By Dave Belin, Director of Consulting Services, RRC Associates
It is no surprise that social media usage is exploding in the United States, especially Facebook and Twitter. The ability to share quick, off-the-cuff snippets of our lives, through photos, witty comments, or forwarding links to interesting articles, is clearly very popular for a number of reasons. The implications for businesses are not always clear, but understanding the basic usage patterns among your customer base is no doubt a great place to start.
Many ski areas are using social media channels like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and even Google Plus in an attempt to connect with customers and bring more of them to their slopes. While usage of social media among skiers and snowboarders is high in general, only a minority of most ski area’s visitors actively engage with the resort on a social network. As mentioned in a recent Ryan Solutions blog post, social media usage among ski area customers is high, though maybe not as high as you might think – especially if you are a junkie who spends a lot of time in the twin echo chambers of Twitter and Facebook.
RRC Associates partners with many ski areas on consumer intelligence and research projects. Among many behavior, opinion, and demographic patterns documented in our survey work are questions about social media usage and influence. The responses to these questions show some interesting and useful information about social media usage among skiers and snowboarders.
Looking at data from a sample of our ski clients shows that, depending on the ski area, anywhere from 60 to 75 percent of ski area visitors indicate that they use social media in general (the average is 68 percent). The frequency and extent of their usage of social media is not known, but at a minimum the majority of skiers and snowboarders do use some type of social media channel. As the Ryan Solutions blog points out, a recent Pew Research study documented that 65 percent of online adults use social media; thus, our visitor research is aligned with that overall indicator. However, another recent Pew Research study showed how skewed the base of Twitter users is relative to the overall US population:
Far and away the most popular social media site is Facebook, with upwards of 90 percent of snowsports participants who use social media saying they use Facebook. Again, the frequency with which they check their Facebook page or update their status is unclear, but if you are looking to find skiers and snowboarders, Facebook would probably be a great place to start. YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Trip Advisor were the next most popular social media sites, in that order, but well behind Facebook. Yelp, Google Plus, MySpace, and Flickr exhibited very little traction in general among skiers and snowboarders.
The very surprising finding in the numbers was how few customers were a follower or fan of the ski area itself on social media channels, and also how little direct influence social media has on a consumer’s decision to visit a ski area. Among all ski area visitors, about 10 to 20 percent are fans of the particular resort on Facebook, and about 4 to 5 percent are Twitter followers. Also, when asked directly, about 85 percent of respondents who are active with social media indicated that no social media channels influenced their decision to visit the ski area.
Note: data not available for 2010/11 season
Shifting to a slightly different question that asks all visitors (those who use social media as well as those who do not) about information sources used to plan their visit, only about 3 to 5 percent selected Facebook from a list that included various other types of information. Only about 1 to 2 percent indicated that Twitter was used in their decision to visit. Instead, some traditional sources like the resort website, recommendation of family/friend/word of mouth, and weather/snow reports were by far the most useful and influential information sources leveraged in planning the visit. At the same time, the results for social media tend to be similar to or higher than television, direct mail, or radio when it comes to influencing or helping to make the decision to visit.
A closer look at the results shows a clear divide by age when it comes to usage and influence of social media channels. In particular, the highest level of engagement with ski areas on social media is among 25 to 54-year-olds, with a particular emphasis in the 25 to 34-year-old cohort. Even among this age group, though, the resort website and a recommendation from a friend are far more important. Additionally, it is interesting that both younger (under 24) and older (55 or over) customers tend to be less engaged with ski areas on social media, a clear message to many resorts for the need to diversify advertising and promotion by the targeted age group.
The intent of this article is to realistically assess the current scope and place of these tools in a broader context for the purpose of, for example, an advertising strategy. Usage of social media outlets is clearly growing, and in a few years might become a more widespread source for information and planning. Just because few of your customers indicate that they like or follow your ski area, however, does not mean that the impressions and engagement aren’t happening. After all, a Facebook post might have linked a fan to your snow report or other page on your website, or otherwise influenced their behavior, even though they didn’t recall the specifics (or care to admit it on the survey).
These results also point out the need for continued advertising, promotion, and marketing through other channels. As all marketers know, there is no single (or even small handful) of channels through which you will reach most customers. A diversified approach, including social media, continues to be the most prudent strategy.
For more information about social media usage among ski area visitors, contact Dave Belin, RRC Associates, email@example.com, 303-396-1622