Some kinds of business just seem to lend themselves to social media integration. Obviously the more consumer-facing the business is, the more sense it makes to use social media: I can't really see, say, steelmakers or shipbuilders jumping on the social media band wagon. Sports and leisure, on the other hand, couldn't be better-suited: most of these activities are inherently social, and now technology allows brands to both exploit and encourage the special kind of emotional engagement which results from doing something as part of a group.
Thus the winter of 2010-2011 has seen ski resorts rushing to introduce proprietary, branded social media targeting an enthusiast population which is already quite committed (not to say obsessive). The latest offering, MountainStats.com, combines social media with e-commerce in the form of online booking services for snow sports-related travel and lodging.
Currently in beta, on the e-commerce side MountainStats.com lets users find ski resorts, check weather, estimate travel time, and book trips, while viewing an array of up-to-date information about conditions at hundreds of resorts, sorted by geographic distance. Below this, users can view members of the MtnStats local networks, allowing them to coordinate travel plans with friends and get reviews, recommendations, and tips from other enthusiasts. Catering to the key role of visual content in this enthusiast culture, MountainStats.com also allows members to share their snow sports experiences through rich digital media integration.
As noted, this is just the latest in a series of social media products targeting winter sports enthusiasts. In August I wrote about EpicMix, a proprietary social network operated by Vail Resorts, which uses radio frequency identification chips embedded in ski lift passes to track the movements of skiers (who opt in) over the slopes of five different resorts owned by the company -- Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Vail resorts in Colorado, and Heavenly in California. The free Web-based, mobile-compatible network allows participants to share records of their ski trips in the form of maps depicting which trails they've skied, compiled via automatic RFID check-ins at 89 ski lifts around the five resorts. Another feature lets users see how many vertical feet they've skied in total.
Taking a page from Gowalla and Foursquare, skiers can earn commemorative, collectible digital pins by, say, being the first or last skier on the mountain, visiting two mountains on the same day, or riding three lifts at night. A Facebook tie-in lets users take their friendly competitions to the social network on EpicMix-branded Facebook "leader boards." Another tie-in alerts them when their Facebook friends are on the slopes, and allows them to send private messages to these friends to arrange meet-ups. They can also access snow and weather reports, trail and grooming information, traffic conditions, and other relevant information for Vail Resorts. Last but not least, users can also post status updates and share stats on Twitter via EpicMix.