National Parks and Outdoor Brands

Using social intelligence to showcase how outdoor retailers leveraged national park popularity to expand revenue

Henry Chapman, Research and Insights Analyst


Interest in national parks by channel

Over the last decade, national parks have exploded on social media. This is especially true on visual social channels like Pinterest and Instagram, where influencers have expanded their engagement and reach by posting about some of the great national parks in the United States. The growing interest in national parks has coincided with the increasing social media exposure of leading outdoor brands like REI and The North Face. These brands leverage that interest in natural spaces to sell outdoor gear to outdoor adventurers.

In this brief, we use our social listening platform Infegy Atlas to explore the intersection of US national parks and the brands that piggyback on the growing visibility of those areas.

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Figure 1: National park post concentration by channel distribution; Infegy Atlas data.

The National Park Service: post volume

The US National Park Service saw record-breaking growth in the number of visitors between 2014 and 2019. Numbers dropped slightly in 2020, but The Guardian notes that they bounced back in 2021 and 2022. Social listening closely matches that growth of interest, showing a 59% post volume growth rate from 2014 through 2018. In brand terms, this increase in post volume demonstrates a tremendous boost in the National Park Service’s brand visibility, especially considering it is a relatively small federal agency.

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Figure 2: National park post volume, 2013-2022; Infegy Atlas data.

Parks that drive online conversation

Examining the general online conversation about national parks, we found that only a handful of the 424 parks managed by the National Park Service drive the conversation online. Not surprisingly, these were the ones with the highest annual number of visitors: Glacier National Park, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree.

We used Narratives – a dynamic topic-clustering capability within our social intelligence platform – to examine the conversation. We found that these six parks individually generate so much conversation that they each have their own remarkably equal-sized topic clusters.

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Figure 3: Narratives around different national parks; Infegy Atlas data.

National park hashtags and retail brand hashtags

Social intelligence shows that outdoor retailer brands have piggybacked on the booming interest and online conversation around national parks. Brands like REI or The North Face have heavily integrated their brands and marketing strategies into online social media content surrounding national parks. In other words, they’ve used the parks as a vehicle for advertising their products. We can trace this activity by examining some key hashtags.

Analysis shows that the National Park Service’s own hashtag, #FindYourPark, is used with high frequency and positive sentiment. Launched in March 2015, this hashtag campaign was one of the first started by a government agency. It was very successful and drove tremendous interest in the parks, both online and in real life.

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Figure 4a: National park post volume graphed alongside branded hashtags; Infegy Atlas data.

Brands piggyback on national park popularity

In this same conversation around national parks, we saw two brand-generated hashtags emerge – also with large post volume and high positivity. The first is #OptOutside, a hashtag campaign launched by REI in October 2015. The second is the hashtag version of The North Face’s long-standing slogan, ‘Never Stop Exploring.’ The #NeverStopExploring campaign also launched in 2015.

Looking at the trends for these hashtags, we see that the huge surges in the use of #OptOutside and #NeverStopExploring coincide with the rise of the National Park Service’s campaign, #FindYourPark. In other words, as interest in national parks surged, so did the interest and online conversations around outdoor retail brands. This suggests that REI and The North Face launched hashtag campaigns at such a time and in such a way that allowed them to ride the wave of rising popularity and interest in national parks.

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Figure 4b: Word cloud showing the emergence of branded hashtags within national park conversation; Infegy Atlas data.

Growth of Intent to Purchase theme

The strategy to piggyback on national parks’ visibility has led to growth for both brands. REI, in particular, has seen dramatic growth in the past few years, aided in part by its social media strategies. The brand reported $3.7 billion in revenue in 2022, which was a 35% year-over-year increase.

This revenue growth is reflected in the conversation around national parks. We analyzed the conversation using Infegy Atlas’ Themes and found that discussions containing “intent to purchase” increased by 20% from October to December. We also noted similar increases with “intent to purchase” around the branded hashtags we discussed above.

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Figure 5a: Intent to Purchase for general national park conversation; Infegy Atlas data.
Image 5b - National Park Branded Hashtag Intent to Purchase-1
Figure 5b: Branded hashtag intent to purchase concentration; Infegy Atlas data.

Takeaways from national park monetization

The social media campaign around national parks drove attention to these natural wonders. It also created a powerful opportunity for outdoor brands to reach new customers and increase revenue.

By leveraging the power of social media and listening to their consumers online, brands like REI and The North Face successfully tapped into a growing market of park enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, and eco-conscious consumers.

Having a social listening solution in your data stack is the first step to gaining the consumer insights that will guide your messaging and marketing. It can also reveal how other players in your industry use social media tactics to increase their visibility.

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