By Rachel Lutz//Contributor | Friday, February 15, 2019
Last year, Waterloo Swimming in Austin, Texas won the 2018 #SwimBiz Marketing Award for Best Use of Social Media. Here’s their story:
Every month, Waterloo Swimming’s owner and director Mike Varozza meets with his online marketing partner, Monica Thomason. They discuss what their social media plan is for the month and ensure it coordinates with the messaging in their lobby and the messaging in their print ads that also drop once a month.
This intertwined relationship is key to the success that they have built for Waterloo.
“I always tell people, not just in swimming, but through marketing, it’s all very symbiotic,” said Thomason, who founded Adapting Online, an internet consulting and website design boutique. “They feed off of each other.”
She said Waterloo does a lot of sponsorships and summer swim league sponsorships. The point is two-fold.
“If people see your name in a print advertisement, or a banner, or a sponsorship email sent out by a local group, and they go to Google you, you have to have done the online marketing portion to make that work,” Thomason explained. “The online marketing portion makes the other part worthwhile. They very much go hand in hand. I think the mistake a lot of people make is they just try to do one thing, and they get lost.”
Waterloo Swimming started out as a swim school in 2010 with 50 kids and five instructors under Varozza, a 1988 Olympic Trials qualifier. In June 2016, they finished construction on a 30,000-square-foot facility with a 50 meter by 25 yard pool as well as a smaller teaching pool.
As of this month, their club is 400 swimmers strong; plus they have a swim lesson program that sees 1200 enrollments weekly, a fitness program for 250 kids, and a Masters program. They say they have not yet reached capacity.
Thomason’s son started swimming with Varozza when he was about 5 years old, and Waterloo was a swim school. As time went on, Varozza began to brainstorm ways to make his online presence more robust. Their partnership was organic, as Thomason had recently launched her company and they paired up.
The very first thing they knew they needed to do was tap into the demographic of parents on Facebook who wanted to get their kids into swimming. But they couldn’t stop there, as there is an entirely separate demographic on Instagram for the swimmers themselves, Thomason said.
“I think one of the things that Waterloo does fabulously is we really promote the swim family,” Thomason said. “We really try to get the families involved, because if the whole family likes the place, then everybody loves swimming. It becomes a very good atmosphere, and easy to engage in.”
She has seen growth among followers, of course, but also on engagement and activity on posts. They also encourage parents to send in pictures for use on social media and to foster the feeling of community.
They shared three tips that other clubs can adopt to bolster their own social media marketing.
First, Varozza said, is to know where your weaknesses are and hire an expert to be strong in that area. That could mean social media, that could mean traditional marketing, or that could mean something totally outside the box. But the point is, Varozza said, hire an expert – like he did, with Thomason.
Secondly, the consistency of a club’s messaging is key. Stopping and starting doesn’t work. Consistency in frequency of advertising and messaging for the brand is important.
And finally, be engaged with your marketing. Online media marketing is not something to set and forget. Responding to reviews and encouraging current customers and patrons to leave reviews are key. Listening to what’s happening on social media is important to know how people are perceiving your business.
Varozza said he and Thomason make good sounding boards for each other. With their differing strengths – but similar vision for Waterloo – they can bounce social media ideas off of each other, and also ask and answer questions like, ‘how does this enhance the brand’ and/or ‘how does this bring our story to life?’
Nominations are now open for the #SwimBiz Club Marketing Awards! We want to hear about the best and the brightest promotional efforts from the swimming community. A panel of industry professionals will review submissions and select the winning USA Swimming member clubs will be recognized for marketing excellence. Awards will be handed out at the #SwimBiz Club Marketing Awards Dinner on Monday, April 29, 2019.