The next time you walk out on your pool deck and it’s a busy day, take a look around. It probably won’t take you more than a few minutes to notice several patrons using cell phones or handheld tablet devices. Wouldn’t it be great if you could capture the attention of all those people via today’s technology?
Unfortunately for many pool operators, particularly those in the municipal sector, that’s not always a reality. In today’s economy, budgets are limited and even when the technology is free, there’s often a significant amount of red tape to overcome.
But with a little know-how, you can break through and gain access to tools including social networking platforms, the latest Web wonders and even new hardware to better manage your team. Here are nine strategies to help you stay on the cutting edge.
1. Create a plan. “Develop an idea of what you want before you talk to anyone,” says Chris Griffith, aquatic supervisor for the city of Paul’s Valley, Okla., and moderator of the group on AI Connect,AI’s online professional social netowrk.
To adequately explain what you need and why, you must take the time to evaluate your market and determine what will best meet current needs.
Be sure to also draft a policy statement governing use of the technology. For example, if you’re proposing a new social networking site, your policy statement should answer these questions:
• Who will be allowed to post?
• What topics will be covered?
• How many postings are expected to be delivered to your patrons daily?
• What happens when something inappropriate is posted?
• Who is ultimately responsible for the facility’s social media presence and content?
To further allay concerns, think of the audience. “Pinpoint the specific demographic you’re going after,” says Kathy Fisher, aquatic director at West Morris (N.J.) Area YMCA.
2. Demonstrate the benefits. Clearly articulating the benefits of your proposal can go a long way toward winning approval, Griffith adds. Be prepared to explain why what you’re asking for is vital to your facility.
Data and statistics are key. Another good strategy is to provide examples of what competitors are doing, suggests Stephanie Hee, marketing specialist at NRH2O Family Water Park in North Richland Hills, Texas.
It also may be useful to present some examples of what high-level brands are doing, and how their strategies are working. For example, if you want to implement QR codes on your brochures, show those in charge what a company such as Coca-Cola is doing. Coke launched its first nationwide QR code program during the 2011 holiday season.
Finally, when presenting the benefits of what you are proposing, remember that money talks. It’s difficult to oppose something that’s free, so you can use the fact that many of the newest tools come at low or no cost.
3. Understand your opponent. “Know who you’re pitching to, what their personality is like, and what they generally like,” Griffith says. “This will help [prevent]you from accidentally offending someone and botching your proposal.”Also develop a clear vision of how those individuals will be involved.
“The biggest pushback we got was because they didn’t want another arm out there broadcasting the city’s image without direct oversight,” says Mark Foote, recreation programmer for the city of Mesa, Ariz. He recently launched a Facebook page for his aquatics operations.
One way to calm these concerns is to demonstrate how your Web vision will meet organizational goals. For example, you might discuss how social networking builds community, Hee adds.
4. Focus on those you serve. Remember that it’s all about your patrons. How will what you are requesting better meet their needs?
Hee and her team acquired a small camera, which they use to create videos from the waterpark. The videos are posted on YouTube, which gives the public a closer view of the experience at NRH2O.
5. Arm yourself with knowledge. Technology changes quickly and the individuals you might need to convince may not have a strong understanding of what you’re asking for. Therefore, you must become the expert.
“We had to go outside our circle,” Fisher notes. She recalls that a year ago, before entering the world of social media, the idea of status updates meant little to her. When her agency decided it was time to go for it, they brought in experts to help explain how it works and how it could be a valuable marketing tool.
6. Start small. “You won’t always get the ‘yes,’” Griffith says. “There is a threshold to the amount of stuff you can get from even the most lenient of people.” For that reason, it’s smart to start small.
When Foote decided to jump into Facebook, he started by creating a group just for his lifeguard staff. Once that was successful for about a year, it was much easier to make the case for a public page.
7. Find supportive allies. As with almost any request, the best supporters are those individuals in your organization who may not necessarily be in a position to give you the go-ahead, but who hold a good deal of power and influence over the decision-maker.
Allies might be board members, IT staff or leaders of other departments who also want what you are requesting. Or you might enlist the support of your direct supervisors, says Traci Tenkely, aquatics coordinator for the city of Chandler, Ariz.
8. Be persistent. If your proposal is not accepted immediately, request the ability to tweak the proposal and present it at a later date. “Don’t get offended …,” Griffith says. “If you get some backlash for something, they likely don’t understand your position. If they respond negatively, or just plain yell at you, apologize and ask if you can try to explain more clearly your position and what you hope to accomplish. If you have written information to provide, it can help if you’re more gifted with a pen than your tongue. Or if they like to read instead of listen.”
9. Professionalism and manners count. When it comes time to make your proposal, be professional and polite. Prepare thoroughly and “don’t expect softball questions; expect rocks,” Griffith warns. Present your request with confidence and thank those who made the decision — whether you get what you want or not, he adds.
“It will stick with them and you may get something else later because they remember your professionalism.”