The timing of the request to write this piece about social media success and golf is curious in that I’ve been reflecting a lot on the topic recently. It was a little over a year ago that I came on staff at Maderas Golf Club in San Diego as their director of digital marketing and social media. (Yes, I get to focus entirely on social media and golf as my job.)
This rare and forward-thinking arrangement has produced great results for our club and earned us the social media award for all of Troon’s North American properties in 2015.
But we’ll get to great Maderas Golf Club case studies in a moment. I want this piece to be about ways you can incorporate social media into your course operation and experience similar results. But before the how, let’s start with the why, as in why did Maderas decide to do this in the first place?
For context, I’d previously been doing golf and travel writing in Southern California, which included creating blog and social media content for golf courses, including Maderas, as an influencer. I worked with Maderas Golf Club in this capacity for a year before they decided to bring me on staff for two days a week, which eventually became three.
At the time, Maderas Golf Club was weighing an expensive marketing proposal to step up its social media marketing. Instead, they chose to put that project on hold and invest in their own resources, their staff and me. In short, we decided to find out how much social media horsepower could generate on its own – and it turned out to be quite a bit.
I came on staff with three primary objectives:
- I would take over all of Maderas Golf Club’s social media channels and power up its dormant Twitter and Instagram accounts. (Note: I’d previously only been promoting Maderas Golf Club through my own accounts and networks.) We had a goal of building followers and have done exactly that, including doubling our Instagram following.
- I’d educate the staff about social media and make it accessible for everyone on staff regardless of their currently familiarity, comfort or capability with social media. One of the ways I did this was through weekly emails informing the staff about what we’re doing on social media and why and giving them ways to support, promote and, even contribute to, our content.
- Increased content generation. Besides just golf and instruction, Maderas Golf Club hosts weddings, dining events and tournaments and is a tourism draw in San Diego. We support all of these entities with our content – and see great results.
A year later, I’m proud to say we’ve overwhelmingly achieved all of these objectives and have established a social media culture amongst our guests, golfers and staff. We have continuing successes to show for it, but our ultimate social media success story is GolfBoard.
The ultimate social media success story of Maderas Golf Club
For those unfamiliar, GolfBoard is a motorized scooter that resembles a surfboard. Golfers traverse the course in style called “surfing the Earth.” GolfBoard launched three years ago at the West Coast PGA Show in Las Vegas and has slowly been integrated into golf.
Maderas Golf Club launched GolfBoard last spring and has promoted the program entirely through its social media and achieved astounding success with GolfBoard rentals.
By the time GolfBoard arrived at Maderas, I was well-established in my role at Maderas Golf Club and our social networks had matured. In short, we were ready for this and proceeded to employ all of our social media resources toward promoting GolfBoard, including announcing our decision on Instagram and Facebook to instantaneous enthusiastic response. The dialogue on our social media channels made us immediately aware we’d tapped into a huge demand in our market.
The day we announced, I posted a blog post that afternoon that contained the details of the program. By the time I walked out of the golf shop that afternoon, phones were ringing for reservations.
In 72 hours, that post received 1,600 views, a number it usually took weeks for our content to achieve, not days or hours. From there, we simply continued to stoke demand with a steady stream of content, but we also educated. We encouraged viewing an online safety video and signing one-time online waiver required for riding the boards.
When the boards finally arrived, we treated them like social media rocks stars, showing them being unloaded from the truck, etc. All the while, we were able to answer basic questions online about GolfBoard: where do my clubs go?; how fast does it go?; is it safe?, etc. This engagement was gaining us new followers and recruiting future GolfBoarders daily.
Using a GoPro, our staff shot a demo video for GolfBoard and I immediately began capturing it in action on our course through photos and video on my iPhone. It became immediately apparent video was the way to go to make people want to ride.
I posted videos of the boards surfing our course frequently on Instagram and those posts became a beacon for rentals. In the comments, you could literally see foursomes form as friends tagged their golf buddies and they began planning for their next round with us on GolfBoard.
Very quickly, the four boards we had were unavailable for rental the day of play without an advance reservation. Demand and rentals scaled quickly and two months later our course committed to buying four more boards, which launched a second cycle of social media marketing.
Five months in, the GolfBoard program has been an overwhelming success and I continue to promote it and sell rentals through our social media. At one point, it was about half of my job, but it’s established enough now that I can allocate my time to our steady stream of social media news, events and projects.
What are the secrets of Maderas Golf Club?
Our staff, by the way, has played a big role in all of the above with GolfBoard. For instance, the photo we used to promote the GolfBoard fleet increasing to eight was taken by a member of our outside services staff.
Staff contributions to our social media channels are common and are the source my greatest satisfaction. Social media is a team sport at Maderas Golf Club and everyone on our staff has contributed something of value at some point or recognized an opportunity.
That culture is truly what makes us unique in our industry and is something you can replicate at your operation. I tell people all the time that social media is a mindset before it’s a skill set. It’s a conscious decision to tell stories. In encouraging your course to make that choice.
I’m doubly fortunate in my role at Maderas Golf Club in that I’m supported by a marketing-minded General Manger, Michael Flickinger. His belief and support is what made my hiring possible but more than that made Maderas Golf Club a place where things could be tried and ideas could incubate and find their form and audience.
He’s especially been supportive of continuing education efforts, which are a must to keep up with the fast-moving world of social media. At one such event, I was introduced to the term “info-tainment,” which blends two words that describe the bulk of all content on social media – information and entertainment. When you blend the two, you have the overriding objective for our content at Maderas Golf Club – it either informs or it entertains, and the best does both.
Besides promoting golf and GolfBoard rentals, if you check out our content, you’ll also see photos and videos of wildlife, nature, lost golf balls, flower arrangements, beautiful brides, amazing sunsets and more in our feeds, all of it having its own unique info-tainment purpose. I follow an 80/20 formula for content that says 80 percent of our content is used to build following and drive engagement while the other 20 percent is to sell – golf rounds, dining events, weddings, etc.
This mix has worked well for us. Every piece of content has role that ultimately leads to our objectives, be it building business or building followers, which are one in the same. Every follower is opportunity. That’s someone who can book a round, ride a GolfBoard, eat lunch or maybe even getting married at our club.
Cultivating those relationships through social media is the way forward for golf at a time when growth is a challenge for golf courses. Your audience is out there but is your course doing what it takes to get them to come play, take a lesson, etc.? If not, I encourage you to start taking your social media seriously. It takes a commitment – content quality, consistency, relevancy, etc. – to get their commitment, but it can be done no matter the limits of time, staff, budget, etc.
I encourage you to make social media a priority at your course in 2017 and reap the benefits of becoming a social golf course. I may be one of the fortunate few with my role in 2016 but I shouldn’t be. There should be many more of me. Is your course ready to change that?