Turning social follows into bookings

Engage with your online audience, build relationships and build revenue

The evidence is in: Golfers connecting with your brand on social media will take action and book rounds. As Facebook turns 15 years old, social media has become a major part of social life. And golf courses that use social networks as marketing tools now realize that the more effectively they market, the more their efforts convert to sales.

It’s certainly high-tech yet also a bit old-fashioned, according to GolfNow Plus Specialist Brad Thomas, who likens Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the others to highway billboards. “We use the term ‘billboard effect’ because what we do on social media for client courses works on a basis of see-store-recall,” says Thomas. “One post won’t make the needle jump, but steady connection does.”

He makes the point that messages posted for golfers who follow your course will generally reach them at some random time when they aren’t expecting to book a round. And yet a well-crafted message will indeed trigger the person to think about golf, as they anticipate their next outing and store away their impression of your course as a fun, inviting atmosphere.

“Engaged with you on social media but not making formal golf plans is still a great scenario,” Thomas explains. “A few days later when they’re booking online, that engagement they had will tilt them toward your course, over someone else’s.”

Among the social media platforms, Facebook really hardwires this two-stage process, according to Thomas. “If you post to followers on Instagram, they have to click ahead to the description page to book, whereas on Facebook it’s right there,” he says. That being the case, there are still occasions when a platform other than Facebook is your best option. One of Thomas’s clients in central Florida, Celebration Golf, worked with him on a photography contest using Instagram—a natural choice given that Instagram is all about sharing photos and videos.

Their special hashtag, #IPlayCelebration, attracted many an enthusiastic entrant, resulting in highly valuable brand engagement. “We asked the people who entered to use two tags,” says Thomas, “the special contest tag plus the course’s main tag. That stretched the impressions to all the people in each contest participant’s network.” It adds up to a social-media win that Thomas will take every single time for his clients. “With a program like this,” he says, “you get people building your golf course’s network organically on your behalf. It’s a great side benefit of any promotion.”

Along with the messaging that goes out to large audiences on social platforms there is also a vital role for one-on-one engagement with followers. “Directly communicating with one golfer deepens the relationship with that individual and at the same time it shows everyone who sees the back and forth how involved you are with the golfing community,” says Thomas. “So, if we have a U.S. Open pool going, and someone enters a player who is not at all a favorite we’ll message back in a light-hearted way saying that’s an interesting pick they’ve come up with.”

Other one-on-one communication will involve a simple thank-you for posting an Instagram photo of the course from that day’s play, or a reply to a new review either saying thanks for positive feedback or extending an apology for a day that didn’t go as well as it could.

Thomas considers social media as word-of-mouth advertising taken to an exponential level. That prompts the question of why word-of-mouth is so valuable in the first place. The person providing it has no clever slogans or glossy images to share, he simply has his peer’s trust—and presto, this removes any need for slick presentations. Course operators often speak of social media’s time demand, but on the flip side it certainly doesn’t demand perfection in how you execute. In fact, social platforms favor a homestyle approach, in tune with how people naturally interact.

That point is well understood by Colleen McGrath, a staffer at Celebration Golf who provides visual content to Thomas, her GolfNow representative.

“Like any kind of best practice in golf course management, capturing images and little stories that will connect you with golfers becomes a habit,” Thomas explains. “Colleen has made that part of her routine. She spots something that’s likely to make an impact on social media and she reaches for her camera.”

When McGrath took on this task, she was told that a video or photo “doesn’t have to be perfect as long as it’s personal.” Taking that to heart, she makes sure to keep her camera “at eye level” to keep things casual. “Professional photos shot from high overhead with everything looking perfect is great for certain purposes, but what works on social media is always less staged and more real,” she says. Examples would be a full moon rising over the fairways, a crane standing beside one of the ponds or perhaps the superintendent’s loyal dog riding by in a utility cart.

“We want them to remember the little moments that were enjoyable and amusing, so we put all that stuff into social media,” she says. “For people who’ve never played here, it’s not a memory but instead it’s an invitation that shows how at ease and welcoming we are here at Celebration.”

It’s a potent tag team when you’ve got someone at your course working with a GolfNow contact who has all the tools and analytics to use on their behalf. The result is a form of marketing that goes to the heart of socializing and human enjoyment of recreational time. “Golf course operators have always worked super-hard on the golf product, out of necessity,” says Thomas, “and so they naturally market what they’ve worked so hard to produce—the course, the conditions, and also other amenities like the grill room or the range. They hadn’t marketed the little moments and highlights of a person’s day, because until social media came along it wasn’t possible.”

But it is possible now, and it grabs people when they see it on-screen. After that, they’ve got an emotional investment in your facility, spurring them to spend their discretionary time and dollars at your course instead of someone else’s.

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