The day when a simple web page for the dojo was enough are over. Yet many teachers and dojos are happy they've gotten that far. This is not, in general, a tech savvy community. The more senior you get (i.e. older) the more this tends to be true. Many teachers, even professionals, still barely have an internet presence. They come from the old traditional Budo world which had the "if you build it they will come" attitude.
Let's assume that you are a teacher / dojo-cho who is open to using the internet to get more exposure for yourself or your school (or you are a student who wishes to support such a teacher). I want to help clarify for you what your website does for you and what Facebook / Google+ etc does that your website simply doesn't.
First of all, your website is largely informational. It reaches people who are already interested in Aikido and doesn't really do that much to reach folks who aren't already looking for you. It's been years since the Yellow Pages were necessary for getting new students into the dojo. These days it's the Search Engines with Google being the 800 pound Gorilla and Bing being far behind but still significant.
So, if you are interested in attracting new students, put together the best website you can. If you do not know how to do it yourself, and most teachers do not, find someone who can. It's amazing to me how many schools, run by what I think of as major teachers, have only the most rudimentary websites. For most prospective students the website will form their first impression of your school. Folks are unlikely to feel yours is serious dojo if your website is simplistic and funky.
I don't need to go over what makes a good website... there are tons of free information available on that subject. But understanding what you are trying to do with your website dictates its design and layout and many dojos are clearly not at all clear about what they are trying to do with their site.
For instance, if your dojo is fairly small and doesn't run many, if any seminars needing outside participation, then your website should be entirely geared for attracting new students. Yet many websites function more as information delivery systems to the existing dojo community and are not clearly targeted at generating membership. This can be solved by making sure that the very first thing a prospective student sees when he clicks on a link to your site is the information he is looking for when he is checking out the school. The location / directions, the schedule, info on the teacher, and perhaps some info on Aikido for the folks who don't already know, should be up front and center. None of these things should be more than a single click away from the homepage.
Everything else... all the stuff geared for your existing student population can be lower level and require more clicks to access. You do not want this information to appear with equal emphasis as the material for attracting new members. Your existing students will stay on the site in order to find the info they want, prospects will not generally do so. It is still the case that many people will simply find your contact info and call rather than click down a level to find what you've put on the site that would have answered their questions. So, make sure you have your contact number easily accessible. I would recommend against having the number be your dojo number... you have gone to all the work of attracting this person's interest, you really want to talk to them if at all possible. I have my cell number on all of my on-line ads and it's the first number on the website. I have an active pay per click program driving traffic to my website and I want to talk to the people I have paid that money to connect with.
Does your dojo have kid's classes? For many dojos, the kid's classes are the most important classes for the financial health of the dojo. Many dojos these days have more young people training than they do adults. Yet, if you look at most dojo websites, they are simply not geared at all towards generating membership for the kids classes. I would HIGHLY recommend that you have two URLs and two separate websites if you have a serious kid's program. My dojo, for instance, has www.aikieast.com
. The sites have entirely different content and are targeted differently.
You may want your adult site to stress what a serious martial arts school your are, how you have cross training available, that your teacher is a big deal who trained with someone famous in the Aikido world. None of that is terribly appropriate for attracting young members, in fact much of it might be counter productive.
While it might be Dad who thinks junior should do martial arts, it is a fact that, with notable exceptions, it's still Mom, typically, who finds the school and transports the kid to and from the dojo. All that hard core stuff which might make your school look good to a young person looking for a place to train hard can actually be intimidating for a Mom, who may know nothing about Aikido or martial arts, looking for a safe, supportive place for her kids to train. Parents are less interested in the pedigree of the teacher and more interested in how he or she is with kids. So, it's really best if you have two websites.
So, you have your one or two websites. You've done your homework on search engine optimization so they actually show up on page one
if you do a search. Is that enough? It's not if you are a dojo that is holding events frequently or if the events your are holding require outside participation to be financially viable. The website is typically seen by people who were already looking for something you have on it.
Whereas the dojo website is informational, providing answers to the questions of prospective students and acting as a reference for existing members, it isn't very flexible. The vast majority of teachers do not even do their own websites. So getting anything updated on the site in an easy and timely fashion is often not possible.
On the other hand, a Facebook Profile Page for a teacher or a Facebook Page for the dojo is totally designed for adding new content easily. For existing members, a Facebook Page for the dojo, or even just a Facebook Group (open just to dojo members) is a great way for folks to stay in touch, chat about dojo happenings, share pictures and videos, etc. If that's all you want, you set your privacy setting so that only Friends or Members of the Group can see posts.
But if your interest is in creating exposure for the Chief Instructor or creating awareness of the various events hosted by the dojo, then one wants the broadest possible participation on the part of the Aikido community in these pages.
If the teacher is senior enough the he or she travels to do seminars or hosts events that folks from the larger community might travel to attend, a page designed to build a broad network of connections for that teacher is important. My recommendation is to have a page devoted to this that is separate from the original Profile Page of that person. That can allow them to keep their "Aikido Teacher" role separate from their personal role. The Profile Page can be restricted to true personal friends and family while the professional Page can be totally geared to folks from within the Aikido community.
This page is the way that people from the larger community can keep up on the various seminars the teacher does, any blogs he or she might write, new video clips of the teacher, etc. While it is true that more often than not, senior teachers have other folks handle the internet for them, it is ideal if the teacher in question actively participates on his or her own Page. The whole thing about Social Media marketing is connecting with people. This is the strength of something like Facebook. Normally, a teacher might see a given student once or twice a year at a seminar. He or she might only interact with that student briefly at any given event.
Facebook allows a teacher to keep track of what folks are up to throughout he year, What seminars have they gone to, what Aikido and other videos did they think were interesting, etc. The people in ones community of contacts can see what you post and make comments, you can respond, a dialogue can take place. That's simply impossible under the old model of communication of snail mail flyers and a website. In my own case, I get e-mails and messages via Facebook or Aikiweb from all over the world. I try to answer everything I get. People will often just check in from countries on every continent where Aikido is done.
Some dojos are quite active hosting events. Some events might be taught by their own teacher and others might be taught by guest instructors. In any case, typically, events need outside participation to be successful financially. With dojo memberships down in general from ten years ago, it is really important to develop a good network of folks that support your events. As I pointed out earlier, merely posting an event on the website is not even close to being enough any more. I know of a number of smaller dojos which would like to have a seminar now and then but don't for financial reasons. With decent marketing skills these dojos could have the participation from the larger community they'd need to be successful.
The number of Aikido practitioners that travel outside their own dojos for training with any regularity is quite small. It probably isn't larger than ten percent. So, in a dojo of thirty members, I'll bet only two or three go anywhere else on a regular basis. Every one of these people is exposed to an almost constant stream of information about seminars being held locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally. Getting some proportion of these folks coming to a given event at your dojo requires a number of things.
a) You have to let folks know about an event early
The more people want / need from outside, the farther you hope they'll travel to attend, the earlier you have to plant that seed in their minds.
b) You have to periodically follow up on these announcements
With so many events offered to people and the little time / money they actually have to devote to attending them, there can often be the phenomenon of the last event announcement you see that requires the least effort to get to, will be the one that you actually sign up for. So, not only do you have to let folks know early that an event will happen but you have to follow up repeatedly to generate "buzz" and remind folks about what they thought it sounded like something they thought they'd like to do. You can post pics of an upcoming guest instructor from another seminar they taught recently. You can post video clips from YouTube of your guest instructor (most prominent teachers have video up on YouTube and it is extremely easy to Share those clips on Facebook.
Facebook and other social media are exactly what you need to keep in constant contact with the folks you'd like to have attending a given event. Developing that network of contacts is crucial. When you have a Facebook page for your teacher or one for your dojo, send an invitation to your e-mail list to invite them to follow your pages if they are on Facebook. Go to the pages of prominent Aikido folks and "friend" their "friends". But most effective is running a paid ad on Facebook to build your following.
If a normal seminar at your dojo is 30 - 50 people... having only 50 or so people following your Facebook Page means that you are probably only reaching the same folks who already have been attending your events and already know about your teacher or your seminars. This is the standard mistake that folks make on both their website and especially their Facebook Pages (assuming that they even have them). They take the "If you build it, they will come approach". Well, the truth is, they won't... at least not enough of them to do you much good from a promotional standpoint. To build a following, people have to actually know you are there. Building your following for a given Facebook Page can be done VERY slowly by simply adding good content frequently and having folks from your existing network Share
it. You can scour YouTube
for interesting video clips and Share
those on your page etc. If you don't do this at least, your following will not grow at all. But even if you do all of this, your following will still be in the low hundreds after a couple of years. With a paid ad on Facebook
your following for that same page could be two to three thousand!
My advice would be to try for a following that is ten times or more larger than the number of folks you need for an event to be solidly successful. For an event page, that might be 300 to 400 followers to consistently generate that 30 - 40 attendees you want for your seminar. If you are running a camp or large event, then you want a couple of thousand followers to generate that 200 people who will sign up for the event.
You want "high quality" followers too. For an event taking place at your little dojo, having 500 followers from Morocco, Bosnia, and Mali does you almost no good. If you run an ad, target your ad
on folks just from the US, maybe Canada. When folks "Friend
" you or click "Like
" for a given page, "Ignore
" them if they don't fit the profile of who you could likely expect to travel to your event. You'll grow your following slower that way but your network will be more likely to generate attendees for your events or perhaps get an invitation to teach for your teacher.
Once you have a solid following, you still have to keep adding content. I have written else where about how one can go about doing just that. What you want to do is leverage your Facebook Pages
to help your website, have your website feeding people to your Facebook Page, have your Blog
creating traffic for both your website and your Facebook Page, etc.
Use your Facebook Pages to generate "buzz" and frequently add less substantive content. For content with more depth, have links to article sand posts on Aikiweb
, have your Blog
automatically appear on Aikiweb
and your Facebook Page
. Put links to all these things on your website. Have your webmaster take frequent advantage of the Facebook Buttons
offered on the Facebook site and incorporate these buttons on your web pages. This will help drive traffic to your Facebook pages and build that network.
heAikidodojo.com. Instead of merely putting an announcement page about the Winter Intensive on their dojo website, they have created a serious, separate identity for the event by creating its own website, with its own URL. Web hosting these days is so inexpensive that any major annual event can easily have its own website.
For those on a strict budget or those who don't have the technical resources to create and maintain a whole separate website for a major event, a compromise would be to create a whole website for your event within your existing dojo website. You can still buy the separate URL and simply have the ISP "forward" that URL
to the main web page fro the event, as if it were a real homepage. In this manner you are only paying for one web hosting package.
This kind of thing is important. If you are hosting a major event, with a number of really senior teachers, you want that event to have its own identity in the minds of possible attendees. You don't really want it to appear as if it's just another local seminar hosted by some dojo.
If you have any seminars that take place every year, while you don't have to go all the way and have a separate website for just that seminar, you should have a distinct web page for that instructor's annual visit
on your site. If you just throw the guest instructor's name on a list of events taking pace at your dojo, it doesn't give the proper "serious" feel to the event. If this teacher is important enough for you to host him or her every year, they ar important enough to have some dedicated space on the site devoted to telling people why they want to come trai with this special teacher.
I have an actual Facebook Page
for every teacher that we host annually. I have Pages for Dan Harden, Howard Popkin, and William Gleason at Aikido Eastside. I rotate my ad budget to run paid ads on a rotating basis to build the following for these pages. Initially, it took a lot of work. But now, it's fairly easy to add content by sharing posts about these teachers from various other pages, posting links for other appearances they are making, articles they are writing, etc. Each time they do a seminar at our dojo, we make sure we get pictures, and when permitted, video clips. After the seminar we have a library of material that can be parceled out over time to keep the Pages fresh and keep generating "buzz" about the teacher and the fact that he or she appears at our dojo. I also use this material up on the Dojo Facebook Page
to create and maintain the identity of our dojo as a "training center" where folks can come from all over to find training that they may have trouble finding locally or regionally.
The latest tool that is of interest in the toolbox for folks helping with dojo / event promotion is Pinterest
. Pinterest is a bulletin or pin board that allows folks who have downloaded their free "Pin It
" app to their web browser to "PIN
" any picture they find on the web to their "board
" on Pinterest. What really makes Pinterest stand out is that 75% of the millions and growing number that are participating on Pinterest are women. So having some boards with content that could be of interest to the Mom's of prospective students for your kids class or pictures of female guest teachers hosted by your dojo, whatever, could help reach that group of women out there who might not otherwise see anything else you put out there. One of the most difficult things to find is ways to reach people who weren't already looking for you... I think Pinterest could be significant in that regard. If you want to take a look at my own modest efforts on Pinterest to get an idea of what could be done, go to George Ledyard's Pinterest Boards
At a time when dojo memberships are down across the board, while in many places there are multiple choices as to where to train, and the number of events seems to still be proliferating, I think it is crucial that the folks in our Aikido community improve their skills at how to promote their dojos and their events. The generation of folks who are now the senior teachers come from the pre-internet days and many are almost entirely absent from the net in terms of having any actual personal presence. That mean that the job of maintaining the website, creating and maintaining the Facebook Pages, doing the leg work on the seminars and events the dojo hosts, etc is all left to select students. In the vast majority of cases these are volunteers who do these jobs in their spare time between job, family, training, etc. It is my feeling that these skills should be considered part of the training of an up and coming instructor of the next generation. Someday, they'll be starting or taking over a dojo and they'll need to have these skills to be successful. In the last few years I have seen any number of dojos close because they were no longer viable. In many cases they simply weren't run on a solid enough business basis to survive. Yet nothing I am discussing here is difficult. It just takes some time and consistent attention. These skills could be the difference between a dojo that survives and one that does not. I think it's time we get better at what we have been doing.
(Original blog post may be found here