Uncase Study: How Intrawest Could Integrate Social Media To Become King Of The Mountain

Note About “Uncase Studies”: Traditionally case studies are used to describe how a company or organization solved a problem. Others with similar problems can then use the case study to understand how they may solve their own problems. I will be writing an ongoing series of “uncase studies” that will outline what companies or organizations could be doing to improve their marketing and community building efforts using social media approaches.

Disclaimer: The companies and organizations that I talk about in my “uncase studies” are not my clients. I attempt to research any of their current work to leverage social media. Just because I write about them does not mean that the people that handle their marketing (internal or external) are not planning to implement social media strategy and tactics that could be far better than the ones discussed in my posts. It means they had not been publicly implemented that I could find at the time my post was published.

The Catalyst:
It is getting cold here in North Carolina and honestly I don’t like it much at all. However, I do like one thing about winter: skiing. Growing up in West Virginia, I was a few hours away from several ski resorts and developed a love for skiing. As I was planning my first ski trip for the winter, I started to look at different resort Web sites and began thinking about how ski resorts could leverage social media to support their marketing objectives.

The Industry:
The ski resort industry is a seasonal tourism based business that I am sure will be hit hard during this current recession.  I am not an industry expert but similar to most other industries the ski resort industry has large companies that own resorts across the country as well as smaller companies that only operates one resort in certain small mountain town. Skiing can be an expensive hobby, but also one people are willing to pay a premium for in order to have a great experience.

I think the advice and ideas discussed in this post could be applied to a ski resort big or small, today I will focus on a national company Intrawest that owns resorts across the US and Canada. Honestly, the reason I selected them is because they own Snowshoe which is the major resort in my home state of West Virginia, but the also own many other popular resorts including Steam Boat in Colorado.

The Competition:
Using social media isn’t completely new in the skiing industry. For example Eric Hoffman and his team at Park City Mountain Resort have a great blog, that seems to have developed a solid readership, by sharing important information about the mountain and resort. Mack as a complete check up of the blog which he grades pretty positivity.

Park City Mountain Resort Blog

Park City is not the only major resort that is into social media. Take a look at two other major icons in the ski resort industry Vail and Aspen. Both are using e-mail marketing, online video, image sharing, RSS and many other social technologies to lure visitors.

Vail __ Like Nothing on Earth

Aspen, I think take social media usage a step further by adding RSS and sharing features:

Aspensnowmass.com _ Media Home _ Videos, Photos, & More

How Is Intrawest Using Social Media Now?
I contacted Ian Galbraith, Director of Communications for Intrawest and he communicated to me that the choice on how to leverage social media is made made the individual marketing groups at each resort.  This lack of integration is Intrawest’s core problem!

If I had a portfolio a great ski resorts across the country, I would want a way to connect them online to help cross market them. Leaving social media use up to each resort to me seems like creating unneeded competition when they should be leveraging the sum of all online assets.

They however, are using social media pretty well at their Steamboat, CO resort:

Steamboat - Your vacation planning community

They have a fully featured social network for those interested in their resort and after some research it looks like it has a strong membership base and a fairly actively group of members contributing comments, responses and lots of cool skiing pictures. It seems they are having some spam issues, but that comes with any growing community. They also use twitter to deliver mountain conditions to skiers cell phones.

Twitter _ steamboatinfo

The problem is that Intrawest owns 11 resorts and Steamboat is the only one using social media at this level.

Advice and Strategy:

It seems like Intrawest already has staff that understands marketing and how social media can fit in their marketing efforts, they have a problem that many organizations face, a lack of integration. This lack of integration though particularly hurts Intrawest because all of it products (resorts) are so closely related and  share the same customer base.

Ideas for Integration:

The My Steamboat social network is great, but what it doesn’t do is get the person living on the east coast that normally goes skiing at Intrawest’s Snowshoe resort in West Virginia to consider taking a special trip out west to spend a long weekend at Steamboat. If I were them I would keep the My Steamboat network, but make it part of a larger integrated network across all of its resorts. This is where a social network platform that can integrate like Ripple 6‘s platform would be a good solution. Intrawest needs to empower it current customers at each of its resorts with information and experiences happening across all resorts to help keep customers within their resorts system.

They could take a similar strategy with twitter as well, Have a main Intrawest resort Twitter account that shares and answers top-line questions from customers. Then I would suggest creating multiple accounts for each resort, one to share slope conditions, one to share activities and one for customer service.  This information would help serve their community and also get indexed in Twitter Search and Google which will aid in Intrawest’s organic search marketing efforts.

Community Building and SEO:

Aside from community building another core benefit for Intrawest to integrate its social media marketing activities is the impact these activities have on organic search marketing.  Lee Oden has written a great post to explain the impact of community building on SEO, but in this situation in which so many resorts are involved the community building would have a significant impact for Intrawest. As I was doing my research for this post I saw many resorts doing paid search marketing buys and taking this organic search approach could help solidify Intrawest’s positioning on key Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS).

Really Integrating:

I could write on and on about the different way Intrawest could leverage social media, a social network and twitter are the tip of the iceberg but were community building methods already in use.  Integration does not mean integrating social media across an organization it means integrating marketing across and organization. Social media integration was just the core idea of this post, but Intrawest could and should be doing much more. I had a great conversation on twitter a few days ago with Beth Harte and Allan Sabo about the subject of integration regarding the hurdles it faces ranging from money to teamwork.

That being said their are small ways to integrate that could be good first steps. For Intrawest if you did have one main social network you could start printing the URL for it on lift tickets cross all resorts.  Some small steps like this one could have a major impact over time.

That is it for this uncase study, hope you enjoyed it and as always please let me know how I can make these better!

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