When it comes to Social Networks, What’s In, What’s Out and What’s Next?

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By finding the best ways to use the latest communications platforms, clubs and resorts are exploring new and unique ways of doing business.

 

Social networking isn’t just for teenagers anymore. Increasingly, clubs and resorts are getting into the act.

Phoenix’s Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, for instance, has a LinkedIn group, a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed. It also puts out updates and behind-the-scenes looks at events and offerings, via podcasts on iTunes and “vodcasts” on YouTube.

“Our fans and followers are growing every day,” says Becky Blaine, the property’s Public Relations Manager. “It’s a great communication tool that bridges the gap between generations.”

SUMMING IT UP


• Everyone’s doing it – why not clubs and resorts?
• Social networking provides direct, instantaneous access to members, guests and prospects.
• Social networks also attract more than their share of criminals and scammers, so firm groundrules are needed for how they are to be used.

Social Networking in Plain English



Twitter Most effective for short, quick messages or links.
Facebook Useful for building a brand, establishing a fan base, sending messages, and posting content.

Myspace Great for viral marketing, recruiting, peer networking, and general communications.

YouTube Offers opportunity to capture the spirit of a property through video.

LinkedIn Good for business networking with suppliers and partners, as well as members and guests.

While Baby Boomers might make up the core of your club’s membership, reaching out to younger generations and the cyber-savvy is proving to be an effective way to foster an online version of club life, convey club and course announcements in real time, boost membership numbers, and even attract new employees.

Charwood Country Club, based in West Columbia, S.C. has a Facebook page where members are asked to “tell us about your exciting golfing experience at Charwood! How did you play today?” Meanwhile, both Heron Bay Golf and Country Club (Atlanta, Ga.) and Spallumcheen Golf & Country Club (Vernon, B.C.) have blogs updating members with real-time weather reports and course conditions.

Northland Country Club (Duluth, Minn.) has two blogs: one to update social members on club events, and another to let golf members know about course conditions. Northland also has a Facebook page where members can—and do—connect with one another.

Even Dallas-based ClubCorp (“How ClubCorp is Defining the Market…Again,” C&RB, August 2008), now has a big foot in the social networking door, with a bevy of jobs for its more than 150 club and resort properties posted on Myspace.

Beginning with Blogging
A decade ago, no one had ever heard of a blog. Now, there are over 100 million of them, with something like 50,000 new ones going up every day. A blog—short for “Web log”—is a type of Web journal, with entries appearing in reverse chronological order. Blogs are easy to create and maintain, with text, photos and links to other sites; no technical know-how is required.

Using free or inexpensive platforms like Blogger.com, owned by Google, clubs and resorts can jump on the bandwagon and connect with their guests and members in a way that may seem more “up-close and personal” than a traditional, static Web site. Plus anyone, from the general manager to the executive chef to the golf course superintendent, can publish a blog.

Club Med began a blog a few years ago, to show guests the progress that was being made on the renovation of a property in Mexico. “The blog proved to be a perfect way for updates to be communicated,” says Kate Moeller, Public Relations Director for the company, which is based in Coral Gables Fla. “[The blog] was more ‘niche,’ and we were able to update it on a regular basis.”

While it’s no longer the “latest and greatest” way to connect with members online, blogging is still a good first step for clubs looking to dip their feet into the social networking waters.

Northland Country Club started its blog in September of 2006, when the club tore down its clubhouse to construct a new one.

“That structure is an important part of club life,” says Duke Skorich, one of Northland’s Board Members and the author of its social blog. “Without it, we were limited in our ways of communicating. That was when I started the blog. With it, we were able to chronicle the construction, and keep members in the loop.”

While Northland’s blog started as a basic means of member communication, it has evolved into much more. There are polls, quizzes, photo galleries and cross-posts to Superintendent Chris Tritabaugh’s blog about course conditions and weather updates.

E-Safety


When it comes to social networking, it’s not what you know, or even who you know, it’s who knows you. And that’s pretty much where the trouble starts.
According to Nielsen Company research, more than two-thirds of the world’s Internet population visit social networking sites at least once a month, and nearly 10% of all time spent online is devoted to social networking. With growth this fast, a reach this large, and a community of relatively undisciplined users, social networks are attracting scammers and criminals. The bulk of social networkers are between the ages of 18 and 49—prime employment years, and ages where a mistake today could haunt them for many years into the future.
“As for physical risk, the potential for horror is enormous,” says David Gewirtz explores in his special report by ZATZ Publishing, in partnership with FrontLine Security Magazine, called The Dark Side of Social Networking, “If a criminal can easily find out where you are, what stores you frequent, what your daily habits are, who your friends are, and even what your personal food, entertainment, and beverage preferences are, you can be targeted with a level of ease never before possible.”To read Gerwirtz’s report visit viewer.zmags.com/publication/d935d279#/d935d279/36

“It’s just another tool to keep members—and potential members—aware of club life,” adds Skorich.

Blogs are especially helpful when members and guests can leave comments on the content. Club Med’s Moeller says she appreciates having this kind of direct feedback. “It allows us to know directly what our clients are thinking,” she says. “It’s a really good way to check the pulse of our operation.”

Facebook for Business
One of the fastest-growing social networking sites—and the one that continues to set the bar in the social networking world—is Facebook. Once limited to college students, Facebook is now open to anyone with an e-mail address.

Much like its competitor, MySpace, Facebook users can create profiles to keep in touch with friends and share information like photos, links and videos. Today, there are over 175 million active users on Facebook, with the fastest-growing group of users being those who are 30 years and older.

Facebook is not just a virtual community for friends, though; it has evolved into a networking utility for clubs to market their properties and services, providing yet another value-added opportunity for potential members to find them, and for current members to connect with one another.

“Our members use Facebook as a way to get to know each other outside the club,” says Northand’s Skorich. “What’s more, they use it to set up social events at the club with one another. Then, after the event, they post pictures and visit each other’s profiles, to talk about the event. In a way, the page has become an extension of the club.”

Northland’s not alone in the Facebook game. Type “country club” or “resort” into Facebook’s internal search engine, and you’ll find dozens of pages set up by properties all around the world. Each of these pages has its own fan base, as well as a “wall” where “fans” can post messages and comments. Properties can post photos, schedules, and information about special events and promotions, much like a blog, only a little more templatized and a little more private.

Desa Resort in Jakarta-Selatan, Indonesia, turned to Facebook as a quick and easy way to connect with guests and clients beyond the scope of its community reach.

“We’ve used social networking for introducing our business to potential clients abroad, promoting new markets, and establishing brand building for online communities,” says Chairun Sariputra, Desa Resort’s Director of Sales and Marketing. “Social networking provides more ‘buzz’ and brand building for the resort.”

Six months ago, Club Med also began using Facebook with a group page for Club Med North America. The page now has around 1,700 “fans,” and Club Med focuses primarily on its “affinity groups” with  special interests, such as food, wine, water sports, or beach volleyball.

“It’s been useful to keep people up to speed and to start new conversations among our ‘friends,’ ” says Moeller.

The Video Revolution
If a picture paints a thousand words, a video can paint a million. At least, that’s what resorts hope for when they post videos and vodcasts on sites like YouTube. More than still photos, videos can effectively capture the spirit and essence of a place, a course renovation or a clubhouse construction.

Club Med posts videos on YouTube about its Petite Chef program and other services that might help attract new business. “Some of the videos have been viewed 45,000 times,” says Moeller. “It’s a great tool to reach a niche audience.”

Pinehurst Resort in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C. has a video library with clips about the resort’s championship tradition, news updates from the President, and even a golf swing video that features tips and lessons on how to recover from a shot into the lovegrass.

On Northland Country Club’s Turfgrass Management blog, there are currently a number of videos detailing a recent water line break on the second fairway. Superintendent Chris Tritabaugh’s narrates the videos,  explaining what the viewer is seeing and what repairs will be needed.

“The videos help our members understand the importance of capital spending on projects like irrigation system renovations,” notes Skorich. “They add a visual component to the property. We can also post videos of weddings and special events for prospective members, to see what being a member here is like. It’s the best ‘brochure’ we can offer.”

Twitter, The Social Network du Jour
Once just a fad, Twitter, a microblogging platform with upwards of 32 million users, is evolving into a powerful form of communication. It is a relative newcomer on the social networking scene, but it’s quickly gaining ground as a useful marketing tool.

Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which represents golf courses and resorts in the Myrtle Beach area, has been using Twitter to communicate with its clients. So far, it has about 500 followers on its feed.

“We’ve been using it as a way to get messages out to golfers,” says Steve Mays, Director of Marketing. “It’s worked well for us. We’ve had a lot of good response.”

Mays doesn’t see Twitter as a cornerstone of his marketing strategy, but as part of the overall package. “It’s a piece of the puzzle,” he says. “It’s one way to get out and talk with golfers.”

As part of its 96th birthday celebration this year, The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa in Asheville, N.C., demonstrated the instant-response power to be gained through Twitter, as the property gave away 96 free rooms in less than 90 minutes.

“We were one of the first major companies to launch a major giveaway as a way to reach and communicate with current and new customers,” reports Susan Phillips, the resort’s Director of Marketing and Communications, in explaining this use of a new page that has been set up to provide updates on Grove Park Inn activities.

“There certainly is a developing trend for the hospitality industry to promote on Twitter,” adds Ron Morin, Grove Park’s Executive Director of Operations. “With our move toward more of an online presence, Twitter seemed like a unique way to give away 96 free stays.”

The Ups and Downs of Networking
For all of their benefits, social networks can just as easily become a security and regulatory compliance nightmare, as communications most often occur outside of a firewall, where a club or resort has no control over what’s said or accessed.

Adding to the danger, Nielsen Company research shows that more than two-thirds of the world’s Internet population visits social networking sites at least once a month, and that nearly 10% of all time spent online is now devoted to social networking in some form.

With this kind of explosive growth amid a community of relatively undisciplined users, it’s no surprise that social networks are also attracting more than their share of scammers and criminals. So clubs and resorts that do enter the realm of social networking are making sure to establish some firm groundrules.

Janeen Driscoll, Communications Manager for Pinehurst Resort, which has a Facebook Page, a Twitter account, and a variety of vlogs, emphasizes the importance of these kinds of policies. “While we would certainly encourage any member, employee, or guest to use these sites,” she says, “we’ve also established policies for our employees to protect internal information, protect our trademark, and to be careful of their personal priva
cy.”