In a world that has gone crazy for technology, a lot of aquatics facilities are struggling to keep up.
But the fact is, when someone wants to know more about a business, the first place they look is on social media sites. These pages can be a huge benefit to facilities by allowing potential visitors to check out photos, read reviews and learn about upcoming events. It is one of the most expansive and cost-effective marketing tools we have at our disposal.
Unfortunately, social media can hurt just as much as it helps.
A page that is not maintained or that displays outdated information can cause people to form a negative opinion about a business before they arrive. In the case of aquatics facilities, people want to see current pool hours with an up-to-date schedule of programs. The last thing you want is someone showing up for water aerobics during family swim.
Another problem we run into in the age of the Internet is that things can spread very quickly: One bad review can reach a whole city’s worth of people in seconds.
A good example is a review we received on our outdoor pools’ Facebook page last season: “Just wanted to let you know my son contracted Hand, Foot and Mouth three days after visiting this pool. He is not a daycare child and was exposed to no one else during the week of our visit.” Though there was no proof of any wrongdoing on our part, and we heard no other complaints, we spent two weeks answering phone calls from people asking if the pool was safe. When you visit the Facebook page of our outdoor pool complex, this is the first review you see.
We can’t count on positive reviews to counter negative reviews because someone who has a pleasant stay at your facility may just leave a four- or five-star rating with no description. Someone who has a bad visit probably won’t need much convincing to tell you exactly how they feel, though.
So how do we handle negative reviews and online complaints from our patrons? Our main goal should always be to take someone who was disappointed with their visit and make them want to come back. While our first instinct might be to get defensive and protect our facility, we don’t want to come across as aggressive or angry with the patron. This is especially true when everyone can see what you are posting.
If someone is making a complaint, chances are they just want to be heard. Maybe they think they will get something if they complain, or that we will make an exception and bend the rules for them. How many times have you been asked to relax the rules and let a child go down the water slides when they are below the minimum height? Just like when a patron makes a complaint in the waterpark, we must try to defuse the situation without making a scene.
With all this negativity, you might think you should stay away from social media. But there are ways to run pages that help attract new customers and keep current patrons informed.
The best way to start is to have a posting schedule and stick to it. Regular posts keep your audience engaged.
Social media can be a great, cost-effective way of letting people know about emergency closures, but that shouldn’t be the only thing people see. For a municipal pool, try sharing or special deals and events going on in and around the city. Seasonal parks can share photos of summer preparations in the weeks leading up to opening day. A stream of updates reminds people that the season is approaching and gets them excited for it.
Remember that the quality of posts is far more significant than the quantity. Another way to grab someone’s attention is to use photos and videos. Take a camera down the water slide and then post the results. People are much more likely to pay attention to a post containing more than just text.
The other main benefit to having these pages is the marketing advantages they offer. When the time comes to actually promote your facility, you have several options. Many sites will boost your posts by adding them into someone’s news feed for a fee. Settings allow you to share the post with people in the area or with those who have certain interests, such as swimming. Another great way of getting the word out is to ask your fans to share your posts: “Like and share our post for a chance to win a season pass!” You can reward your current followers and get free advertising when they share the post with their friends and family. Once people see the page being shared by a friend, they might come and like it, too, adding to your advertising pool (no pun intended).
To sum it up, a successful facility needs to manage a page with up-to-date, pertinent information regarding their facility. They also should work to turn their detractors into supporters by addressing complaints and negative reviews. Regularly scheduled posts are important, but we must be careful not to become post-crazy and flood anyone’s newsfeed.
Social media has become a way of life for people, and aquatics facilities that want to stay on the cutting edge need to embrace it.
Matthew Reed is the aquatics coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA of Greater Waterville (Maine) at the Alfond Youth Center.