Date of Award

Fall 12-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Forestry



First Advisor

Theresa G. Coble, Ph.D

Second Advisor

Ray Darville, Ph.D

Third Advisor

Matt Mcbroom, Ph.D


Many parks are now using social media sites to connect with visitors but little is known about how effective these efforts have been. This study examined the influence of social media use on interpretive outcomes and place attachment. Visitors to four parks in the San Francisco Bay Area were surveyed twice, once as they exited the park (n = 529) and a second time via email (n = 216) six to ten weeks after visiting. In both surveys, respondents were asked how they use social media to experience parks and to what extent they experienced interpretive outcomes (intellectual and emotional connections and program evaluation) and place attachment (place identity and place dependence). Social media use was measured by asking respondents how frequently they interacted with the park on social media sites, how frequently they shared their experience at the park on social media sites and how important using social media was to them. The activity involvement scale developed by Kyle, G., Absher, J., Norman, W., Hammitt, W. & Jodice, L. (2007) was used to measure how important social media was to respondents as a leisure activity. A modified version of Paine's (2011) phases of engagement scale was adapted to segment respondents into five social media engagement categories based on the extent to which they engaged with parks on social media sites. The engagement categories were then compared to interpretive outcome and place attachment scores. The results showed that engagement categories were positively related to interpretive outcome and place attachment scores for both onsite survey and email survey respondents. Using social media as a source of park information, interacting on park-sponsored social media sites and using social media during the park visit had statistically significant, positive relationships to interpretive outcomes and place attachment. The more respondents used social media to experience parks, the more connections to resource meanings they made. One would expect those connections to diminish over time but results suggested that using social media to share park experiences in the weeks following a park visit allowed visitors to maintain higher levels of interpretive connections and place attachment than those who didn't use social media to experience the park. In addition, passive interaction with park-sponsored social media also continued to influence outcomes in the weeks following the park visit. Other factors that emerged as significant predictors of interpretive outcomes and place attachment were: time spent so far in the Bay Area, number of annual visits, the locality of visitors, following a park on a social media site and repeat visitation. These results provide an initial indication that social media "works", insofar as using it to experience a park influences interpretive outcomes and place attachment. However, only a few visitors were actively engaging with parks on social media sites. Many respondents were active users of social media in general, but far fewer were active on park-sponsored social media sites. Since so many visitors are active users of social media sites, park managers have an unprecedented opportunity to connect visitors to park meanings through online interpretive content, not just during the visit but before and after as well.



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