Social Media 101

I’m often asked by colleagues in the club business: “Should we consider integrating social media into our communication plan?” My answer depends on a number of factors. What is the average age of your club members? What percentage of your members actively use online social media now? What media do they use? Before you start using any online services you should know the answers to these questions. I have listed the most common questions about social media and answers below.

What is it? Social media are online communication tools used for electronic social interaction. They include a wide selection of services ranging from communication services such as blogging, microblogging, social networking, and events; collaboration services such as wikis, social bookmarking and social news. Multimedia services include video and digital image sharing and entertainment such as gaming and virtual worlds.

What are the benefits to the club? Social media provides a way of enhancing club communications by using another mode of connecting to your members (besides newsletters, the club Web site and e-mail messaging) where members may already have a presence. The benefits to the club include generating more interest and fostering communications while the member is off-site. This exposure helps to keep the club in the forefront of the members’ minds and informs them of upcoming events and happenings at the club. This, in turn, may generate more use of club facilities and corresponding increases in revenue.  You may also be able to enhance communications with your internal staff through the use of social media.

What are the benefits for the member? Members stay connected to the club and other members using the service even when they are not physically at the club. Member value can be enhanced by providing useful information such as changes in playing conditions on the course, golf tips to improve their game and upcoming events that may be of interest to them.

Are club members using it? I highly recommend surveying your members to find out if they are using any social media and, if so, find out what media services they are using. You do not want to implement a social media program if a low percentage of your members are not using it regularly.

Why should the club consider it? If a high percentage of your members are not presently using social media, there really is little reason to consider it. However, keep in mind that nearly three-quarters of all new members joining clubs are under the age of 56, according to Bill McMahon of theMcMahon Group. Therefore, it may behoove you to focus on your youngest members who are likely using social media as part of their online daily diet. In addition, social networking currently accounts for 11 percent of all time spent online in the US, and women over 55 years old are the fastest growing segment of Facebook users.

What are the pitfalls? As a private club there are several possible pitfalls to embracing social media. First, you have to have a staff member who is technology-savvy and understands membership marketing and events. This person also must be able to communicate well with members and staff. The social media person needs to publish club event information as well as provide useful links. The posted information must not only be relevant but valuable to your members if you want them to continue to monitor and visit the service. If you do not have this in place, your social media project may be doomed.

Also, if you use a public social media service you may be inadvertently raising privacy issues and other legal questions. For instance, your status as a private club may be challenged in litigation when you are using public social media services. To reduce the likelihood of such an occurrence, you may want to start out with a private account or use an online service through your current club Web site provider or a third party vendor such as I recommend consulting the club’s attorney on this topic.

Read on to the next page…