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September 2018

Finding the Sweet Spot

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By Rob Carey

Email newsletters and social media channels need the right content delivered at the right times.

As if general managers and directors of golf don’t have enough to do at their properties, the rapid sophistication of digital marketing has placed even more responsibility upon them. Regardless of whether they have marketing people on property or in a corporate office to assist them, facility managers simply must understand what their email and social media channels can potentially deliver in revenue, and in brand reputation and affinity too.

In practice, however, “too many properties are firing from the hip and being reactive with their email and social media marketing, rather than being proactive,” says Robbie Wooten, president of Impact Golf Marketing in High Point, North Carolina. Only when managers build a cohesive plan to present compelling content based on seasonality — and then enlist the entire facility staff to help create that content — can these channels deliver maximum results.

Engaging Those Players Already in the Fold
While the constant push to gather contact information from as many folks as possible is critical these days, the value of all those email addresses is diminished if the content a property sends out in its golf e-newsletter doesn’t resonate with the specific interests of each customer or prospect.

“Customer segmentation is so important, but a lot of properties push out an identical message across every channel they use, both email and social media,” Wooten says. “People who have vacationed at your property in the past two years should not be getting the exact same e-newsletter as prospects who have contacted you for more information. You’re wasting your time if you put out a message that’s ineffective with much of your audience.”

At Palmetto Dunes Resort in Hilton Head, South Carolina, golf is just one of 13 operations on property, and each one has a customized email list. Even so, content from other operations is often included in the golfers’ e-newsletters, because “people engage in multiple activities throughout their stay with us,” says Karen Kozemchak, director of marketing for the resort. Further, “we have customer segments that are strongest in each season, so we plan ahead to craft our messages in a balanced way, yet still target each segment differently.”

The segments, which include families who come to Palmetto Dunes each summer, golf-package players who arrive mostly in spring and fall, snowbirds and local residents, each receive a different package of text and video content. As for frequency, “we connect roughly once a month with our golf database, but the frequency fluctuates based on seasonality and when different segments tend to book,” Kozemchak adds. “Over time, we’ve figured out who we want to engage the most at particular times of the year.”

With the visual element so important in content — even among older demographic groups — one item that Kozemchak finds effective for the resort’s golf e-newsletter is player testimonial videos. “Finding out why people came here is interesting and relatable to this audience,” she says. “It could be a meeting or incentive program, or a buddy trip or family gathering that they’ve done several years in a row. The human-interest angle works.”

Such an item in an e-newsletter starts with teaser copy to get recipients to click on an accompanying link to view the video on the resort’s website. Alternatively, a facility can have a YouTube channel for each of its leisure operations, and occasionally promote a video from another operation in the golf e-newsletter to provide a fuller view of the resort experience.

Engaging a Wider Audience Through Social Media
To reach people who are not in a facility’s email database, social media is the place to be. In fact, “I’ve been telling our clubs that the rate at which people are using social media for search and discovery through keywords — like you do through Google or Bing — is drastically increasing,” says Jared Cohen, digital communications manager for Troon. As a result, Cohen encourages Troon-managed properties to use their city’s name in many posts so that they come up more often in broad user searches. What’s more, he says, “you need to be current on these platforms where people are searching, so the frequency of posts is critical. Be consistent in your presence.”

If there was any doubt that photo and video content is king, consider that Facebook and Instagram strongly prioritize visual content. With Facebook, the algorithms that choose the content that’s shown on users’ news feeds actually discriminate against posts that are too text-heavy — this even applies to the promotional flyers that golf facilities often post as photos. And Instagram is a mobile-only app where users can post photos or videos up to 60 seconds in length, with only brief text.  

But “even if you use the same video on both your Facebook and Instagram channels, it’s a mistake to use the exact same wording in each post,” Wooten warns. “You need to shape the message to the personality of the platform or it won’t make an impact.”

Here’s proof: “We see the 40-plus crowd interacting the most with our Facebook content, while the 25-to-40 crowd and more women are interacting with our Instagram content,” Cohen notes. “So our messages on Instagram are short and include a few more emojis to go with the visuals.”

Especially for golf shops that have a presence on social media that’s distinct from their property’s other operations, it’s imperative to plan out a calendar for the posts that will appear in high season, shoulder seasons and low season.
“The content calendar should be built about 90 days out from execution so that you have time to gather the content you’ll use for each customer segment in a given season,” says Wooten. “The type of content you use in each season should fulfill different goals.”

While content in high season should spotlight the course experience and clubhouse amenities to drive demand and revenue, facilities that don’t sufficiently plan out their high-season content often fall into a one-dimensional trap. “You either get too busy to create good content, or you have a stretch of bad weather and want to try to make up the revenue,” Wooten notes. “The default action is to flood your channels with deals, offers on golf, merchandise, F&B or whatever else. But nobody wants to see the same types of posts too often.” 

In low season, “that’s when we’ll use the more evergreen content we’ve created and be the best storytellers we can be, to build that property’s brand,” Cohen notes. “These can be the human-interest items such as on-site testimonials or player accomplishments or an interesting experience a guest had somewhere on property. They help keep you connected to potential customers at times when you’re not going to be top of mind.”

Another low-season tactic that not only builds brand awareness but also strengthens the email database: contests and sweepstakes. Kim Riley, director of digital marketing for OB Sports, recently assisted Gamble Sands Golf and Inn in Brewster, Washington, with an off-season sweepstake featuring a significant prize: A stay-and-play package for two during opening week of the playing season.

“A lot of properties will offer prizes that aren’t clearly worth it for customers to give personal information they know will be used to market to them,” Riley says. “The prize has to be enticing and display the brand quality you’re trying to establish with people who might not know you well.”

Gamble Sands’ Facebook and Instagram posts about the sweepstake — some of them paid for and thus appearing in users’ news feeds as “sponsored posts” — linked to a landing page on the facility’s website, where an entry form solicited detailed information from entrants.

“We let the campaign run at least 30 days,” Riley notes. “If you do flash campaigns for only a week, it doesn’t give the social platforms enough time to optimize the posts and show them to a critical mass of the right customers.”
The result: Nearly 3,000 new email addresses for Gamble Sands, including a large percentage from primary markets Seattle and Spokane, which were targets for the sponsored posts. The resort then announced the sweepstake winner on social media several weeks ahead of its April opening, giving Gamble Sands the chance to create a storyline before, during and after the winner’s on-site experience. 

Many Ways to Create Content
When it comes to creating material for each season of the content calendar, the good news is that most everyone on the golf staff has a smartphone in their pocket at all times and, with a bit of training, can become content contributors, building a stockpile of content that can be posted throughout the year.

“We stress to facility managers that video content should not be slick and produced, because people see through that fluff and quickly lose interest,” Wooten says. “Smartphone video is good quality but still authentic. People can relate to real stories of how your facility is used, and the on-the-spot situations you capture.” 

Using incentives with guests can help boost participation.
“When you have a lot of groups coming through in high season, there’s opportunity for front-line staff to say, ‘We’ll give each of you a drink coupon if someone talks with us for a minute about your stay-and-play experience,’” Wooten adds. And at Palmetto Dunes, Karen Kozemchak occasionally runs contests for guests to post their best on-property photos to Instagram.

What’s more, incentivizing property staff can boost the amount of good content you capture. Riley suggests to her facilities that they hold a monthly contest where the staffer who gets the most likes for a picture posted to Instagram wins a prize, such as a clubhouse dinner for two or their choice of apparel in the shop. For video contests, though, managers should vet the entries and choose winners themselves in order to maintain quality control of what’s posted. 
Riley adds that behind-the-scenes situations get a lot of interest on social media. “You can show your people opening the course before customers get there, with the mowers going out when the shadows are long and there’s dew on the greens.”

Recent technologies are making on-course video more compelling than ever. For instance, drones with attached cameras are easy to operate, can fly for 15 to 25 minutes per charge, and cost less than $1,000. This allows for hole-by-hole flyovers at different times of year as well as aerial footage of group golf outings plus weddings and parties taking place on property.

“Drones give you video from angles you’ve never had before; we’ve even used the footage in TV commercials,” Wooten says. “The best footage comes from the top of the treeline. If you go higher, you lose the contours of your layout.” 
In addition, a handheld gimbal camera (cost: about $600) works well from a point of view that’s a few feet above eye level, providing a unique perspective of the course, the 19th hole, and other areas.

“You can use content from these tech tools in so many ways,” Cohen says. “The return on investment is strong.” 
 
Rob Carey is a freelance writer and principal of Meetings & Hospitality Insight.

 

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