Social media platforms perfectly showcase boating’s ‘eye-candy’ appeal, say marketing pros
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Flickr, Google+. It’s hard to keep all of the social media platforms straight, let alone turn them into effective marketing tools. But YouTube is the third-most-searched site on the Internet. And with Facebook’s reach expected to climb to a billion users in August, it’s clear that those who don’t take full advantage of social media will be left behind.
So why do some still resist? In a nutshell: intimidation, inexperience and lack of time and resources to do it right. “The boating industry is slowly starting to use it, but many are not using it in the correct way,” says Josh Chiles, founder and CEO of Engaged, a marine marketing firm that helps businesses manage their social media.
Throwing up a sale ad or promotion on a Twitter or Facebook feed won’t attract people to your business, Chiles says. “It’s about building connections,” he says. “When a customer walks into your dealership, you don’t just shout about your sale — you talk to the person, learn what they like, what they don’t like, learn about them and build a relationship with them. So that’s the same with social media. It should be about building relationships.”
The National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Discover Boating Facebook page is approaching a half-million followers, and NMMA social media guru Carl Blackwell says if it’s done well, the use of social media pays off for the entire industry. “Every fan I get, I have a chance to hit them with a message every day of the year,” says Blackwell, the NMMA’s vice president of marketing and communications. “We don’t want to lose those fans, so we’re very careful about the content that we post, but when you buy an impression on TV or through a magazine ad, you display your banner ad and then it’s done. When you gain an impression through a social media outlet like Facebook, you’re getting impressions every day of the year.”
Don’t tell, show
What if you had a nickel for every time you saw talking-head videos on boat websites? Well, you’d probably have a few bucks. But the point is that boating lends itself to some of the most visually pleasing imagery of any recreational activity and many find it curious that the entire industry isn’t exploiting that fact to its fullest on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Instead of video of someone talking, companies could voice-over images of boats on the water, Blackwell says.
Unlike e-mail, social media outlets almost demand that photos play an integral role. “So many people have iPhones, or at least the Android,” says Gaspare Marturano, president of iPlusSocial, a social media marketing firm. “Just download the Facebook or Twitter app. It’s automatic. If I’m at a marina on this beautiful sailboat, I can put it automatically on my page.”
“I really believe boating is a beautiful eye-candy visual,” says Blackwell. “You have to bring it to life with video or pictures. I don’t think radio is necessarily the avenue for boating, but online video is one heck of a tool.”
With the new timeline format on Facebook, photos play an even more important role, Chiles says. “But one of the biggest challenges we have with our clients is getting them to send pictures,” he says. “To build up your engagement [with customers] — pictures play a big role in that.”
Legendary Marine, a Destin, Fla.-based dealer, has had great success with its Facebook page, says Mike Dickman, general manager of BoatQuest.com. (BoatQuest, like Trade Only, is owned by Active Interest Media.) New owners were pictured beside their boats on the site, a move Dickman calls brilliant. “When David and Rebecca get home and see their picture up on Legendary Marine’s website, they’re going to share it,” he says. “And then others are going to ‘like’ that place because they want to keep up with David and Rebecca.”
And even if David and Rebecca’s friends don’t hit the “like” button, they will remember that the couple bought their boat from Legendary Marine because when they share the picture the dealer’s name appears in all of David and Rebecca’s friends’ news feeds.
Discover Boating has introduced an app on Facebook called Movie Maker. People can upload photos and choose a soundtrack and the app will transform it into a short movie or online video about their experience on the water that, hopefully, the creators then will share with their friends, Blackwell says. “And if they share it with Discover Boating — and some of them shared it with other people — now all of a sudden we have 2,000 to 3,000 real live Discover Boating commercials and they’re real live customers,” he says. “I mean, I couldn’t buy that kind of media.”
YouTube viewership is still on an upward trajectory, and already 100 million people search YouTube videos online every day, Blackwell says. The marine industry isn’t taking advantage of that, says Michael Sciulla, vice president of Marine Marketers of America and an occasional Soundings Trade Only columnist. “It’s entirely visual and it’s a perfect match for recreational boating,” Sciulla says. “Every boat manufacturer should be pouring their time and energy into creating that content.”
The advent of smart phones and tablets makes creating videos simple, and high-speed Internet connections make it fast and easy to post them, Blackwell says. “We’re buying those commercials that you see before you see the video,” he says. “The beautiful thing about that is you can’t click off of it, so you’re going to see our 15-second ad and it will be of a beautiful boating image. You’ve got to believe people are going to be more engaged in that than a … soap commercial.”
Dealers and manufacturers can create their own channels, so videos consumers post will wind up there, Dickman says. And the less overly produced the video, the more hits it gets, Marturano says. “Put the produced stuff on there, too. Don’t get me wrong,” Marturano says. “But that handheld video I do from my phone of, say, someone on a Jet Ski out there, that’s great. That kind of stuff is a lot more interesting to me anyway.”
Interaction, not a ‘billboard’
Some dealers and manufacturers are learning how to make platforms such as Facebook work for them, but some still are using it to post advertisements. The key is interaction. “When you go to an association function or a marine trade event and you’re socializing … you talk about what you do for a living and share stories,” Dickman says. “And that’s what social media is. It’s not about a billboard, really.”
With the rise of dual-income families and other drains on free time, families aren’t taking children boating as much as they used to, Sciulla says. Social media is the perfect way for boaters to introduce the lifestyle to non-boaters.
“First of all, social media is not free,” says Blackwell. “The cost really comes in the form of human resources. It’s a great tactic to employ, but it’s still not free and I think a lot of people might think that.”
Although baby boomers aren’t digital natives — they’re what industry insiders have dubbed digital immigrants — that doesn’t mean they aren’t tuned in to Facebook and other social media channels. Right now they are the largest and fastest-growing segment on Facebook, Dickman says.
Adhere to etiquette
Content should be different on each platform, Chiles says. Essentially, Facebook is a family barbecue and Twitter is a cocktail party. Each venue has a different etiquette. What’s appropriate on Twitter — for example, 20 tweets in a day — probably would annoy people on Facebook. On the other hand, someone has to post regularly on Facebook or the visibility disappears from fans’ news feeds, he says.
Businesses must respond to comments or questions on their pages — in other words, interaction. “When the phone rings at the dealership, you answer the phone and you need the same mentality for social media,” Chiles says.
On Facebook, something called “edge rank” determines how often a business’s or individual’s posts wind up in the main news feed. Edge rank is determined by several factors. The more times people “like” your page, comment or hit the “like” button on comments posted, the higher the edge rank. Too many administrator posts can bring down edge rank, but too few are a killer as well. “If you post once a week, or month, obviously the page is dead,” says Chiles. Facebook posts should come every 24 to 36 hours, he adds.
A common problem dealers have, especially with bare-bones staffs, is finding time to keep up with all of the social media, Marturano says. In that situation it’s worth it to hire outside help, he says. For $9.95 a month, Engaged offers dealers a dashboard to streamline all of the platforms in one place. That way, all of the notifications for each are in one spot, and there is only one password, Chiles says. Messages can be scheduled ahead of time so the appropriate spacing is there, and dealers are automatically alerted to feedback from any of the venues.
Don’t put this on Facebook
There are different schools of thought about whether companies should link their social media accounts. Linking two accounts means that anything posted on Twitter would automatically post to Facebook or LinkedIn, for example. Many recommend linking accounts as a time-saver, but Chiles says that’s unwise for a couple of reasons.
Twitter jargon will annoy Facebook users, Chiles says, and you risk getting “hidden” or losing the follower altogether. But more important, if dealers are posting the same thing in each place there’s no reason for a customer to “like” them on Facebook and “follow” them on Twitter. “I hear a lot of people say they do it to save time and it will, but you’re not going to see any benefit from it,” Chiles says.
Another trick Marturano employs is to have certain links automatically retweet to his Twitter page. For a dealer, that could be everything that Discover Boating posts, for example. “But there have got to be personal tweets, company tweets and then retweets,” he says. “It’s kind of got to be a mix of all that stuff because otherwise it’s not going to be interesting to people.”
Paid Facebook ads
Understanding Facebook ads is essential to any business using the paid advertising model, Chiles says. There are several ways to structure them, and he recommends that dealers use “pay-per-click” and choose a daily budget. When that number has been hit, the ads will disappear until the following day.
Optimizing the ads specifically for target groups and analyzing what’s working in nearly real time is the only way to maximize dollars spent. Engaged sets up about 400 ad variations, based on specific targeting. For example, one ad will target a 36-year-old man who has a 14-year-old daughter, and another will target a 42-year-old woman with a 5-year-old son.
“If you can target the ad very specifically, that’s how you bring down your cost per click,” says Chiles. “Facebook ads are so targeted it’s almost scary. A lot of dealers think they don’t work, but they’re very complex and you have to know what you’re doing to make them work.”
Knowing the rules is also crucial for any business operating on Facebook because if they’re broken, the page and all of its content will be deleted, Chiles says. For example, one of his current clients came to him for help after his page was deleted because it was set as personal instead of as a business, Chiles says.
There’s an app for that
Businesses have increasingly been jumping on the app bandwagon, but they should also enter that arena with caution, Dickman says. “I know businesses that have created apps that do nothing more than what their website does,” he says. “If a business is going to have an app, it should have a unique purpose.”
Discover Boating uses Facebook applications, such as a boat selector and a boating game, Chiles says, which are very effective for engaging consumers. Dealers who “like” the page can also put them on their business pages.
“It does not have to be as expensive as you think,” Marturano says. A game app doesn’t have to be the next Angry Birds — among the most popular game apps available — but something to give away free to keep users coming back.
Businesses choose to take on social media; if they’re not using it, they should, says Marturano. “Don’t even say ‘social media’ anymore,” he says. “It’s just part of marketing”
This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue.