Whistler Blackcomb has been reaching out to guests for years but it has never been as easy as it is in the age of social media.
On Facebook, 53,584 people have clicked on the small thumbs-up icon to confirm they "like" Whistler Blackcomb. As of Tuesday, Nov. 30, 12,027 people were following the company's main Twitter profile. Another 3,423 follow WB's WhistlerBikePrk (Twitter) profile and 2,307 follow Whistlerparks. The various accounts are maintained by WB communications staff who also use their personal Twitter accounts to drive traffic to WB profiles for events, promotions and weather updates.
"At first it was a great opportunity during the Peak 2 Peak cross Canada Gondola Tour (in 2007) to update people on where they were in real time," said WB Public Relations Coordinator, Lauren Everest. "Now it's really the same, we can post photos and videos and live updates from the mountain and really just connect with people on a two-way basis and have those two-way conversations that you just can't have when you send out a marketing ad."
For those not in the know, Twitter is a social networking site that allows users to post short - 140 character - "tweets," which include thoughts, observations and activities. Users can also post links to photos, videos, websites, and other tweets, literally contributing to a collective shaping of online social trends. A typical tweet - this one posted by Whistler Blackcomb - looks like this: "Over 31cm's of fresh pow pow overnight, 260cm for the month of Snowvember! #snow ."
On the WB profile updates like this serve to increase the ski hype, which is bolstered by tweets added by followers, who post on the conditions on individual runs, line lengths and favoured pubs for après.
"We've had a huge following increase," said Amber Turnau, WB's media relations and social media strategist. "I think it's due to the fact that it's just becoming a more mainstream tool. Celebrities, athletes and really popular people are using it so now it has become more mainstream."
Last week, WB partnered with a number of sponsors for the second annual Tweet Up at the GLC, a social event that put Whistler Blackcomb's Twitter community face to face instead of keyboard to keyboard. Copious amounts of schwag was donated to the Tweet Up by partner companies (and WB Twitter followers) like Endeavor Snowboard, Le Scandinave Spa, Canadian Snowmobile Adventures, Thuggie, and Whistler Blackcomb.
"That's part of the importance of social media, is not just a faceless phenomenon - you want to take it one step further and bring personal interaction as well," continued Turnau.
Silas Wong of Vancouver, also known by his Twitter moniker, flagrantfoul, attended the Tweet Up after a day on the slopes. He admits to using the social networking site as a "time waster" but enjoys the random nature of the information made available through it. He tweets 20 to 50 times per day, and started following WB for the immediacy of relevant information coming off the hill.
"I used it a lot last year, they would give snow reports and different event reports and things like that so I followed them and they ended up following me as well, so we exchanged a relationship that way," said the Starbucks employee, who added his company relies heavily on Twitter for marketing and hiring. "It's very useful, sometimes you get news faster through Twitter than you can through actual media, so given the information is correct and true, assuming that happens, it is typically faster. Social media is the next technological wave, I guess."
Roger Crawford, a Scotsman living in Vancouver, calls himself a "lurker tweeter," admitting he doesn't post many tweets but keeps an eye on anyone or thing that piques his interest. He thinks Whistler Blackcomb does a good job of utilizing Twitter to its advantage.
"I think they have to, really," he said. "Everything is about social media these days so that's the way things are going so if you're a big company like Intrawest and you have to get the word out there it's all part of the business plan."