University of Wyoming Extension News

Smartphone app helps Wyoming 4-H bridge communications gap

A screen image of the 4-H smartphone app

Add an “A” to those four H’s.

A smartphone app developed by the Wyoming 4-H Program appeals to younger members as a way to keep them in the communications loop and is a key component of the program’s communication strategy.

“I started using it about the end of March after we got back from the national conference in Washington D.C.,” said Olivia Roybal, a 4-H’er in Carbon County. “My favorites about the app are that it gives us the information you may need or to remember a date that you didn’t write down — you can just look it up on the app. Things for the county are nice, too, because it really is specific to our county.”

Wyoming 4-H has more than 8,000 members, and 4-H educators have contact with more than 25,000 youth through the schools or other venues, according to the state program office.

The app is designed for iPhones and phones with Droid-based software and is free for anyone to download; it was the first 4-H-specific smartphone app in the United States available for free, according to Johnathan Despain, state 4-H program coordinator.

“Any organization that serves people must be able to provide resources to their volunteers and clientele in a convenient way,” said Despain. “Constant communications about opportunities for young people in 4-H to them, their parents, our volunteers and the general public is imperative to thriving. The use of contemporary means like Facebook, smartphone apps and texting to communicate about 4-H events, activities, and opportunities has become an expectation of people rather than a bonus. We’ve simply been trying to meet those communications needs.”

Weston County 4-H educator Stacy Madden has created one of the most progressive communication strategies in Wyoming, according to Despain. Madden integrated a county 4-H website, email list, Facebook page, the 4-H News and Events smartphone app and The Chatter, a print newsletter, which she also posts on the website.

Madden said many 4-H’ers and volunteers are comfortable with the newsletter and rarely or never use digital technology or social media for communication while others solely rely on their smartphones or Facebook.

“My first goal was to try and bridge the communication gap,” said Madden, who joined extension in January. “I knew I would have to provide a range of methods to keep everyone in the loop. I have to communicate with folks ages 8 to 80 and, as a result, differing levels of comfort with technology.”

Madden regularly posts Facebook updates and maintains separate Web pages she created for each club that include a comments section for members to interact and post their own information.

Madden has received positive feedback on the all-inclusive communications strategy.

“I feel a general excitement about 4-H as a whole and the integration of these communication tools,” she said. “Over time, I think it will be important for the program in Weston County and for its youth to utilize the technology available, adapt with its evolution and find creative ways to integrate technology so the program stays relevant and its youth are prepared with the life skills they need to succeed.”

4-H members are spread across Wyoming, the second least-densely populated state next to Alaska, according to the United States Census Bureau. About 30 percent of residents live on farms and ranches while 40 percent live in small towns (under 10,000) or rural, non-farm areas. The other 30 percent live in Wyoming’s larger towns like Cheyenne, Casper and Jackson.

“The way we communicate has changed significantly in just the last three years,” said Stan Skrabut, extension instructional technology educational specialist. “Technologies like Facebook and smartphone apps augment the traditional media sources. We are increasingly becoming a mobile information society, and if we don’t use these tools, we will fall behind.”

Digital technologies and social media have significantly streamlined the communications process for Wyoming 4-H staff members, said the state 4-H events coordinator.

“These tools are beneficial because they provide different avenues to reach a large audience,” said Lindsey Moniz. “Information is timely, and it’s available at the reader’s convenience. I also think it’s essential to use as many tools as possible to keep up with ever-changing demographics and deliver our message the best way possible.”

For more information, contact Despain at JDespain@uwyo.edu or at 307-766-5170. Wyoming 4-H’ers can download the 4-H News and Events smartphone application at http://www.uwyo.edu/4-h/_files/4happ3.13.12.pdf.