Whistler wins Google eTown award 

Award given to cities and towns with strong online business community

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Whistler has been named the recipient of Google Canada’s eTown Award for 2013, which celebrates communities that harness the power of the Internet to attract new customers and grow their business.

Google worked with an independent research firm to analyze the online strength of small businesses across Canada. Whistler was one of five cities or towns recognized by Google last week, joining Halifax, Canmore, Newmarket, Ont. and Saint-Sauveur, Que.

“We’re proud to recognize the growing entrepreneurial spirit in Whistler,” said Chris O’Neill, managing director of Google Canada in a release. “Every day, Canadians turn to the Internet looking for products and services, and it’s the businesses and communities engaging with consumers online that will lead Canada’s future economic growth.”

For Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Val Litwin, it’s important for businesses to engage with existing and potential clients by maintaining a strong online presence that separates them from the crowd.

“People are so brand and marketing savvy now that you have to work so much harder to differentiate yourself,” he said. “Demographics are showing consumers are going online to make their purchasing decision way before they set foot in your brick and mortar location. They’re going online and doing some research and shopping before they actually physically shop in your store. So to differentiate and to really get clear on your culture, brand and product is so important.”

An effective way business owners can enhance their online presence, according to Litwin, is by allowing front-line staff to drive social media content, creating a more personal relationship with customers.

“Culture and brand these days is defined by the founders, the CEO or the senior managers who get together and put a shape to the business, the culture, the brand and the vibe, but really it’s the staff that live it and make it real for the customer,” he said. “If you give them structured opportunities to generate content … you let them help shape the culture and the experience.”

Local businesses like the Crystal Lodge are a prime example of a more personalized approach to online engagement, said Litwin, with a daily blog that provides visitors with Whistler-related news and a unique perspective on the resort before they even step foot into the hotel.

He said other local companies like Farfalla Hair & Esthetics, The Grocery Store and Whistler Real Estate Co. continue to foster a unique online presence through their websites and social media networks that’s unique, visually appealing and user-friendly.

Emily Kane, owner of Yogacara in the Village, has turned to online advertising to increase the profile of the yoga studio and attract new clients since opening up shop last year.

“We do utilize social media as well, but Google AdWords is really good for us, especially for our location,” Kane said. “When people come to the Village and want to go to a yoga class, one of the first things people do is a Google search, so we thought having an online presence was important for us especially.”

Whistler’s Member of Parliament, John Weston said he was “thrilled for Whistlerites” upon hearing about the award, and took the opportunity to commend the resort’s many successes.

“Again and again, the people of Whistler demonstrate the ability to operate in superlative terms,” he said in the release. “What was once a world-class ski resort demonstrates the ability to operate in a world-class way beyond skiing: in hosting world conferences; producing film festivals; promoting literacy; and, now, showing the world how to encourage innovation and collaboration.”

According to a 2011 study from McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, businesses that are online grow at twice the rate and hire double the employees as businesses that are offline. Still, more than half of all small businesses in Canada do not have a website.

Locally, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce (WCC) offers numerous ways for their more than 700 members to increase their online profile. Former vice president of Cisco Systems Janice Hulse recently hosted a luncheon on how maximizing the power of your LinkedIn profile can enhance client engagement and improve branding. The event was such a success that the Chamber intends to host similar training sessions in the future. The WCC also offers a variety of social media training courses typically held in the spring or fall.

The Chamber is also active online, regularly engaging with members and promoting their businesses.

“One of the benefits of membership is that we can draw members into key online conversations and communities and connect them with local influencers as well as our provincial and national business network online,” said the WCC’s marketing and communications manager Michelle Ratcliffe in an email. “Being a chamber member is almost like having your own part-time social media person. If members have special messages that they’d like us to share online, they can send it to us and we can circulate this to our broader network.”

Visit www.whistlerchamber.com for more information.

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