Jim Frank is one of the leading golf writers and golf experts in the world. He was the editor of Golf Magazine for nearly 20 years. Jim started Golf Connoisseur, a high-end golf publication that had a successful but short life. He now is part of collaboration of prominent golf writers called The A Position (TAP), which reports on golf travel, equipment, instruction and many more topics. With his experience in golf, traditional and now social media, I know Jim's thoughts and ideas will be valuable to read.
How are you adjusting to your new life after Golf Magazine?
Wow, that was a long time ago. I’ve been gone nearly 7 years, and while it was a shock when it happened, I think that even if it hadn’t happened then, it would have happened eventually. The magazine world—the entire media world—is changing so quickly and so deeply that it was a foregone conclusion that my change was coming, too. I started another magazine in late 2004 called Golf Connoisseur, which was a high-end publication for the members of upscale private clubs. It had a successful, but short, life and was the most fun I ever had in my publishing career. For the last few years I’ve been freelancing (primarily but not exclusively in golf), and in the last year have begun writing for my website as well as blogging, tweeting, and otherwise trying to remain a voice in the golf industry. Am I succeeding? You tell me…
What unique benefits do social media platforms offer golfers?
As the change in “traditional media” proves, all sports happen too quickly for conventional coverage. So both immediate reporting and social interaction on sports are key. Not only do we want to know who won a tournament, or any sporting event, instantaneously, we then want to chat about it with fellow fans, offering comments on everything from the great shots to the quality of the TV coverage. So as a way for fans to recreate the excitement and benefits of being together, social media is unmatched. And in a game like golf, which is a participant sport as well as a spectator sport, social media offers the chance to meet, trade information on courses and equipment, and break down some of the barriers, such as elitism, that have kept golf from growing. At least that’s my hope, that the game will grow with the help of technology.
What does the A Position uniquely offer viewers?
The biggest asset of The A Position is the expertise of its writers. Now numbering 25 (and more by the week), the writers at TAP are all experienced, well-traveled journalists and observers on the game of golf. Our views are unbiased and backed by our many, many years of covering the game.
TAP started as an outlet for golf-travel writers who were looking for somewhere to post their articles and expert opinions on great places to travel and play. As it has grown, we’ve added knowledgeable voices in other areas of golf—equipment, instruction, and more to come—almost replicating what the print magazines do every month but more quickly, more substantively, and changing as quickly as we can put up new posts.
We are also far more interactive with our readers (another benefit of technology). And we can link to other posts and websites, so someone reading about, say, a resort in Hawaii will probably be able to click on a link right in the story and go to the resort’s website for more details.
Also, because we don’t incur the ridiculous expenses of publishing and mailing a product to our readers every month, we are not nearly as beholden to advertisers for income, which allows us to push the envelope. You’ll see more and more of that as we grow.
What can social media do to capture more viewers?
This is the big question, of course, how do you get your posts and tweets and other entries in front of the millions and millions of people surfing the web every day?
Good question: Do you have the answer?
I’m hardly an expert, but now having played around in social media for a year or so, after 30-plus years in traditional media, the differences are stark, especially to younger people who grew up with technology that attracts them versus what paper-and-postage media does, which is almost hold readers at arms’ length and repel them. Look, I still love magazines, reading them and working for them, but they are very much a one-way street; computers let media be two-way streets, with constant and immediate interaction. And that’s how social media will grow, by using that advantage to its advantage.
We are using all these methods for growing traffic to the A Position. But with 25 or so writers, each with his or her own site—all of which aggregate into a bigger TAP site—not everyone is as comfortable or proficient with the tools. I love sending a tweet telling my followers when I’ve posted an article, but at what point does Twitter stop being a conversation and start being advertising? It’s a fine line that we all bump into every day. Also, as a bunch of older writers, the notion of having to promote ourselves, rather than letting the magazine or newspaper that has paid us for our words do the promoting, is a hard lesson to learn. But this is a “self-service economy,” which means you have to do the work yourself, especially self-promotion.
No one is going to come to a site unless that site, that writer, provides interesting and continually changing thoughts. So the more we post, the more people will want to come to our site. In some ways, there is a very strong parallel with old media: If we don’t have something interesting to say, no one is going to care.
After that, it’s all those other ways of driving traffic—PR and advertising and working together with traditional media and web marketing and on and on and on. There’s a terrific career out there for people who can figure it out and master it. But it ain’t gonna be me.
Do you feel that golf organizations are slow to adopt social media?
Honestly, I’m not watching what the big golf organizations are doing all that closely. Maybe because I hear enough from them through the conventional means—especially emails, but also as news and during golf broadcasts—that I don’t look all that closely for tweets from, say, the USGA. I’d be willing to bet that they are a little tentative about tackling the social media world as golf’s organizations tend to be a little high-brow, slow to react, older, and afraid of rocking the boat. A boat, by the way, that is still perceived as being old and stodgy. As long as that attitude continues, golf will be slow to figure out social media and its growth held back. (Although I played golf the other day with some guys who were texting the group in front of them during play. I found it amusing and somewhat disturbing at the same time.)
If so, what is affecting this slow adoption?
Right or wrong, social media is still largely a young person’s world while golf is not. I’m not saying that if the USGA, PGA Tour, PGA of America, and other golf organizations started tweeting religiously that we’d suddenly see an influx of young golfers. But with few exceptions, most of the social-media use I see in golf is about the pros; we need to figure out how to make it more about “our” game and not “theirs.” That’s when the two will work well together and possibly for the game’s improvement and growth.
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