As camera-equipped smartphones, iPads and consumer DSLRs have become ubiquitous, so, too, has the photo sharing that these devices so handily enable.
Went to a baseball game this weekend? Better get your beer-and-hot-dog closeup up onto the web. Kid do something cute? Ditto.
Digital photo sharing is nothing new, but the increase in social media channels that enable and encourage it is. Even Facebook, which was previously based more on status-sharing— “Johnny is looking forward to his trip to Revelstoke!”—is now more focused on photo-sharing: “View from 5,600 feet at Revelstoke!”
But for the true shutterbug, Instagram is now the place to be. Launched in October 2010, the mobile photo-sharing site exploded in popularity in 2011 and now has more than 30 million users worldwide. This horde uploads an average of 5 million photos every day. That’s why, in April, Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion.
The sharing trend is not a one-way flow of information, either. People like looking at photos just as much as they enjoy posting them. That phenomenon helped fuel the rise of Pinterest as a social media force in 2010. The site’s membership expanded at a record-breaking pace, reaching 10 million monthly unique users by February 2012, a singular achievement for a standalone website.
These new image-oriented social media channels have captured the world’s attention, and this is good news for mountain resorts.
MADE FOR EACH OTHER
Photography and mountain resorts go together like peas and carrots. Not only do mountain resorts have ample subject matter, many have formal or informal photography programs already in place. Their guests are also taking their own photos in record volume, and instead of hiding them in a photo album or even a Flickr account, they are posting, even promoting, them publicly.
So how do you sort through all of this? Do you need to have a presence? Do you have to hire someone?
If it makes you feel any better, three-quarters of the marketing world is thinking the same thing. No one has it totally dialed. The good news is we’re all in this together. So let’s take a look at what people have learned so far in this still-nascent space.
First, a brief overview for the uninitiated with more about how to use them later:
Instagram is an app-based, pure-play social media network for mobile. Instagrammers post photos from their mobile phones with the option to enhance or modify the photo with different filters, such as “1977” for an archive-y look or “Walden” for a washed-out blue tint. The photo can be paired with a description, into which you can “tag” friends and insert hashtags, which, like Twitter, link your photo to other photos similarly tagged (i.e., #skitrip, #firstchair, #apres).
INSTAGRAM dos and don'ts
Mammoth Mountain is a well-oiled social media machine, with a main Facebook page boasting more than 118,000 likes, and Instagram and Pinterest accounts for both its Unbound and Mammoth Mountain marketing streams. Here, the mountain’s social media team weighs in with some Instagram dos and don’ts.
• Mix it up! Visual content can and should be varied—from lifestyle and action to artsy and scenic. We’ve had success tying other large industry events and athletes back to Mammoth (e.g., highlight your team rider at X Games).
• Use hashtags, both fun and strategic. Used strategically, hashtags can get you and your brand into a larger conversation.
• Keep your audience and their interests in mind. Forty-year-old moms aren’t interested in same content as 18-year-old snowboarders, for instance.
• Consider using Instagram for contests, as the rules and regulations are less strict than Facebook.
• Avoid posting just any old photo. Not every photo needs to be “pro,” but you must have some quality control.
• Never use this medium to hard-sell a product. Focus on brand positioning.
—Joani Lynch, communications director; Eric Meyers, brand content manager; Peter Morning, photographer.
Pinterest, too, is a social media network, but is often called a social bookmarking site. Pinterest members create virtual scrapbooks, with “pinboards” (categories) onto which they “pin” (post) photos and images. Like the others, users can comment on photos, like them, or repin them to their own boards.
Adding a “Pin It” button to your browser allows you to pin any image from anywhere on the web. Businesses can add Pin It buttons to their websites to encourage pinning.
One of Pinterest’s coolest features (for marketers) is that when you click directly on an image that’s been pinned from a website (as opposed to a user upload) the image is linked to its source site, and clicking on it carries you to the site.
THE MOUNTAIN VIEW
Whistler Blackcomb, which is regularly recognized for its social media prowess, added Pinterest and Instagram accounts to its social media arsenal at the beginning of the winter 2011-2012 season. The decision to delve into the new channels was made in the name of experimentation, says Tabetha Boot, PR and communications manager.
“Because social media is so new, it’s important to do that exploration and evaluation so you understand how these tools are affecting and impacting your overall [marketing] strategy,” she says. “Pinterest and Instagram are both are very trendy, so we jumped on those bandwagons to just make sure we had a presence.”
It was much the same story at Keystone Resort, Colo., where marketing and social media manager Jeff Werkheiser launched Pinterest and Instagram accounts for the resort in the past year.
“We were a little skeptical,” he says of the resort’s first foray. “We didn’t say, ‘we need to do this because it’s the new cool thing.’ We really looked at it [from the perspective of] ‘what kind of benefits will there be for us?’ We also looked at who’s on there: ‘are we going to be talking to a different audience?’ ”
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
As any marketing department head will tell you, talking resort GMs into allotting more staff hours for yet another social media channel can be a tough sell. But it can pay off in a big way. Last spring, for example, sharing-widget site Shareholic released a study that showed Pinterest was referring more traffic to publishers than not only Twitter, but Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined.
Studies earlier this year also revealed, as Pinterest started to garner its record-breaking audience, that the site’s fanbase is overwhelmingly female. While the ratio of male to female users varies per study referenced, most research pegs the site’s usership at about 75 percent female or more.
Why, then, should resorts care about Pinterest? Resort customers can skew male. But as Boot points out, “when it comes to vacation choice and vacation booking, it is most often the mom that’s booking the vacation.”
A second key piece of research regarding Pinterest, published in the “Harvard Business Review,” indicated Pinterest’s conversion-to-purchase rate was impressively high, Boot says. (That research came from Emily Carr University.)
The Carr study found that more than one in five Pinterest users had pinned an item they later purchased—16 percent pinned something they later purchased offline, and 12 percent pinned something they later purchased online (some users purchased both ways).
The extent of this on- and offline purchase activity is surprising. The online conversion makes sense: you can click on a J Crew dress, and it will take you directly to the brand’s e-commerce site where you can push a button and purchase.
The offline statistic, however, is more interesting, and points to the effectiveness of the research consumers are doing, as both Boot and Werkheiser note. As users build pinboards for their potential vacation, they can contrast, compare and later discuss with their partners or families, to make sure everyone is on board with the purchase.
With Instagram, the channel’s effectiveness is more in brand-building and community relations than in driving purchase conversions.
Because Instagram is such a vibrant, social community, you can quite safely boil down its importance to your marketing plan to this: people are already talking about your resort on Instagram. Do you want to be a part of that conversation?
GET INVOLVED: INSTAGRAM
“I feel that resorts are best poised for success in this space when visitors can learn more about them and have the option to participate in building the brand,” says Mike Scott, global marketing director of action-sports bag company Herschel Supply Co.
And, he notes, as with all social media, generating participation is best done with a channel-specific strategy.
Mary Maddever, editor-in-chief of marketing industry magazine strategy, first delved into Instagram last winter.
Now an avid Insta-user, she says the first step is to start following others. “It’s really very simple,” she says. “Everything has a hashtag, and you just figure out what are the obvious hashtags—you can go in and see pictures under that hashtag—and if you think ‘this is a ski person,’ you can follow them. And if you follow people, they often then go and look at your page.”
The follower-following strategy may seem laughably simple, but following people is a gaping hole in many of the resort Instagram profiles I found when researching this article.
On Twitter, this seems to be no big deal. Celebrities and well-known Tweeters often follow hardly anyone. But on the more tightly knit community of Instagram, this is viewed by many as rude. So be polite and follow. It’s also a way to build engagement and to get involved with the people most relevant to you.
In terms of content, Maddever recommends posting photos that aren’t just about your core specialty, but about your greater brand image. Then, she says, “just hashtag the hell out of everything so that people can find you.”
Maddever says she’ll often go back to older photos and add new comments and hashtags to them; that way, the photos re-enter the hashtag-stream of conversation. This could be a particularly effective strategy for a resort that perhaps has a photographer do only a few rounds of photos each season.
Above all, she says, use the opportunity to tell the story of your brand, and do what you’re there to do: interact with people. If they like your photo, thank them. If they comment, comment back.
GET INVOLVED: PINTEREST
Pinterest is a little different. Anyone can pin content from your site and hashtag it, giving your brand an organic presence on the channel. But a branded Pinterest page provides an anchor for your strategy, says WB’s Boot.
“Some of the user-generated content [UGC] is phenomenal, but there’s a lot that’s pretty mediocre—or below. So we want to make sure that we have those amazing, ridiculously inspiring shots, and we want to make sure that people have access to look at those and share them and to be inspired.”
Capitalizing on Pinterest’s inherent organization, many of the resort profiles we noticed strove to tell the resort’s story through themes: terrain park(s), food and drink, weddings, landscapes, etc.
Those are good, but hashtagging was generally underutilized. Adding tags to photos (e.g., #weddings at #yourresortname #destinationweddings) means your content will be found more easily. And again, if people repin your images, thank them! If you see UGC that you like, repin it. This gets your brand’s voice out and about beyond your page.
Consider the timing of your photo posting as well. For example, in December, do a board that features photos of Christmas lights. Then amp up your family photos ahead of March break. Take a few minutes to consider what kinds of photos might be popular, and what people might be looking to be inspired by.
One thing brands should be aware of on Pinterest is copyright laws. In posting an image to your page, you are effectively using that photo to sell your product, so owned collateral from another brand or pro photographer is off limits.
Are these new channels right for your resort? The only way to answer that is to get to know them. Take some tentative steps with a personal profile first. The best thing about social media is that learning doesn’t cost you anything.