Saturday, February 5, 2011

Social media case study: hate VS debate.

Disclaimer: In case you haven't figured it out, this gang of Jay Peak skiers live a long way from Jay Peak. That's why you aren't reading an account of how great the skiing is right now. So if like me, you WISH you were at Jay Peak right now, and need something to distract you from the powder stories, feel free to read on.

Unless you have been living under a rock, with only dial-up Internet access, you'll have noticed that social media services like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and the like are increasingly being used by businesses to promote their products and services. In the tourism industry, which, like it or not, ski resorts are part of, progressive operators have been using social media for some time because they know that “creating the conversation” between themselves and clients, or even better, between clients and clients ABOUT the product, is a relatively easy way to keep people thinking about their operation. And if you keep thinking about something good, you'll want that something, even if you have to drive seven hours to get there.

The trouble is, keeping on top of the blog, chatter and tweet is yet another thing for the marketing person to do, more tasks to be completed in an already busy work day. Hopefully, the marketing person's boss gets it and doesn't chastise them for “spending too much time on the Internet.” Fans and followers come to expect regular blog posts, Facebook updates, tweets and responses to their comments. And you never know when it just might blow up in your face (book).

Let's take a look at two recent Facebook incidents that underscore the need for vigilance and responsibility. Two ski resorts, Jay Peak and Sunshine Village (near Banff, Alberta) have had Facebook blow-ups recently and dealt with them in very different ways.

If you follow ski industry news (and who doesn't, he asked facetiously) you will have heard about the recent public relations meltdown at SSV. If not, the very short version is that a junior patroller pulled the pass of someone who was skiing in a closed area. Turns out that the someone was Taylor Scurfield, the son of the resort's owner, Ralph Scurfield Jr. Shortly afterwards, several senior patrol and operations staff were fired. The remaining patrol had a bit of a protest and more were fired, including the rookie patroller who pulled young Scurfield's pass in the first place. Now the skiing public is up in arms on-line and the ex-employees are launching a wrongful dismissal suit. You can read the full story, along with links to various other discussions and articles, on MadPatSki's excellent and detailed recent blog post. But please come back.

At this writing, Sunshine Village has taken down their official Facebook page (the page that appears to be official is a “mirror” site, apparently not managed by the resort). When it was up, there was much heated discussion, a lot of hate, many people got banned, popped back under a new name, banned again, and so on. Several other pages have popped up, including pages for supporting the wronged patrollers, boycotting Sunshine, etc. etc. If you are on Facebook, try a search and you'll see what I mean. What a mess. The resort management appears to have completely given up on trying to communicate about the situation and mitigate this public relations disaster. There is no indication that anything is amiss on the resort's web site. The score: social media backlash, 1; Sunshine Village, 0. This will be a very interesting story to follow.

Meanwhile, over at Jay Peak's Facebook page, there has been some heated, but friendly, debate about the ongoing development project. As you can imagine there are a lot of people for it, and a lot of people against. The waterpark, in particular, seems to get folks pretty riled up. The screen shot below is of the Jay Peak Facebook post on Jan. 31. What started out as an innocent photo and comment about the waterslide developed into a 108 comment debate about development with the “fors” and “againsts” well represented throughout. It is worth reading. No matter what your stand is on the development, you have to admire the Jay Peak marketing team's thoughtful and attentive replies to the stream of comments. It takes a lot of work to stay on top of this stuff and keep a professional level of response going. The score: social media dialogue, 1; Jay Peak Resort, 1.

PS: The Jay Peak development story keeps popping up in various places, check out this recent thread on AlpineZone and several pages of back and forth on the TGR East Coast Stoke thread (note: the discussion starts about half-way down the page and goes on for about two more). Word of warning, if you have never visited TGR before, be prepared for some, uhhh, colourful language and more than colourful characters.


  1. My only point of disagreement on this might be a scoring call: Social Media Backlash 10, SSV 0. To me the real difference is that the conversation on Jay's Facebook page, is still a conversation, even though positions are strongly held. The sad fact is that if SSV can't change their approach to social media (and interaction in general) they probably shouldn't have a Facebook page.

  2. SBR: where do you stand on the Jay Peak development? If you've already editorialised here, could you provide a link?

  3. I was afraid someone would ask me that question. Short version: I am FOR improvements and development that a) improve/enhance the ski experience and b) make the resort a viable year-round destination, creating more local employment. Like a lot of people, I worry that Jay's remote location is a big challenge to making this sustainable. I live in a tourist area and work in the tourism industry, and have seen many projects flop (or sit half-empty) after getting a ton of money thrown at them. There, I said it.