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How to Become a Reptile Community Educator

If you have an interest in reptiles and sharing that interest with others you can do so by joining the growing number of reptile educators and influencers. But you have to decide just what kind of influencer you want to be. In this episode I talk about what is involved in becoming a reptile community educator.

Podcast

Transcript (more or less)

Introduction

Good morning Chameleon Wranglers and other interested parties. I know there are listeners from other communities that enjoy listening to this chameleon podcast because you don’t have to go too deep down to see the strong parallels between what I talk about here and any other reptile community. So, even though the title says chameleon, you are absolutely welcome as well!. Today’s episode is actually one of those episodes that apply across the community. I am going to talk about being a reptile educator or social media influencer within the reptile community. Doing this is a little different for us because our subject matter includes living beings whose quality of life, and, literally, their lives, depend on how and what we present. So when we step up and start helping the community we have a serious responsibility that follows us.

 

Now, I have wanted to do an episode like this for a while now. And, as is often the case, I have a list of topics I am constantly thinking about and it isn’t until something happens that breathes life into the topic that it finally gets made into an episode. That happened for this episode when I received a message from Antwan in Baltimore who said he wanted to be like me. At first I assumed he meant suave, dashingly handsome, and impossibly witty, but then he went on to talk about reptiles so I guess I’ll be appreciating my impossible wit myself. Yes, he is interested in becoming an educator in the reptile community. And this is on the heels of a zoom interview with Lucy for her class project on chameleons and an email exchange with Bennett for his elementary school assignment. The future generations are becoming more and more involved earlier in their lives. The internet has created enormous opportunities.  And so, this created a purpose for this episode. A message to the up and coming influencers who love reptiles on how to go about doing this while maintaining a respect for your reptiles.

 

We need to talk about what being an influencer or educator means. This job title can take on a myriad of forms including volunteering at a zoo, helping at a reptile store, posting videos to TikTok or YouTube, hosting a podcast, or creating educational content of any type. In this episode I am going to focus on being an influencer on social media. So, specifically, having an account and outreach on TikTok, YouTube, Instagram or any other performance based social media platform. And by “performance based” I mean you are creating content as a known personality. You have fans, followers, or subscribers that come to see what you have to say.

 

Because of the size of social media it is entirely possible to have your reptile education outreach be a relaxing pastime, a side gig bringing in reptile show spending money, or else, if you have a large enough following, a full time occupation. The opportunities are amazing.

 

In my parent’s life and world there was little chance to make any sort of living with niche topics. You need numbers of people and so opportunity was limited by your ability to mass communicate. Back then you needed to be on the radio or TV or a magazine to do this. And that was costly. My interest in chameleons would have been exceedingly difficult to generate a large enough following to be more than a hobby. Yes, it could be done, but the hill to climb was very steep.

 

I am 50 so I am the bridge generation from TV and Radio to internet. People of my generation may or may not understand the opportunities of today. The fact is that the internet has changed all the rules. In my generation you needed a college degree to be able to get a good paying job. Today, kids are having to decide if they are going to take time off from their 6 figure businesses to go to college. And now things advance so fast that textbooks are obsolete by time they are printed and your most reliable up to date training comes from podcasts, blogs, and digital courses. The world has done a 180 under our noses and all it takes is to take a break from the rat race and you will find you are behind. The fact is, that all of this means that the  opportunities are immense if you understand and embrace social media. So, the fact is that this is something you can be serious about. Like anything, there is competition and you have to be good. But the opportunity for you to take your shot is there and the door is wide open.

Who are You: A circus or zoo?

With the basics out of the way I am going to do a hard dive into a heavy subject. The first thing you need to have clear in your mind is what is your purpose here. There are two sides that you can fall on and it is critically important that you constantly remind yourself who you are. The two sides you can choose from are entertainer or educator. Are you running a circus or a zoological garden? Is your purpose to get the most likes on a post or provide the best husbandry? I am sure you can start to get an idea of where I am going with this. A circus uses animals to entertain humans, often at the expense of the animals. A zoological garden uses the latest in understanding to house the animal appropriately and any human viewing of the animal is facilitated, but is not guaranteed. If the snake doesn’t want to come out then tough luck, you aren’t seeing the snake! So one places the needs of the humans as top priority and the other puts the needs of the reptile as top priority. This is not a philosophical discussion for a coffee shop talk. This is a decision you will be making every day. And it will be a tough decision.

Do you see the chameleon videos that get the most likes and attention? It is the ones where the chameleon is trying to grab water coming from the faucet. They are the ones where the chameleon or other reptile is in a doll-like situation and the keeper is playing with them. The most popular videos will have reptiles interacting with dogs and cats and other potentially dangerous situations. These are entertaining to us and people who do not understand reptiles think they are cute. But we know, this is not proper husbandry. We know the reptiles are stressed. And even if you have an exceptional reptile that is okay with whatever scene you have them in, you know most of your audience won’t be able to tell the difference. The reason why this it is so important that you make this conscious decision up front is because you will be constantly fighting against your viewers treating reptiles like little people in the way they play with them and interact with them. If you do this even a little it sends the message that this is okay. So you have to be hyper aware of the message you are sending. Case in point, I say repeatedly that chameleons do not like to be held. Do not hold your chameleon. And you can guess the DMs I get every time there is a picture of a chameleon on my hand. It doesn’t matter that I give detailed explanations of what kind of handling is acceptable and required…Just know that if you stand for proper husbandry everything you will do will be used as an example of what is acceptable. And, every day, you will be faced with the decision to try and get all the likes you can or try to present the best husbandry possible. But please trust me when I say we don’t need more lizards in ballerina tutus. We need serious herpetoculturists confidently showing what respect for these amazing creatures looks like.

I am hoping that you will decide to be the educator. The zoological garden. The reptile advocate. I suspect this is you because someone who thinks of reptiles as props in their video would not be spending time listening to a podcast on chameleon husbandry. So chances are good I know my listening audience at this point simply because I know what kind of passion a person must have to listen to a chameleon podcast! But still, know that you will be making this decision every day. When you see other accounts get videos that go viral when they show a funny situation that shows a stressed lizard you start to question whether it is worth it and would it be so bad to ease up on the standards.  So decide who you are and what you stand for from the start. This can absolutely change as you mature and you understand more. Expect that. Growth is good. But, what I am getting at is for you to make this decision based on who you want to be rather than what kind of content gets the most likes. To do it right you will be going against the grain so it won’t always be an easy decision. But you will be able to keep your way clear if you know your vision for where you want to take your outreach.

 

How do you start learning?

 

Okay, we have a general idea of what we want to accomplish. What now?

As you might think, the first step in becoming an educator is to get experience. And here is where self-discipline and patience is necessary. It is exceedingly easy to comb the internet for husbandry fact points, memorize it all, and then spew it all out to the amazement of everyone in internet land. But, I implore you to take a step back.

 

First of all, resist the idea that you have to be an expert. I know that is the first thing in our minds when we want to start teaching. We should be expert in what we are teaching, right? Well, here is the problem. There is no short cut to knowing what you are talking about. Depending on what it is, you are talking about years and years. But you don’t want to wait years do you? Very few people do. And with there being so much information out there…why not just study it, memorize it, and now you are an expert! And this is what most people do when they want to start an outreach. They borrow other people’s expertise.

 

Here is the problem. Even if you are smart enough to select the right people to study, if you do not have the experience to understand why those numbers are they are then you will be in an awkward position if someone asks you to justify those numbers or has a situation where they don’t work. If you have implied that you are the source of information you can’t just shrug your shoulders and blame where you got the information.

 

Here is the solution. You don’t pretend to be what you are not. If you come as you are you will be able to be sincere and that will come across in your outreach. It is a weighty burden to bear always wondering if people are going to find out that you are just repeating information you read out off a website. And here is the secret – you don’t have to be an expert to start an educational outreach. The value you bring your audience is that they are on this journey with you. They are listening to and watching you because they like your energy and your presentation style. You can start a channel based 100% on you learning how to best take care of a certain species of reptile. Interview experts and let them share with your audience. And it won’t be long until you feel like you are getting in the groove with the best instruction that exists. The important thing is that you never have to be anything except 100% sincere.

 

Here is my advice to you. Have a diversity of experience, but be insanely focused on one aspect.. If you like chameleons then you can have a number of species. Maybe it is a certain species of chameleon. Maybe it is on raising babies. Maybe it is on feeders and nutrition. Pick one small aspect of the bigger niche and make that your thing. Read about it, experiment with it, speak to experts about it. Make that one hyper focused subject your prime directive. What this does is it gives you something that you can be known for and that you can be confident that you truly grasp. The more focus the niche the more you will be able to be noticed.

Back when I started, a hyper focus was chameleons. Now a days there has been so much going on that a hyper focus would be a certain species of chameleon, or understanding the implementation of UVB, or understanding the gutloading of feeders. You don’t have to know what that is right now. Let it come to you. But be open for that hyper niche that you can use to create a differentiation. Something that sets you aside from the crowd.

Here is the secret. With social media you do not have to be the expert.

 

Husbandry quality > quantity.

Now, I’ll give you some insight that may help with your direction. There is a great swelling of interest in the reptile community for quality of husbandry. Thankfully, we are swinging away from bragging rights going to the person that has the most reptiles or the most different species. The community is evolving to appreciate the husbandry that produces the longest living reptiles, creates the most natural environment, and encompasses the details of nutrition and mental enrichment.  This is the world you are entering and can be a major part of its growth. My generation was the collect them all generation. Don’t recreate that. I know it is tempting to collect. It is so easy to fill every corner of your room with the Instagram reptile model of the month. And then to squeeze all the social media spectacle you can from it.  Yes, a number of successful YouTube channels do exactly this.  It takes discipline to keep your collection to the size where you can give exceptional care. But I am suggesting that you make your outreach a focus on how to give your reptiles the best care possible rather than showing off the species of the week or using them as comical relief. Remember that hyper niche aspect that I suggested you find and become insanely good at it? Maybe that is in how to put together a cage that integrates the latest husbandry information. Do you see how you could become more than just a presenter and become part of the husbandry push forward? Think about that.

 

 

 

How do you start your outreach

So, we have talked strategy and approach. How do you actually get something started? Well, you are going to have to find your voice. What kind of outreach are you good at and how will your personality come through. Are you good at audio? Maybe a podcast like I do is right for you? Are you good at writing? Blogs have not disappeared. They may not get the lime light, but they are still trucking along and can be a significant outreach. Video is the biggest thing right now. Most beginners have ideas of TikTok or YouTube in their head. You will want to find your own voice. I am sure you have your favorite YouTubers or TikTokers. Watch them. Learn from them. But do your own thing. As long as your true personality is coming through you really aren’t competing with other people talking about the same subject as you. Your followers and subscribers do not have a limit to how many people they follow so don’t get caught up in who else is in your niche. Until everyone in your niche can create more video hours than viewers have viewing time, you will all be viewed. In fact, the more channels there are the bigger the community grows. So don’t worry about competition just yet. In fact, the best thing you can do is collaborate. The way social media is set up, nobody is having to pick one of you. They can pick all of you and if you all are working together then you create a sense of community which will grow all of your subscriber counts.

 

Speaking from Your Experience vs. Others’ Experience

Now let’s talk about the different sources of content because you will need to be in constant content creation mode. The information you have to share comes from a combination of two places. It is from your experience or other peoples’ experience. For example, say you have a Jackson’s Chameleon and that is your only chameleon. You got a male as a wild caught adult and have kept him alive and healthy for 6 years. That is pretty impressive! You tried different nutritional approaches and figured out the right food for the different feeders. In fact, you prepare four different chow mixes based on the feeder you are feeding. I would say you have deep experience in working with feeders and figuring out how they go towards making a Jackson’s chameleon live long. You will be able to work from your own experience when discussing nutrition of Jackson’s Chameleon. But when it comes to how to take care of a panther chameleon you are working off of someone else’s experience. When you advise on how to take care of Jackson’s Chameleon babies you are working off of someone else’s experience.

And here is where I would like you to take a hard look at what you are sharing. There is so much information floating around the internet these days that it is easy to do a goggle search and feel like you know what you are talking about. At the very least you can know what you are talking about enough that you can, at least, convince other people that you know what you are talking about. It is no problem to find many people on the internet who are positioning themselves to be experts on reptiles they don’t keep. Or don’t keep long enough to understand a lifecycle. There are websites of chameleon advice from people that have had only one chameleon in their life and they regularly push out information they gleen from reading social media. They may have little experience, but they like the affiliate link and ad revenue that comes from ranking high on the search engines.

 

I encourage you to speak on what you know, share what you are learning, and bring your audience along with you. This works at any stage of your growth. My podcast goes back and forth between me talking and sharing like this episode and me researching and interviewing other people. So I am constantly having to formulate thoughts while learning from other people. Does it make you think less of me that I openly say I still have much to learn? I don’t think so. And, really, it doesn’t matter because my show is not based on me being an expert. I am on a journey to learn more and my show is just me sharing so anyone who wants to can come along and learn with me. So I don’t have any expert status I am constantly feeling like I have to defend!

 

 

Why are you so important?

 

I want to close off with a reminder of why we are doing this. This isn’t about keeping dragons in boxes. There is a deeper reason. By doing what we do we are connected to nature and we learn to view the world through different eyes. By learning their husbandry we are putting aside our desires for what we want to mold them as and we are respecting another living being for what they are.

 

And we are nurturing awareness for what goes on in the world. There are a number of chameleon people that know about the environmental plight in madagascar because they love chameleons. Otherwise, they would be in their own world evolving pokemon in the meta verse. As our worlds become more and more digital we are living more and more in manufactured worlds. Stoking a wonder for reptiles keeps us in reality and keeps us caring for what is going on in the world. Remember that when you are fighting for likes and follows. Yes, getting attention is important. It is the whole goal of having an outreach or show on social media. But don’t get lost in that quest for likes so much that you lose the perspective of what your purpose truly is. The reptiles need you to be their advocate.  And the community needs you to be an example of the best husbandry practices. We are in desperate need for more people to record their good example. Words only go so far. We humans do so much better when we see what we need to do.

 

And I want you to study what I and the other people on this podcast are presenting. Not because it is right. But because this is the best we have. I want you to know it inside and out. Know why we say the things we do so you do not have to repeat the process. I want you to understand it so well that you can use it as a foundation to continue this work. Right now I say that the UVB level for panther and Veiled chameleons should be UVI 3. Is that definitive? Oh my goodness no! That is one data point. It is a strong and solid data point. But we only have that one data point because it takes a lot of self-discipline and organization to figure out a simple number.

 

Now, you have some time to study. I am not ready to pass the baton just yet. Unless the universe has some dastardly plan for me, you have at least another 20 years of me ferreting out the details of chameleon husbandry. So, maybe by time you are ready to step up to the plate and start helping beginners there may be a little bit more tested as far as what dose of UVB is effective. And, of course, that is just an example. Our evolution of husbandry is constant and ongoing. So you will want to keep in close contact with the people who are most aggressive in figuring things out for each reptile species you want to be an educator for. Never assume they have the final answer. Never assume that you will find the final answer. But we all have to play our part of taking what another person has done and develop it another step further. And then what you have figured out is your gift to the next generation.

 

 

And I want to say this. I know I sound like this is a life time commitment. It isn’t. You can stay doing this as long as you want. And when it is time for you to move on to something more of what speaks to you then do it leaving the community behind a little better than when you found it. I was part of three major niche communities growing up before I let two of them fade to the background and chameleons to become the prime focus. It is okay to not know where you belong. Just dive deep into the interests that you can’t bear to let go of and give them all a chance to fulfill you. Don’t worry if chameleons or reptiles gets edged out by something else. Someone else in the world will have edged out all their other interests with chameleons. So, what I am saying is that if this is your place then perfect. Starting young means you have so much you can accomplish! But what I am also saying is being young also mean there is a big world to explore. It is alright if you need to try other things before settling in and getting serious. Don’t worry, I’ll be here holding down the fort and pushing forward until it is my time to pass the baton.

 

 

And so, Antwan from Baltimore, and anyone else aspiring to be a reptile educator, the world is here for you to take your place. You are our future and how you conduct yourself and build your foundation is what the community will be like going forward. This is a new generation of keepers. And I don’t mean age-wise I mean in understanding and perspective. It is an exciting time and a good direction we are going in. I am grateful that I am doing what I am doing at this time. You guys who are starting – take the baton and run. Look to how you can make this a better community and you run with it. Never think that just because reptiles, lizards, or chameleons, or…whatever  ..is such a niche that it doesn’t make a difference. The big picture is made up of individual pixels. And our job is to make our pixel a bright one. Whether this is a lifetime calling for you or just a few years or even just a few months – if this is where you belong then plant yourself and move forward with purpose.

 

Now, this episode was a lot of strategy and mindset and study. Your outreach will require actual rubber to the road including a social media outreach and maybe a website depending on what your passion is. I invite you to check out another podcast I do called the reptile entrepreneur podcast. It is dedicated to helping people start businesses and get themselves established on social media. I just released an episode (number 26) that gives an overview of the social media accounts. A second part will be about the non-social media tools for establishing a home base on the internet. One focus of the podcast is creating a digital footprint and that might be just what you need in parallel to studying up on all the reptile info. You can find the reptile entrepreneur podcast on any podcast app, the reptile entrepreneur youtube channel, or else online at reptileentrepreneur.com

 

Thank you very much for joining me here. If you have a calling to spread good solid husbandry amongst people just starting out then I can’t welcome or encourage you enough. It is good to have you. This is Bill Strand signing off, I’ll see you next time!

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