When it launched Bearbrass Probus for active retirees in February 2020, Rotary Central Melbourne thought it could walk away and let the group thrive. But nothing went to plan. Within weeks the virus locked down Melbourne and the 18 foundation members of the newly formed Probus club were left “like shags on a rock” with no meetings, no activities and seemingly no future.

After brief discombobulation, the joint Rotary/Probus members picked up and ran with Zoom meetings, initially for weekly speaker meetings and then fortnightly. A well-appreciated $1,300 City of Melbourne grant enabled the Probus club to purchase Zoom and Clubrunner software. Members did have one brief window of physical activities (lunch, golf, wine appreciation), but were then locked down again. However, vigorous Facebook (FB) marketing in a difficult climate helped the club grow to more than 40 members.

The FB marketing techniques were leading edge, thanks to paid-for coaching from an out-of-work travel bureau owner. An example of the success is the week to 11th July 2020, Bearbrass Facebook had 206 “engagements” (user activity) from six posts…up 30% on the prior week. Bearbrass’ best single post reached 573 people for 126 “engagements”.

Bearbrass “engagement” rate for posts is typically 50-90% of views, compared with 0.5%-1% in general FB marketing (involving relatively large numbers of users). Overall, weekly Bearbrass FB activity equates to 50-100% of the largest Probus group in Australasia/South Pacific.

Amongst the successful techniques used are: ‘eyeball-grabbing’ videos (usually involving attractive music and singing); posts that quickly pick up on appropriate current affairs (such as the death of WW2 icon Vera Lynn); and, news items about members. One member was a world-class wildlife photographer in South Africa; another was a motorbike racer who had clocked at 250kph; and yet another had a career in costume design and dressmaking for high-profile TV serials. The club always goes for the highest-quality photos and videos, rather than routine items and treatments.

In addition, the club ‘tweaks’ the all-important Facebook algorithms.  These formulae assess the attractiveness of sites and posts and publish only the best to users’ ‘feeds’. Whilst it might seem tacky, it is essential to chivvy friends and members into “liking” and “loving” site activity for the sake of the algorithms.

As at 12th July, Bearbrass FB had 52 page “likes” since April-May compared with say, 400-600 at some best-practice Rotary clubs that have operated FB for many years.

The most common mistake made by clubs when using Facebook is to treat it like a web page. FB is a flow mechanism living in dynamic cyberspace, whereas web sites are the equivalent of a marketing poster.

Bearbrass is keen to get to a critical mass of 70-100 members. If you know any e-capable retiree recruits in greater Melbourne, we would love to hear from them via bearbrassprobus@gmail.com. In the meantime, check out and “like” us on FB at: https://www.facebook.com/bearbrassprobus/