Social media must be used correctly to yield positive results. Consider these ways to use social media:
1. Marketing your programs to the public
Social media can be a powerful way to bring people to your facilities. Pat O’Toole, principal with GreenPlay, LLC, in Lawrence, Kan., who has worked with more than 100 facilities nationwide, recommends two types of social media marketing for this: location-based, which direct audiences to a particular place; and activity based posts, which lead people to a specific activity. Combining the two proves more powerful. Incentives prime the pump.
How it works: Let’s say the weather has been spotty, but now it’s a gorgeous day. A good location/activity post might include a picture of a patron going down your water slide, with the message: “Gorgeous sunny day here at our facility. Come join the fun! First 20 in the door by noon get in for half price!”
These posts can mean the difference between having to send lifeguards home and keeping pools at capacity, O’Toole says. It also works for water aerobics and other activities.
2. Recruiting new lifeguards and promoting lifeguard programs
These are days of acute labor shortages, with facility managers struggling to maintain their lifeguard staffs. That’s what convinced Nichole Bohner that it was time to delve into social media. “We had this come-to-Jesus moment where we just said, ‘What are we doing wrong?’” says Bohner, Austin’s aquatics division recreation program coordinator. The answer: failing to reach their core audience. The problem started with the city’s cumbersome webpage, so Bohner used social media to “up the hip quotient” of the aquatics program.
How it works: Bohner took a page from other popular recruiting events, such as South by Southwest and ordered 5,000 pairs of sunglasses with #LifeguardAustin printed on them. These were given away at lifeguard events in exchange for email addresses that could be used for further marketing. She then threw promotional events for existing guards and used photos from those events on social media to depict the fun of belonging to the team. Social media posts also directed recruits to online sign ups.
The upshot: Before Bohner began her social media efforts, the city didn’t have enough guards to open all its pools on a staggered schedule. Today, even with a difficult directive to open all pools at the same time, Austin has enough guards.
3. Managing lifeguards
Coordinating hundreds of teens is hard enough, but these days, how do you reach them? The answer for a growing number of managers is social media, specifically Facebook. That’s the method Mark Foote now uses to manage his army of guards. “Whether they check email on a daily basis is questionable,” says Foote, Mesa, Ariz.’s recreation coordinator. “And we’ve stopped calling people entirely because they don’t answer their phones. Texting is still effective. But when I can reach 275 [staffers] with one post vs. having to send out separate text messages, it’s just more effective. It’s become part of our culture.”
How it works: Foote set up closed groups for each of his nine facilities, so guards are connected to a certain location. Because the groups are closed, Foote can control who’s in and who’s out, and posts only show up to the group, not the public. All shifts are posted to the groups.
The upshot: Now, when shifts need to get covered at the last minute, Foote can just send out a post to the group and know in several minutes whether he’ll be able to fill that slot. He also has a much more effective way to alert staff to upcoming job requirements such as drug testing. “We try to do quick videos that are fun and engaging,” he says. “When we engage the staff throughout the year, they’re more likely to come back and stay.”