Spreading the tennis bug
For one club, the viral nature of Facebook has been a boon to their business.
By Brent Johner
In February 2004, Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard University student, launched an amateur website that sought to bring students together into a small social network. He had no idea that he was about to start a revolution.
Today, less than five years later, Zuckerberg’s social networking website has 70 million registered users and is worth an estimated $8 billion. Facebook, as Zuckerberg’s website is now known, is now the most popular social networking site in Canada and the United Kingdom. In the U.S., only MySpace is more popular.
But while MySpace is a hit with the high school crowd, most Facebook users are college students and young professionals. It is precisely this demographic that should be of most interest to racquet sports clubs who are seeking to tap into the enormous potential of the online marketplace.
Facebook is a wonderful tool for promoting racquet sports clubs. I can testify to that fact. My own social network for racquet sports players (racquetnetwork.com) now draws nearly one-third of its annual income from contacts originally made through Facebook over the past year. By connecting with Facebook users who openly declare that they are interested in tennis, squash, badminton, table tennis and racquetball, we have been able to add customers, top up clinics, and grow our ladders and leagues.
Of course Facebook can’t take all of the credit for our success. We have a great website, an excellent reputation and wonderful partners and instructors. And we also take to heart many of the tips and techniques we read and hear about for our business. All of these things work together in a way that is attracting customers.
But I have no doubt that our business is expanding in large part due to our ongoing activities on Facebook. The viral nature of social networking is helping to create awareness of our programs and services. When a Facebook user joins our network, each and every one of his Facebook friends reads about it a few minutes later. When another Facebook user signs up for a squash backhand clinic, her friends hear about it just as quickly.
Racquet Network’s Facebook group has allowed us to expand our base within Calgary by more than 100 people in the past year. It has also allowed us to begin expanding into new markets around the world. In the past few months, for example, we have added new clients from the U.S. and Europe. We have even added a new badminton instructor from China. None of this would have happened without Facebook.
So, how can you make Facebook work for your business? Follow these steps:
Step 1: How to Get Started
You have two options here. 1) The simplest way to get started is to go to www.facebook.com and look for the “Businesses” link at the bottom of the page. From there, choose the “Facebook Pages” link to set up a page for your club. 2) A slightly more complicated but still worthwhile route to the same end is to go to www.facebook.com and set up a personal account. Once you have a personal account, you can choose to create a “Facebook Group.”
My personal recommendation is to go with No. 2. Don’t worry about the technology here. The interface is simple. You will be asked a few short questions. Do your best to answer them. The only thing that can’t be changed later is the name of a Facebook Group. You get a second, third, even fourth chance to correct any mistakes you might make while setting up your group. You also have the option of deleting everything and starting over.
Anybody who can type should be able to set up a Facebook site using one of the two options above. Take your time. Spread this project out over a few days if you want to. If you run into problems, try grabbing the nearest 20-something and asking for a two-minute tutorial. Nearly all of the 20-somethings I know have their own Facebook pages. I’m betting that the ones you know do, too.
When it comes to setting up your group, keep things simple. Be clear about who you are and where you are located. If you are a tennis club, include those words (tennis and club) in the name of your group. Choose a nice image, preferably a friendly face, to accompany your group’s profile. Remember that you can change things, including photos, later. So start simple and build as you learn. Your site will change frequently over the first few months as you become more comfortable with Facebook’s tools and environment.
Step 2: Invite People to Join Your Group
Regardless of where your club operates, you almost certainly have registered Facebook users on your membership roles already. Begin the process of building your group’s membership with these people. Follow the step-by-step instructions on your screen and invite them to join your club’s Facebook group as soon as you set it up.
Social networking and business networking are based on the same principles. Begin with the people closest to you, and bring them into your network first. Over time, these people will invite other people and your network will grow. For this reason, I also recommend keeping your Facebook group open to the public. Allow people to join and leave the group whenever they like. Allow them to be as involved as they want to be.
An open-door policy on your website is the best policy. Many of Racquet Network’s customers join our free Facebook group months before taking out their credit cards and buying a full membership. I think that’s wonderful. Customers who do this tend to know exactly what they want to do once they make the decision to buy our product. It makes my job much easier in the end.
Step 3: Fill Your Site With Content
Nothing is less interesting to internet users than enormous blocks of text. Take some time to add some visual content to your Facebook site after you set it up. Photographs and 10-second video clips give potential customers a chance to look in through your store windows. Show them your facility. Show them glimpses of your programs. But most importantly, show them what they want to see: people having fun while playing tennis and other racquet sports.
Contrary to popular belief, website content does not all have to be professionally produced. If you are a registered Facebook user, have a look at www.racquetnetwork.com/facebook to see examples of some of the effective content we are using. (Sorry, only registered Facebook users will be able to see what I am talking about here.) Yes, there are some professionally produced feature items. But these are supplemented by a lot of simple on-the-spot content that we produced ourselves.
Step 4: Give the Public a Chance to Participate
Once your group is established, give potential new customers a few reasons to come to your facility. Facebook users are typically people who are just beginning their careers. Many are young professionals with mortgages and student loans. Before you know it, however, they will be raising families and earning more than the national average. In other words, they are exactly the kind of people with whom racquet sports clubs want to establish long-term relationships.
Facebook users will jump at an opportunity to hit with a ball machine for an hour. They will gladly pay a fee to do so, but they will balk at the prospect of having to buy a membership first. They will also pay for the opportunity to come to a one-time round-robin event, but they are not likely to sign up for a regular weekly league.
Use your imagination. Find holes in your club’s schedule that you can fill with one-off events that will be attractive to this demographic. Think 60-minute clinics instead of 6-week lesson plans. The key to developing a relationship with customers in this demographic is to get them on the court with a racquet in their hand when they have the time to be there. They will return more often as their incomes rise and their debt loads shrink. And sooner or later, they will bring children with them.
Remember, too, that even the youngest and poorest Facebook users have parents, aunts, uncles, bosses and co-workers who play tennis and other racquet sports and who also know how to use a web browser. It’s important to keep this in mind when marketing to a Facebook audience. It may be a Facebook user who finds you, but it may the user’s college benefactor (father or mother) who ends up buying a family membership.
Step 5: Keep Your Content Current
Maintain your Facebook site as you maintain your facility. Log in and update it whenever you check your email. The Events and News sections should get the greatest amount of attention. Be diligent about deleting old information. Nothing scares off potential new customers faster than the smell of a stale website.
It is also important to take a couple of hours every now and then to update your photos and videos. Club members who see themselves on your website will get excited. They will share this excitement with their friends. The excitement soon becomes viral. Awareness of your club and its activities will grow.
Step 6: Avoid Spam
The best Facebook sites are organic. Growth is slow and steady punctuated now and then by seasonal growth spurts. So don’t be surprised to see your tennis site visitors pick up in the spring and slow down in the fall.
Accept the fact that many racquet sports are seasonal and learn to build on cyclical surges in interest. Consider promoting your tennis site during a Grand Slam tournament and when tennis will be prevalent on TV.
Fight all urges to promote your club when your audience is tuned out. Remember that Facebook users can drop you from their personal networks at the click of a mouse. Therefore, any time you feel the urge to resort to spamming in order to increase your website traffic, get up from the keyboard and go chat-up some customers.
Step 7: Prepare for Success
I have no doubt that Facebook and other networking sites (including my own) can help you build your client base and increase your sales. However, nobody should expect the technology to do the work for them. Having a website is a good thing. Having a website and a Facebook site is even better. Both of them will help you communicate what you have to potential customers.
But what you have, at the end of the day, is at least as important as how you advertise it. For this reason, you should take a good look at the product you are selling and ask yourself: Is this what the college-educated but still relatively poor young professionals who I will meet on Facebook want to buy?
If the answer is “yes,” then I am confident that you will succeed. If the answer is “no,” then please rearrange this article and begin with Step 7.
See all articles by Brent Johner
About the Author
Brent Johner , who has been designing websites professionally since 1996, is a founding member of the Oakridge Tennis and Squash Association in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is currently executive director for Racquet Network (www.racquetnetwork.com), a worldwide social network for racquet sports players. He can be reached through RacquetNetwork.com.