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WASM digs into U.S. National Park trends on Reddit

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WASM digs into U.S. National Park trends on Reddit


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With summer rapidly approaching, vacations are on everyone’s mind. To help plan mine, I turned to Reddit and looked at all posts about U.S. national parks from January 2017 to March 2018. My colleagues and I pulled in more than 28,000 posts about National Parks into Watson Analytics for Social Media (WASM), analyzed them, and compared them against visitor data from the U.S. National Park Service to figure out which parks are most popular for different kinds of activities.

Visitors vs. Mentions

One of the first things we noticed is that there are some disparities between the number of visitors to a park and the number of times the park has been mentioned on Reddit.

Mentions vs. Visitors

NUMBER OF VISITORS AND NUMBER OF MENTIONS OF THE TOP 25 U.S. NATIONAL PARKS. The size of the boxes indicates the number of visitors. The darkness of the boxes indicates the number of Reddit mentions.

With almost 1.5 million visitors, Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the most visited. Yet it garnered only as many mentions as Arches National Park, which had just 200,000 visitors. Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion national parks are the clear stars of social media.

If we look at the visitors per month to the top parks and compare that to number of Reddit mentions, we see that the two trends follow each other quite closely, with a clear increase during summer. If you look closely, you’ll see that the seasonal bump on the Reddit side slightly precedes the bump on the visitors side, so this is a possible predictor of park popularity.

Overall trends

TOTAL VISITORS TO ALL U.S. NATIONAL PARKS (LEFT) COMPARED TO REDDIT MENTIONS (RIGHT)

While the Reddit mentions are more consistent over the year, there is a clear seasonal spike that corresponds while slightly preceding the summer visitors spike.

Even if we look at an outlier park like Joshua Tree National Park, where visitors actually dip in the summer, the Reddit trend also correlates for the most part.

Joshua Tree trends

VISITORS TO JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK (LEFT) COMPARED TO REDDIT MENTIONS (RIGHT)

Other than a blip in August, the number of mentions of Joshua Tree National Park match the visitor trend, which is higher in winter, unlike all other parks.

Beyond Metrics

Our next step was to go past metrics and look deeper into this Reddit data and see what people are actually talking about. We found some significant differences for the activities discussed in conjunction with each park. This is valuable information, because this could help a park better decide how it wants to allocate staff and other resources.

Popular activities at each park

ACTIVITIES MENTIONED ON REDDIT FOR EACH OF THE TOP 25 PARKS

Hiking and camping are very popular across all the top parks. Great Smoky Mountains and Mt. Rainier have a slight edge for hiking, while Sequoia and Joshua Tree get a nod for camping. Yosemite is number one among rock climbers, and Big Bend is tops among cavers (AKA spelunkers). And for wildlife fans, Yellowstone and Denali are the places that Redditors talk about.

Finally, we wanted to know how long of a visit people plan to make for each park. This data is interesting because, while there are some common trends among most parks, there are also very clear exceptions.

LENGTH OF STAY MENTIONED ON REDDIT FOR EACH OF THE TOP 25 PARKS

Most parks have a pretty even mix between shorter and longer visits, except for Hot Springs National Park, where there is little discussion of staying more than just a few days. Bryce Canyon has the most discussion of visits of a week or longer.

I’ve been wanting to get out into the wilderness for more than just a couple of days. Plus I’d like to go someplace that visitors rave about. And so . . . Zion National Park, here I come.

Finding Value in Social Media Conversations

To find real value in social media you need to pay attention to what the conversations are about. This means looking beyond surface-level metrics and digging into content-rich social media sources like Reddit. To get further value from these insights, you can combine them with other kinds of data you collect.

IBM Watson Analytics for Social Media is the ideal solution to enable these advanced capabilities. Start your free trial today by visiting the IBM Watson Analytics for Social Media page.

(Header image from Stuart Seeger, used under a Creative Commons license.)

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