Utilizing the World’s Best Free Marketing Tool

Written By: Ryan Zundell

I have always enjoyed social media. The ease of sharing a photo, thought or moment with others that are interested in seeing that photo, thought or moment was always appealing. What was also appealing was the cost. FREE. Free to set up a facebook page, an instagram account, a youtube channel and pretty much any other social media outlet.

I have been involved with the Marietta Marlins (of Ohio) since 2012 when I took over a program that had multiple coaching changes and low participation. We had 2 goals: 1. was to promote the sport of swimming locally and to get kids excited about swimming and wanting to participate in the sport and 2. Raise the profile of the Marietta Marlins in our community.

In addition to many things we did with our program (started a summer program, tiered pricing, traditional marketing with flyers and posters in school, etc.) we started to put a heavy emphasis on our social media platforms and ran a campaign with the theme “Be A Marlin.”

With this campaign we won two USA Swimming #Swimbiz awards in 2017. Best Use of Social Media and Marketing Club of the Year for a Program with under 150 swimmers.

So, how did we do it? That is what I want to share with you, some of my tips and tricks to understanding and using the world’s best free marketing tool, social media.

So how do we utilize the free marketing tool that is Social Media?

When we think of “tools” we think of specific uses for the tools. We don’t hammer a nail in with a screwdriver, we don’t use a saw to hang a photo . So as we look at social media marketing as a tool box to market our programs we have to look at the “tools” or the channels first and then look at how to best use each tool.

So where do we start?

Your team, at the very least, should have a Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram account (ALL FREE to create). A lack of social presence makes your “customers” or potential swimmers question your legitimacy. And obviously an “active” social media presence is even better. If the swim team down the road, that you compete every day for swimmers with is on social media and has a presence you better step up your game. We don’t look at the swim team down the road necessarily as our only competitor of kids, we look at ALL the youth sports as our competitors (little leagues, dance studios, pee wee soccer, etc.). We follow all the other local teams/programs and since we won our awards and have seen an increase in our numbers, many of them have stepped up their social media game as well.

Facebook – What we know

  • This is where the Moms live. This is NOT where our swimmers live.

  • We use facebook to get the parents involved and engaged. We used to use it for alerts, but we now have a text messaging system in place for that.

  • Make your facebook page public and not private if you have other ways to communicate new/alerts to your team. You would never make a restaurant Facebook page private, don’t do it with your swim team, it just makes the barrier to entry that much harder for new swim families.

Facebook - How to get the most out of it.

  • Who should be admins on the page?

  • Team Marketing Chair

  • Head Coach (or assistant coaches)

  • Best Parent Photographer (we all have one, that parent that takes a ton of photos at meets, give this parent admin permission to post photos of team events) use those free skills!

  • Make posting to Facebook a scheduled activity.

  • Follow other swimming related Facebook pages (USA Swimming, USA Swimming Clubs, SwimSwam, GoSwim.TV....things that are relevant to your program) and repost articles or posts you know your audience will find informative.

  • Post things that parents will share. We know that Your page thrives when parents/audience are involved and engaged (and sharing). Most engagement comes from our videos and photos. Even if it is a post about accomplishments, if you can post 1 photo to go with it. Parents love to see their kids having fun and will post/share those videos.

  • Use testimonials and repost on your page. This is Facebook word of mouth. Probably better than regular word of mouth…you can reach a LOT more people this way.

  • Bonus tip: Create an Alumni page. See if there is one that is already created. This is a PERFECT WAY to keep in touch with past swimmers and keep them involved and connected to the team. When you buy your gear at the beginning of the season post an order form, post good news, post your USA Swimming Swim-A -Thon information. Ask members to post photos from when they swam (these are GREAT for throwback Thursdays).

Twitter – What we know

  • This is where your senior level kids have accounts. Few parents.

  • Other organizations/businesses in the community.

  • Perfect for news, especially meet updates and for live tweeting of events.

  • ** Personal note: We don’t consider Twitter our primary mode of communicating or marketing with social media. I use it as a way to keep-up-to-date on what is happening in the world of swimming. We don’t have a lot of our “markets” on Twitter, not a lot of parents and not a lot of swimmers, but the case could be different for you OR things could change for us. I think it depends on your team culture.

Twitter - How to get the most out of it.

  • Who should be admins on the page?

  • Team Marketing Chair

  • Head Coach (or assistant coaches)

  • Parent who is twitter savvy (perfect for live tweeting a meet).

  • Use to repost information from Instagram or Facebook

  • Interact with other clubs/athletes/coaches (like and retweet)

  • Follow and interact with local businesses. Also monitor for what is happening locally so you know what is happening. Say a business is having a toy drive at Christmas, you can learn that on twitter and have your team participate!

  • Turn on notifications so you know when you are tagged or if someone likes your post or if a post of yours has been retweeted.

  • Pro Tip: Use the Twitter app to post images from Instagram, otherwise your photos & videos show up as links and not photos. Sometimes this is fine if trying to drive people to your instagram account, otherwise you want your photos to show up in the twitter feed.

  • Favorite all people retweeting articles about you to grow your audience.

  • Tag people and businesses in posts. , It might lead to more followers and more engagement.

  • Have fun and take chances –Twitter is kind of the wild west of social media. Who knows you might be a USA Swimming Top 10 Tweet of the Week (which we have been lucky to be selected for multiple times) Pro Tip: When this happens we usually go through and follow all the other teams in the top 10 and like their posts. This helps us get more followers and raises our social media profile.

Instagram - What we know

  • This is where your swimmers are, their friends who swim, their friends who don’t swim, their classmates AND in a lot of cases currently, their parents

  • Instagram is very flexible. You can do photos, videos, stories and now they have added Reels.

  • Instagram forces you to think visually. Videos are :60 or less

Instagram - How to get the most out of it.

  • Think visually (both photo and video/animation)

  • Promo meets and invitationals

  • Highlight swimmers of the week/month

  • Highlight fun practices (mystery towel, dice game, mannequin challenge).

  • Swimmer takeovers - example: Kids at swim camps or clinics or at meets. We had a swimmer do a takeover from Arizona St. swim camp.

  • Parents and swimmers reposts user generated content (follow your parents and swimmers back!)

  • Sponsors or supporters and tag them in photos. We started our relationship with the Michael Phelps brand based on an instagram post.

  • Inspirational quotes

  • Holiday celebrations

  • Throwback Thursdays

  • Special Announcements

Free tools/apps to help your posts:

  • Boomerang (separate app and also a feature in Instagram)

  • Ripl - allows you to add animation to posts

  • Adobe Spark Video & Adobe Spark Post - use templates to help you get started with posts

  • iMovie (on your phones, helps you edit videos quickly)

  • Font Candy - adds text to photos

  • Werble - animate and add effects to photos

  • Experiment with new apps. Head to the app store and see what new apps you could use to help your posts. There are a lot of free ones out there!!

When we ask people to follow the Marlins on social media we tell them that “We love to show our personality!” We pull back the curtain and show what it is like to Be a Marlin. We want to share those moments with our parents and family members that can’t be on deck while our swimmers dance during the warm-up songs, with the friends of our swimmers, who don’t swim, to watch them set a new personal best time, and with alumni of our program so that they can watch the video of our 8 year-old breaking a 30 year old team record.

If you are authentic with your posts and in showing your team personality you really can’t go wrong.

Ryan Zundell is the Director of Creative Services at Marietta College, Volunteer Head Coach of the Marietta Marlins of Marietta, Ohio and the Marketing Chair of the West Virginia LSC. As the Director of Creative Services for Marietta College Ryan has won over 20 CoSIDA (College Sports Information Directors of America) awards for his collegiate sports marketing designs. Ryan has taught graphic design and social media marketing courses at Marietta College and brought that knowledge to the Marietta Marlins. In 2017 the Marlins won their first #SwimBiz Crystal Kickboards for the Best Use of Social Media Award and the Marketing Club of the Year Award for a (1-150 size club) for their “Be a Marlin” marketing campaign. Since then the focus of Coach Zundell and the Marlins has been on capitalizing on the family atmosphere of swimming and using the hashtag #fishfamily as the center of their recent marketing campaign.

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