What can you do to build better conversations with golfers?
Pat Jones asks whether greenkeepers can do more to inform golfers about the maintenance of playing facilities.
You know what makes my head explode? Hearing this from general managers, professionals and superintendents…
“Our members don’t want a club newsletter. They won’t even open emails. None of them are on Twitter or Instagram. And there’s no point even trying because they don’t pay attention anyway. They won’t even rake bunkers or fix ballmarks! It’s useless so why bother?”
Firstly, this is another example of this distasteful habit we in the golf business have of shaming our own customers.
A Top 25 superintendent confessed to me recently how frustrated he is by all the negative crap he hears about players from some of his colleagues. And he’s right. Yes, golfers can be dumbasses, but shouldn’t we acknowledge that their dumbassery is at least partially our fault for not being better teachers?
And second, this “why bother?” mindset makes me crazy because it ignores one simple truth: communication, done properly, works. People learn new behaviours.
So, allow me to answer a few basic questions to help you and your facility communicate more effectively with those annoying people who pay the bills.
(Note: this is a club‑centric piece. If you’re at a pay‑and‑play that doesn’t collect email addresses and follow up with coupons or invitations or reminders, God help you.)
What should we communicate about?
What are you selling?
Pick a few key topics for the year and stick with them. Examples could include tree removal, capital needs, wildlife around the course or “meet the team”. The point is to look at your business plan for the year and figure out what needs to be promoted or highlighted to members on a regular basis.
Always communicate repeatedly about upcoming disruptions or closures.
Return on investment (ROI) stories.
“Remember that cool thing we spent a pile of money on two years ago? Here’s how it’s paying for itself.”
People, people, people.
Tell stories about the team. Explain why your mechanic is the most important “invisible” employee on the grounds.
Introduce staff with a short Q&A about family, favourite teams, foods, etc.
What exactly are we creating?
Start with a content bucket.
The most important thing to do is collect all your content in one place on your website. Typically, this is your blog or news section. Nearly every existing facility website has a “News” function on the navigation bar but you can always add a widget like WordPress for free. Everything should be posted here: announcements about aerification; pictures of trees getting cut down; junior golf updates; videos of cute little foxes frolicking around the course; your latest drone footage; new items in the restaurant; big Nike sale in the pro shop, etc., etc., etc. Put everything you want your customers and members to know in one place.
Platforms like email, Twitter and Facebook are just pipelines.
They each have different quirks but fundamentally they’re just tubes through which the information from your content bucket flows to folks you need to reach. The content is what informs, not the conveyance.
What happens to my existing superintendent blog?
Nothing. Keep doing it but whatever you post on your turf blog should also be posted on any main club blog or news site and shared according to the club’s schedule. The point is to put everything in one place, make it easy to find and search and then share your content on every possible facility platform.
Who does this content stuff?
At a club, the general manager should run this effort. You and your fellow managers should contribute or find someone on the team who will. Department heads should drive content about their priorities.
My best advice is to write/create a few original things and steal the rest from good sources. BIGGA, the GCSAA and others all have lovely content machines, fact sheets, and more. On the BIGGA website you’ll find feature articles, Continue to Learn videos, other resources and links to online databases such as the Turfgrass Information File where there are decades of searchable content you can use. Best of all, BIGGA has produced a series of publications entitled Your Course to tell important stories about golf and golf courses.
Get some help
If you don’t have a marketing director or coordinator or similar person at your facility to help with this, hire a freelancer for a couple of hundred pounds a month to help create, edit and proofread your content. (Check out Upwork.com.)
How do you put that content in front of customers?
Monthly club newsletter
I remain shocked that more facilities don’t do simple newsletters for their members. This is particularly surprising for private clubs which ought to be focused on member retention every stinking day.
A good newsletter from a trusted source like your club can have a 50%+ open‑up‑and‑scan rate if you do a few things right (see Tips for Success). If you don’t have an emailer programme like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, get one.
Most importantly, doing a monthly e‑news forces your management team to plan out content in advance. Planning the newsletter makes you focus on upcoming priorities, events, programmes, etc. It’s an inherently proactive practice I recommend highly for reasons that go well beyond just “getting the word out”.
Once you’ve created the content for your e‑news, your social plan is largely done too because you’ll simply be sharing that same content from your content bucket on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Best case is to spread those key pieces of content out over the course of the month so you have a built‑in, ongoing flow of interesting stuff going to your members no matter what their preferred platform is.
That’s because it is. When you have a good content plan driven by your facility e‑newsletter, your social media plan is largely written.
You’ve shared your key information content so everything else on your feeds is about branding, echoing those messages and projecting the “voice” you want in your market.
Tips for Success
Pictures, pictures, pictures
Want to instantly make your newsletter a success? Publish a link to all of the latest pictures from the last big club event. Attaching nearly any image will create at least three times more engagement with social posts.
Always include thumbnail pics in your e‑newsletter body to set stories apart. Creating a “pictorial story” with step‑by‑step images and a sentence or two about each picture is an incredibly simple and effective way to communicate. People read photo captions much more often than the rest of a story so don’t neglect them. Also check out Skitch, an app that allows you to add simple arrows and notes to make pics more educational.
Short is good
If you’re struggling trying to write a science‑based, 2,000‑word essay on why golfers should embrace aerification, STOP. Think about five quick reasons why aeration matters and boil it down to one sentence supporting each point. Stick a before‑and‑after pic or a rootzone pic in there and you’re done. »
Video clips are awesome
Two‑thirds of folks will watch them “frequently”. Try 90‑second show‑and‑tell videos out on the course or around the clubhouse to share new things or highlight a new member service.
Podcasts are not as awesome
Yes, they’re da bomb and such if you’re a turf nerd, that but remember that less than 20% of normal people listen to podcasts monthly or more. I get it: it’s fun to hear the sound of your own voice but when 80% of your potential audience won’t ever listen, you should consider short videos or pictorials instead.
Customise everything a little for each social platform
Posting that awesome new drone footage? Tailor your introduction differently for each platform (newsletter, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook). Pick one platform to lead with (Instagram makes sense) and create your post to perform well there. Do a quick modification for each additional channel to make the message fit the media. You can use Hootsuite or Buffer to manage your channels but I think it’s just as easy to cut, paste and update as needed for each platform.
Be specific and active in your subject lines. Remember the preview that shows up as well.
Subject lines are critical!
You should spend as much time crafting the subject line for your e‑newsletter as you do on any other part of it. Shame on you if you send one out that says “Shady Acres GC Newsletter for June”. Instead say: “NEW: Doak’s master plan updates and a killer guacamole recipe from Chef Bob.” Be specific, be engaging and sell the idea of clicking on the damn thing.
Keep it brief
For a monthly newsletter, five to six items are more than enough. Yes, you can do them every other month instead, but it’s easier to keep on top of it with a short, monthly format.
Send it twice
Send your e‑blast out on a regular date each month but also schedule a resend to those who didn’t open it. If you get 35% open‑up on your first blast, the second one will likely net you another 10‑15% with zero effort.
Make it fun
It ain’t rocket science. So, enough excuses and enough customer‑bashing. Use a newsletter and social plan to force your facility to think about what and how you communicate with the folks who pay the bills. Make it a priority for a while and it will soon become institutionalised. And you’ll be better off for it.
Continue the conversation: Pat Jones is on Twitter at @PatJonesTweets
This feature was first published on Pat Jones' website, The Flagstick Blog. You can read this and more here.
Pat Jones has been a passionate advocate for superintendents and the golf industry for 30 years.
Now, as head of Flagstick LLC, he’s using that passion to help companies and organizations in the industry communicate with customers and drive sales more effectively and efficiently.
Jones has been a business media executive for most of his adult life, profitably steering the sales and editorial operations of Golf Course Industry, Lawn & Landscape, Golfdom and GCM over the years. He specializes in researching and tracking the state of the golf course maintenance market and shining a spotlight on the industry’s best people, practices and products. Jones got his start in the business running lobbying, public relations and fundraising for the GCSAA.
He’s best known for communicating candidly about golf, business and life as a writer, speaker and teacher. He is a frequent keynoter at conferences and industry events and often teaches classes on social media, communications and career development.
Jones lives and works in Cleveland.