Features — 01 January 2013


Spread the Word

Social media tools create loyal communities for shooting ranges

Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have captured the attention of literally
billions of people. Pick a way to spend leisure time, and you are certain to find hundreds of Facebook pages, YouTube channels and Twitter threads dedicated to those pursuits.

Small businesses like shooting ranges now realize these tools can be an effective way to build communities of loyal customers. After launching social media pages dedicated to promoting their businesses, facility managers can watch followers post comments about their experiences. Tapping into these online conversations can have a significant impact.

“Some companies have no idea their customers are already out on the Internet talking
about their companies,” noted Tim Shoopman, director of social media, H&H Shooting Sports, Oklahoma City, Okla. “Getting out there and leading the conversation with social media tools puts you out in front so you can deal with anything that comes up.”

Sara Lingafelter, director of digital and social strategy for Verde PR & Consulting, agrees.

“People are talking about your business whether you are listening to them or not,” Lingafelter said. “At a minimum you need to be listening to what people are saying about you. Listening and responding in a thoughtful way is no longer optional.”

Social media tools have made access to consumers far simpler than traditional marketing methods.

“Small businesses are now able to see the impacts of their actions in almost real time,” reported Eric Berto, who works in social media communications at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, a public relations firm. “If folks come into your business and have either a positive or poor experience, the owner of the business can respond to their feedback in almost real time.”

Brad Paul, owner, Sounds of Freedom in Ozark Mo., has used social media to introduce local shooters to his range’s services.

“When people get online and want to find a place to shoot, our name comes up and they find positive reviews, great photos and videos,” said Paul. “They will see that I’m legitimate. They will be able to find me and contact me.”

Andrew Whitehead, marketing coordinator for Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware, Ohio, has seen tangible results from the company’s social media efforts.

“We are constantly growing our audiences,” Whitehead said. “People come into the facility telling us they’ve seen our posts and tweets. We are able to connect with our customers
in a way that didn’t exist 10 years ago. It’s a huge part of how people communicate today. Having an active presence on social media is a must for us.”

Spread the Word2

 

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other tools such as Tumblr and Pinterest attract different audiences and require unique approaches.

“Each medium has a different audience associated with it,” explained Shoopman. “Facebook attracts a broader audience.

You can get more tailored with tools like Twitter, Tumblr or Foursquare. You can deliver a message more exact to those audiences. We have developed an online community and have seen those people come into the store and become repeat customers.”

Lingafelter said “Think about who your dream customer is and then think about what that customer wants from your business in terms of social outreach. It’s more about setting your goals and building a community that reflects those goals than chasing specific demographics.”
Black Wing Shooting Center tailors messages by audience to promote the variety of services offered.

“We vary our posts to match our various customers’ needs,” Whitehead said. “Our posts include industry topics and consumer polls. It’s a great way to see what the customers like and what they want to see.”

Berto reported, “Audience segmentation is vital. You have to be aware of the kinds of people you want to come through your doors. There is no stereotypical shooting sports person.

You have to be able to appeal to a cross section of people.

“The strongest new business will come from people who are already customers,” he added. “You can’t take them seriously enough.”

Positive comments have a way of spreading themselves across social media communities.
“When you post, if someone likes something, then all their friends get to see that as well,” said Paul. “A gun range needs to do this because of the way the world works now and how people seek information online.”

Not every social media tool is appropriate or needed to build an online community. Brandy Liss, director of human resources and advertising for The Arms Room, in League City, Texas, has found local customers prefer Facebook.

“I haven’t had people say we need to be on Twitter,” noted Liss. “We are always looking at what people are talking about, and we go out and investigate. Pinterest attracts women, but after looking at what they were doing on the site we weren’t sure how we would present in that media.

We are picking and choosing what works best.”

Managing the Conversation

Posting information about the range is just half the job. Monitoring posts from followers is equally important.

“If someone had a good experience with your business, they will tell their family and friends,” said Lingafelter. “Social media has amplified that.

The real change is handling the more difficult or negative consumer experiences. If someone has a negative experience with your business, then where that used to be something that would be shared with friends and family or a letter to the editor, now these folks have mouthpieces to share with a much broader audience.”

When those types of comments appear, responding strategically and quickly is important.
“We have had that problem in the past and have had to learn how to deal with it,” explained Shoopman. “The beauty of the Internet is that it creates a sense of confidence. You can be anyone you want to be behind a keyboard.”

Facebook posts on H&H Shooting Sports social media sites go through moderation before they are posted for public reading.

“When our guests have a legitimate complaint we try to address that, but if they are trolling and trying to cause a problem out of nothing, that’s when we have to interact and monitor our posts and boards,” said Shoopman.

Because shooting ranges may have to address larger and potentially controversial issues such as gun control, having a formal plan in place to respond to negative posts can help the range respond to such messages from social media followers.

“Simply be prepared,” said Berto. “The best crisis communication strategy is to have a plan in place. Even if the message is ‘We’re investigating; we will comment shortly,’ a short message like that is helpful.”

Berto recommends creating a style guide that addresses various scenarios.

“In most cases those crisis scenarios are relatively predictable problems, such as poor service,” he said.

Lingafelter added,” There are sensitive subjects, and there are customers who can’t be made happy. That’s all part of the practice of this work. Spell out what to do in the case of a 9-1-1. When one of those controversial topics comes up your staff will know how best to handle it in a way that’s true to the brand.”

Responding quickly can turn a follower with a problem into a future ambassador. Followers watching the interaction may also be impressed. When appropriate Liss responds in person to make sure the complaint is handled professionally and ends with a positive outcome.

“I will take the lead on any responses and delegate as appropriate,” said Liss. “This is
my family’s business. If there is a controversy or hurt feelings, I will address it and respond with my name on it. Go out there and be diplomatic. Communicate with people with whom you may not otherwise get the opportunity to redeem the business. I’ve had people come to our defense.”
Whitehead said, “We want to make sure we aren’t alienating any customers. I don’t let a comment sit there. I will address it.”

Learning to use social media effectively takes time, talent and a willingness to experiment with tools and messages. Once started, staying involved with the growing number of followers is key to success.

Though no hard and fast rules on frequency exist, Lingafelter suggests watching how the audience responds.

“Is the audience growing and engaged or are people abandoning you in droves? Keeping an eye on what’s happening with your following will help you know how you are doing in terms of frequency and whether what you are doing is resonating with your audience,” she explained.

“When a company is setting a precedent of how they are going to use a digital channel such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, then they need to be aware that any community they create as a result of that action is going to expect that level of interaction going forward,” reported Berto. “There will be folks who are asking questions via Twitter. Is the person you’ve hired addressing those questions, or is the channel going silent? You are going to lose that audience and in turn lose any business coming from them if you do remain silent.”

Shooting ranges across the country have used social media tools to build committed, involved and loyal customer bases. You should do the same.

“Be willing to try and be genuine,” advised Lingafelter. “Don’t be afraid to tell your story. The rewards for doing that far outweigh the risks.”

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