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Eleven marketing lessons from five years of Ski The East social media shenanigans.

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After nearly a decade running the communications for ski areas, Alex Kaufman took over the social media accounts (and resort sales, advertising, web content, and general counsel) for Ski The East in November of 2011 as a 2nd job.

Last year he decided to make this season his last. The plan was set, a snowless season came and went, and finally the last day at the helm arrived. Moving on meant time for other things like his Wintry Mix Podcast

…but it also gave him one of those chances to step back and reflect on what he’d learned about social, about the ski industry, and about resorts in general.

I asked him to share some of those thoughts. Here’s what he said.

It was a fun car to drive. No parent company. No boss. Just us dudes (the wolf pack) and a mission to grow audience, influence, retailers and direct sales. The only thing I had to fear was accidentally offending soccer moms with the PG13 shtick or misusing inside ski biz intel that is constantly fed to me.

Playing an arbiter of truthiness Jon Stewart role is quite fun and surprisingly effective on social media when all the other news or resort sources are forced to be rated G.

We went from zero to 50K on Instagram, 1,500 to 12K on Twitter, 12K to 43K on Facebook and a five figure email opt-in list. A stable of 20 retailers is now 110+ including nearly every major eastern resort with a lot of help from social influence (buyers judge a new brand’s appeal by their stats.) 100’s of thousands of those damn stickers everywhere helped too.

In that time of following and engaging with every applicable ski brand, resort, influencer, reporter, meteorologist, ski area marketing reps and pro athletes, I learned and observed a few things that might help you out.

Here are a few of them.

#1) 4-6 pm is terrible for anything on social
Really, don’t post during this time period if you want something to get reach into your audience. Commuting and “tying up loose ends at work” means that participation on social drops like a rock at that hour. At least that’s what I saw.

#2) Resorts constantly neglect the aggregation side of snow reporting
They always get to their website and their facebook page, but often in the heat of snowy mornings, they skip Snocountry or Onthesnow. This means that hundreds of other websites do not have their snow total. They have a zero next to competitors with 12”. Then reps from that company get mad at those other websites (me) for not having accurate info, when in fact it’s because the snow reporter that day didn’t feed the beast completely. Good riddance.

#3) Sunday afternoons are the best time to sell things via email
At least if you are selling gear that ranges from $10-$100, our eblasts to our 5 figure list, tended to perform best when sent on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

#4) PR firms vs savvy in house communications
Most resorts handle their own communications. They capitalize on unfolding events. They engage with guests and media in real time. They send press releases they can then answer questions about. Others farm a lot of it out to agencies. This creates a marketing staff that is out of the loop and less engaged with your customers and influencers. That next social media blowup? Those with agencies respond slower and less authentically. I’m not saying it can’t be done, just saying I’ve never seen the agency model for PR done well when it comes to ski areas.

#5) Shortening attention spans and immediate gratification
There is more and more things you can spend your money and time on than there was just 15 years ago. As tech generations get to their full spending years, watch out. They might be too inclined to distraction to embrace a pursuit that requires great amounts of planning and time investment. I offer no solution.

#6) Twitter is either waste of time or a powerful tool – you decide
Twitter got us many of our retail accounts after publicly celebrating the landing of a previous account. It got us the email address of any retail buyer we wanted. It was a prized location for ski areas to appear and skiers begged to be featured. It has the lowest soccer mom danger of all the mediums. If I thought I had a good joke, twitter participation would confirm or deny in minutes if I should also use in other mediums. Good jokes equals more followers equals more influence. Perhaps your brand will allow you to be funny. But don’t force it.

#7) Telling people not to come skiing is the fastest road to credibility
It rains. There are days when you should feel guilty taking their money. A few resorts publicly grant this a few times per year and it pays them back in spades when they are trying to sell their audience on a more positive message. Stay credible by calling shit, shit once in a while. The penalty is tiny (it’s raining and your numbers are going to suck anyway) and the upside is very large.

#8) That’s not how this works
This one is more aimed at a few ski media outlets. The resorts seem to have it figured out. If you start a tweet with an @ it’s not going public, it’s going to a subset of people who follow both of you. If you are taking money from an advertiser, and sharing their advertisement in that way, you are doing a disservice to your advertiser. Let’s not do that.

#9) Staff churn
For whatever reason, some resorts keep their good marketing people and others churn them like butter. Often the people in positions of power are very smart people, but if they have a lack of experience in the jobs they oversee this churn factor is more prominent in the positions below them on the org chart. Do with that what you will. Leaders who have constant churn below them, tend not be leaders.

#10) One guy’s take on your emails
Ya’ll send a metric ton of email. I’m signed up for way too much of it. Though I am only a data set of one, I read the email from resorts that mix it up, sending messaging for a variety of reasons and in a variety of formats. Resorts that send the same style of message in some sort of weekly push for years on end, I don’t.

#11) You can have great video with small budgets
The DSLR and GoPro explosion means you (small/medium size mountain) can deliver great video for many uses and you don’t need to hire or train for it. Get a 5-10K budget and work with someone in your community who is already doing this stuff and knows your mountain. They’ll benefit from the exposure you’ll give their work, so feel free to leverage that in the price discussion.

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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