of the morning news magazine, she interviews news makers, entertainers, politicians and more about the stories that everyone is talking about or that everyone should be talking about.