Private clubs and social media have a lot in common: they both have social interaction at the core, seek to connect people with common interests, and strive to create environments where relationships can thrive. Social media, in its various forms, can help clubs engage with their members in new ways, increase club use and expand the member experience beyond the club’s physical borders.
At the same time, the prevalence and wide reach of social media can also create a new host of concerns for truly private clubs when improperly monitored and managed. Though social media can help a club reach out to members, reaching too far into the public sphere can endanger a club’s private status.
With the right strategy, clubs can take advantage of the broad-based popularity of social media to support their missions and engage members, while avoiding pitfalls that could jeopardize their private status and strain member relations.
This article will focus only on member use of social media, though clubs should have an employee policy for social media use as well. See “Social Media & the Workplace,” in the Winter 2011 Club Director, for more information on this topic.
The Social Revolution & Club Members
The past year was particularly interesting for social media and private clubs alike. Luxury expenditures focused on experiential offerings that bring together family and friends and deepen social ties. Social media can help clubs extend a customized, distinct experience to members that stays with them far beyond the club’s grounds.
Developing a strong, engaged social network of club members through social media can strengthen the member community, deepen the member-club connection and drive participation in club activities and events. When members feel they can interact with their fellow members and the club itself anytime and anywhere, it helps the club become less of just a destination and more of an ever-present community.
Creating additional avenues for member interaction catalyzes the integration of new members and makes the club more appealing to young members. Instituting a mechanism for online introductions and member interactions can help club members reach out to new recruits and make them feel welcome.
So, should clubs fully jump on the social media bandwagon? Not exactly. While social media can provide opportunities for clubs to connect with their members—and for members to connect with each other—there are risks associated with managing a social media presence.
Social Media Cons & Considerations
Private clubs have complex concerns to consider when developing their social media strategy.
Social networking among club members is great—that’s the purpose of private clubs, after all. On the other hand, social media can generate a very public presence for very private clubs if left unchecked, which could lead to difficulties.
Private clubs should be just that: private. Their private status and controlled exclusivity are elements that make clubs truly unique and are part of the appeal to members.
When private clubs have a public social media presence, it can endanger both their exclusive appeal and their private status. Clubs should be very careful not to advertise membership or promote the club to nonmembers in any broad-reaching, public way.
Fortunately, there are ways to use social media that combine limited “Public Pages” with “Private Pages” and “Groups” to create a restricted, custom social media experience for club members to be discussed later.
Information Permanence & Proliferation
Even the most careful clubs with no social media presence of their own can wind up in the midst of a social media scandal. Members, their children and their guests can all comment about the club on Facebook, Twitter or other online forums. They can also post pictures and videos of the club, thanks to digital cameras, cell phones and YouTube.
Once information gets out to the public, through one means or another, it’s difficult to delete it. This can happen whether or not a club has a social media presence of its own. Even if a negative comment doesn’t appear on club-managed site or page, members and prospective members may still see it, possibly damaging the club’s reputation.
Having a social media presence (or awareness) can help clubs monitor social chatter, so they know what’s being said and where. In addition, clubs should also have policies and guidelines in place about responding to or participating in any online communication beyond the boundaries of the clubs’ private communities. Comments may come back to bite you, but silence can be just as bad.
All interaction with the outside, online world should be measured, standardized and deliberate. Having a clear strategy can help a club control the messages reaching its members and the public at large.
When clubs create members-only Groups or Private Pages on Facebook, they are better able to control the discourse. Time permitting, a club could approve every comment, picture or video before it gets posted. This is a potentially overwhelming task if a club has a very active member network. Other options include reasonably monitoring discussions, removing posts after they’ve been published, requiring approval for posts from certain users, filtering for offensive language and suspending abusive users.
Rules of the Game
Just as the club has rules for member conduct on club grounds, it should have a separate set of rules for social media participation on club Facebook Pages or on other online club forums.
Most comprehensive group or forum rules will include:
- Prohibitions on advertising
- Prohibitions on personal attacks and foul language
- Signature requirements
- Cross-posting guidelines
- Administrator powers
- Personal information posting guidelines
- Disciplinary policy
To encourage participation, many groups and forums also have lists of “do’s and don’ts.”
Try to encourage discussions about club activities, create sub-groups or threads about shared interests, post photos from club events and encourage members to do the same. If the club contributes to making meaningful connections through social media, members will too.
Developing a Social Presence
Once a club decides whether or not to incorporate social media into its member experience, it needs to create a plan to execute. First, technology itself can be daunting. There are so many new platforms to consider, how can you choose and then make them work?
According to data from Club Benchmarking, many clubs are already engaging with social media in one form or another: 74 percent use Facebook; 33 percent use Twitter; 22 percent use YouTube; 20 percent use some other platform, such as Instagram, Google+ or internal networking platforms; and one percent use Flickr.
There are quite a few platforms clubs can use, each with its own set of pros, cons and privacy settings. The major social media platforms that this article will cover in depth are: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube.
In addition to the above list, there are also internal, club industry-specific social networking platforms available to clubs. While using such platforms can drastically cut down on privacy concerns, internal platforms may have a down side as well: members already using Facebook may view the need to create new profiles and visit an additional site as an inconvenience—especially when they’re already spending so much time on their Facebook or Twitter accounts.
Though LinkedIn is another popular social networking platform, and many club staff and members may already have active LinkedIn accounts, clubs should not be using it to build an official social networking presence or to connect with members. LinkedIn is largely a site to promote business and professional networking, not a place for club members to discuss their golf game.
Facebook is the largest social network in the world, with 1.06 billion registered users. Almost all registered users use the plat- form at least once a month, and, more impressively, 58 percent of them visit Facebook at least once a day. Users spend almost 30 minutes on Facebook per visit—more time than any other social media site. Facebook is also fairly popular with older users: 11 percent of all Facebook users are senior citizens, with 14.8 million senior Facebook users in the U.S.
Facebook is a diverse social networking platform with varied opportunities for engagement, including: content sharing, posting links and pictures, communicating with friends on message boards or through private messages, expanding networks and interactions through interest Groups, Page “likes” (an indication of appreciation), and even managing events.
There are different ways clubs can approach creating a Facebook presence:
As an individual, every user on Facebook has a “Profile.” A Profile is a personal representation of an individual user, and it has multiple privacy setting options. For example, a club’s general manager may have a Facebook Profile that he or she can use to connect to friends, “like” Pages and interact with others.
However, a personal Profile should not be used as a club’s primary social media presence, as the Profile stays with its owner regardless of whether or not he or she is still at the club. Though club staff can have personal Profiles, connecting through them can raise significant privacy concerns. Depending upon a user’s settings, people who are a user’s friend, or who a user may interact with, may also be able to see posts intended solely for club members.
Many organizations will create a Facebook Page. A “Page” is basically a landing page for an organization or business. Typical activities include encouraging users to “like” the Page or individual posts and making comments on posts.
Privacy: Page information and posts are public and generally available to everyone on Facebook. The club cannot control who visits the Page or who sees the information posted there. Pages have very few privacy options, which can endanger a club’s private status.
Audience: Anyone can “like” a Page, become connected with it, and get news feed updates. There is no limit to how many people can “like” a Page.
Communication: Clubs can still have a Facebook Page, but the information must be very limited and carefully controlled. As a private club, anything that can be considered even passive or informational advertising can endanger the club’s private status. The Facebook Page should function just like the front page of a club’s website: It should have very limited information, such as a brief “About Us” statement and an attractive image; it should not include information about club events, activities, membership or banquet services.
Page administrators (admins) can share posts under the Page’s name, and Page posts appear in the news feeds of people who “like” the Page. Page admins can also create customized apps for their Pages and check Page Insights (metrics) to track growth and activity.
When considering which settings to use on the club’s Facebook Page, the club should realistically evaluate how much time staff members could devote to moderation. If it’s unlikely that the club will be able to monitor its Page regularly, the club should disable posting by any users other than admins. If the club does decide to allow posting by non-admin users, it must be sure to monitor the Page. Otherwise, the Page could become a platform for online fights or digital vandalism, and the club might not realize it for days—or until a club member complains.
Facebook Groups are forums for social groups, organizations or businesses that allow postings and discussions. A Group lets clubs manage who comes together to interact and discuss topics.
Privacy: Groups have multiple privacy options, enabling Group admins to select and manage those who can join the group and participate in conversations—functioning in a similar manner to a private club. There are three privacy options for Facebook Groups:
Open: Anyone on Facebook can see and join the Group. Open Groups will appear in search results and all content that members post (comments, photos, videos and files) is visible to anyone viewing the Group. Other users may see when an individual joins or is invited to an open Group in news feeds or searches.
Closed: Anyone on Facebook can see the Group name, members and people invited to join. Only members can see posts in the Group. A Group member may add or invite new members to the Group, or nonmembers can ask admins for permission to join. Other users may see when a person joins or is invited to a closed Group in news feeds or searches.
Secret: Nonmembers can’t find these Groups in searches nor can they see anything about the Group, including its name and member list. The name of the Group will not display on the timelines of Facebook members. To join a secret Group, people must be added by a Group admin.
Having an open Group is like having a club with no membership requirements. No private club should have an open Group, as it can significantly endanger the club’s private status. Secret Groups, on the other hand, provide clubs and their members with a forum for safe, private and protected open conversation. Posts by individuals in secret Groups will not appear on timelines, in news feeds or in searches. No one outside of the Group will be able to find any information on Group discussions or activities—protecting the club, its members and its private status.
Audience: With secret Groups, the club admin has complete control of who is in the Group and who may post.
Communication: In Groups, members receive notifications when posts are published. Group members can participate in chats, upload photos to shared albums, collaborate on documents and invite members who are “Friends” to Group events. Group admins can also upload and share individual photos, curate photo albums and videos, and invite Group members to events. Group members can also send private messages to others in the Group, regardless of “Friend” status.
Secret Groups are great platforms for internally advertising events and club functions to club members. Clubs can also create sub-Groups for special events, certain activities, special interest groups or “mini-clubs” within the club to encourage socialization and discussion on specific topics.
As Group admins, club staff should strive to keep a forum for member interaction on the Group page through regular posts and discussions. Adding multiple response and “like” options to posts can help keep members engaged and active in the conversation without requiring a lot of time or effort.
As with all social media, Group admins should carefully monitor members’ posts in accordance with the established Group rules. Admins have the ability to remove discussion threads, posts, pictures and files at their discretion.
Though Facebook holds the lead for most users, Twitter is also one of the most popular social media platforms in the world, with more than 500 million accounts worldwide. Twitter is an online social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read text-based messages of up to 140 characters, known as “tweets.”
Twitter has significant advantages as a social media platform, in that it works exceptionally well with mobile technology and it only takes seconds to tweet. Twitter also gives users multiple customization and dashboard options, and it integrates easily with Facebook, news feeds and websites. This portable platform is versatile and user-friendly, making Twitter an ideal medium for constant communication.
Privacy: Contrary to popular belief, all tweets do not have to be fully public. Clubs can configure their Twitter account settings so that every tweet the club sends is automatically marked “private.” Private, or protected, tweets are only visible to those individuals who the club invites to have access. Users must request to follow the club’s Twitter feed, and the club must approve each request—ensuring that club tweets only reach approved audiences. Approved users are able to see private tweets in their feeds or directly on the club’s twitter feed. When tweets are protected, no other users will be able to retweet the club’s private tweets. Private tweets do not show up in search results and cannot be accessed by any users who are not on the club’s approved follower list.
Audience: Clubs can use Twitter to reach many different audiences by creating specialized Twitter feeds for different groups. For example, clubs can set up one feed for social members, one for tennis members and one for golf members, allowing members to follow tweets based on their interests.
Just as users can follow the club, the club can also choose to follow other users. For example, clubs can follow members to keep track of their activities. Clubs can control the communications by selectively choosing to engage in conversation with their followers or by setting standards for one-way communication.
Communication: Twitter is a versatile marketing tool. Clubs can create an entire Twitter campaign in one sitting by writing tweets in advance and setting a schedule for tweets to be automatically sent. Tweets also enable easy link sharing, which can help drive members to the club website for the latest news or updates.
Additionally, Twitter can provide an avenue for rapid member communication in a variety of circumstances. For example, if a storm is approaching, the club can send a tweet to alert golfers and warn them to seek shelter. Tweets immediately reach the club’s followers and keep them informed.
Pinterest provides a forum for posting or reposting image content in the form of “Pinning,” in addition to organizing pictures in digital albums known as “Boards.” Pinterest also integrates well with other social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, making it an easy way for clubs to incorporate images into their social media.
Pinterest is a relatively young social media platform, at only three years old. It has rapidly risen in popularity, with unique site visitors increasing by 2,702 percent since May 2011. Pinterest is now the third largest social network in the U.S. (behind Facebook and Twitter), with 48.7 million users as of May 2013—nearly doubling from 25 million in January 2013. The site has broad appeal, with users being predominantly female and 25 to 54 years old.
Privacy: Pinterest gives clubs the ability to create up to three private, or “secret,” Boards that enable the club to restrict access to approved users. Content posted to secret Boards is not searchable and will not display in category sections, “Popular” lists, “Everything” lists, search results, followers’ home feeds, the owner’s home feed, “pins” or on activity pages of the club’s Pinterest profile.
Audience: The club must invite users to follow secret Boards, and only these users will know that the club’s secret Boards exist. Communication: Clubs can create Boards featuring images of club life, events, members or staff and can provide a place for members to relive great moments or catch up on events they missed. Though clubs can post their own pictures, clubs can also invite contributors to their Boards, meaning members can post their own pictures from club events or activities, creating a meaningful way to connect. The club maintains complete moderation privileges and can therefore remove any inappropriate pictures from the forum.
Instagram is unique in that it provides a mechanism for immediate content creation. Instagram is a downloadable mobile app that allows users to take pictures on their mobile devices, apply image filters, and then upload images directly to the Web. Instagram provides a convenient way for clubs to create and upload images to their Instagram feeds and repurpose the images for Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
Privacy: Clubs can create private accounts on Instagram, which means that the photos will be automatically private and hidden from the Internet at large. With private accounts, the club must approve each individual follower, making it easy to restrict access to club members only.
Communication: The saying “A picture is worth 1,000 words,” still holds true. Instagram lets clubs preserve the club experience through real-time photos, creating opportunities for the club to live photo-blog events. Social media is high-touch, meaning that members following the club’s Instagram, Twitter feeds or Facebook Group are continually reminded that even though they may not be at the club, the club has fun events happening all the time that members can—and should—be a part of.
YouTube has a wide array of privacy options that make it an ideal platform for clubs to engage their members and add a multimedia element to club websites or to other social media outlets.
Privacy: YouTube enables clubs to mark individual videos as “private.” Only the club and invited users can see private videos. They won’t show up on the club’s public YouTube channel, in search results or on playlists. Additionally, clubs can create completely private YouTube channels where all videos are only accessible to approved users. Clubs can also have “unlisted” private videos, which means that only people who know the specific, unique link to a video can view it.
Audience: While only members can access private videos or private channels on YouTube, YouTube video hosting is particularly useful, as clubs can embed or post links to unlisted videos on their other private groups or networks, like Facebook and Twitter. As long as those other forums are set as private, the video will stay private. However, if someone copies and reposts the link in a public space, the video can become public. Clubs should prohibit copying and reposting links in their user conduct rules.
Social Media Management
Social media provides numerous options for engagement, but carefully managing multiple platforms may seem daunting. Fortunately, there are social media dashboards through which clubs can manage and monitor all of their social media forums, discussions and posts in one place.
One of the most popular management dashboards is HootSuite, which clubs can access from computers, tablets, Blackberries, Androids or iPhones. HootSuite lets clubs track the discourse on their social media sites, providing a way to view and organize all of the club’s past posts, keep track of current, ongoing member posts and conversations, schedule posts to social networks in advance, and create a single post that can simultaneously published on one, two, three or all of a club’s social networks. This makes it easy to keep all of the club’s social forums up-to-date with minimal effort, while providing a way to monitor discourse across all social networks.
Social Media for the Future
Social media’s popularity impacts us all. People are connecting with friends, brands and companies in new, often very personalized, ways. If clubs are careful to manage their privacy settings and the discourse on their forums, social media can provide a powerful tool to expand the member experience—encouraging member engagement, driving member attendance at club events, and enriching member relationships.
Jackie Abrams is NCA’s former senior editorial manager.
When private clubs create private social media groups to promote club member interactions, they must also ensure that club members who participate in those social media groups do their parts to be responsible users and help protect the club’s private status. Here is a sample list of user rules for member participation in the club’s social media outlets:
1. Club members must abide by the terms, conditions and policies that belong to specific social networks while participating in club-managed forums or groups on those networks.
2. Members should not provide information on or engage in discussions about club membership, activities, events or members on the club’s public social media accounts. Such discussions should occur only within the club’s private social media groups or forums. For assistance accessing the club’s private groups or forums, please contact the club’s social media manager, [NAME] at [E-MAIL].
3. Discussions on the club’s private social media forums and groups are intended for club members only. Members should not copy or repost comments, photos or videos from the club’s private social media forums or groups to any personal or public social media wall, board, forum or group, or to any other public medium.
4. The club strives to promote open, respectful platforms for member dialogue, engagement and interaction through its private social media groups and forums. When participating in the club’s social media forums or groups, the club asks that members agree not to:
a. Copy, repost, download, transfer, modify, or otherwise publicize or commercially exploit the content of the club’s social media profiles, pages, forums or groups, or any information or discussions posted therein, without prior permission from the club and the content’s original poster
b. Transmit or upload content containing computer viruses or malware
c. Post advertisements for external businesses or spam the club’s profile, forums, groups or members
d. Discuss illegal activities or use the club’s social media forums or groups for illegal purposes or to violate any laws
e. Post comments or material that is disrespectful, offensive, defamatory, obscene or otherwise unsuitable or inappropriate
f. Harass, inconvenience, cause distress to, or infringe on the rights of another person, including club members, their families, club staff and all forum participants
g. Use the club’s social media profiles, pages, forums or groups, or any information or discussions posted therein in any manner not consistent with these terms
5. The club may monitor and record comments and conversations to help improve the members’ club and social media experiences
6. The club supports open, respectful discussions and communication within its social media forums and groups. Though the club endeavors to moderate offensive, unsuitable comments, the club is not responsible for content posted by forum or group participants.
7. The club reserves the right to moderate or remove user comments and posts when such comments or posts contravene the above rules, or when the club deems them appropriate.
8. If individuals violate these rules, the club reserves the right to suspend, terminate or change the conditions of their access. Additionally, a violation of these rules may be considered a violation of the club’s code of conduct, subjecting the offending member to consequences outlined in the club’s bylaws.
This list is intended to function as a set of guidelines for participation in club social media forums. It is not intended to be a comprehensive list of terms and conditions or a legally binding contract. Clubs should consult with their legal counsel whenever they craft binding policies or member agreements.