Emily J. Wilkins, Spencer A Wood, Jordan W Smith (2020). Uses and limitations of social media to inform visitor use management in parks and protected areas: a systematic review. Environmental Management.
Social media are being increasingly used to inform visitor use management in parks and protected areas. We review the state of the scientific literature to understand the ways social media has been, and can be, used to measure visitation, spatial patterns of use, and visitors’ experiences in parks and protected areas. Geotagged social media are a good proxy for actual visitation; however, the correlations observed by previous studies between social media and other sources of visitation data vary substantially. Most studies using social media to measure visitation aggregate data across many years, with very few testing the use of social media as a visitation proxy at smaller temporal scales. No studies have tested the use of social media to estimate visitation in near real-time. Studies have used geotags and GPS tracks to understand spatial patterns of where visitors travel within parks, and how that may relate to other variables (e.g., infrastructure), or differ by visitor type. Researchers have also found the text content, photograph content, and geotags from social media posts useful to understand aspects of visitors’ experiences, such as behaviors, preferences, and sentiment. The most cited concern with using social media is that this data may not be representative of all park users. Collectively, this body of research demonstrates a broad range of applications for social media. We synthesize our findings by identifying gaps and opportunities for future research and presenting a set of best practices for using social media in parks and protected areas.