Will the social media tide float all boats?

During a recent dinner with a colleague it dawned on me that although it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken, it takes a very resourceful and persistent marketer to successfully reach out and touch someone.
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During a recent dinner with a colleague it dawned on me that although it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken, it takes a very resourceful and persistent marketer to successfully reach out and touch someone.

Oh, how I relish clichés, especially those that have been dreamed up by creative copywriters and marketers that stay with you long after their campaigns have receded into history. Though often derided, they can be very useful when setting the stage for an interesting anecdote. Thanks Perdue and AT&T!

In this case I was dining at a Fort Lauderdale restaurant with Denison yacht broker Jeff Erdmann, whom I had come to know well during his 10-year stint as director of public affairs for the Florida Yacht Brokers Association.

Jeff got his start in the brokerage business in 1987 while living in Texas and selling copying machines. One customer, a bingo hall operator, asked him if he would like to stop by that night and play. He agreed to do so, but spent the day scouring the classified ads in Soundings in search of a new boat. While doing so he came upon an ad for a course on “How to Become a Yacht Broker.” That night he won $500 at bingo. He took his winnings as a good omen, bought the course and became a yacht broker.

With 30 years of experience as a broker under his belt, Jeff is a walking encyclopedia on many things, and while arranging our dinner rendezvous I received a notice that he was now following me on Twitter. Although it’s true that I have a Twitter account, I told Jeff that I had never made the time to take advantage of the platform.

I chalked up my reticence to an internal bias against trying new things. Unlike most millennials, who take to anything digital like a duck to water, I suspect I am like many boomers who are somewhat overwhelmed by the latest and greatest platform. Or it may also have something to do with the fact that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Capricorn — a real burden to bear in this ever-changing social media world.

That said, my confession led to a lengthy and enlightening discussion with Jeff about the many platforms that a marketer can and should be utilizing to succeed in today’s fast-changing social media environment. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that social media has empowered everyone to become a marketer either for business or for pleasure.

A more tech-savvy boomer at age 61, Jeff has embraced social media over the past decade in an effort to build and maintain his personal brand awareness on the Internet and through search-engine optimization. His goal is to generate some referrals and hopefully sell some boats. He regularly uses Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ and has just opened an Instagram account. He generally posts across all platforms simultaneously, sharing industry information and news with his audiences.

Jeff says Facebook has the most “reach” and he spends about a half-hour a day posting on the site, looking to strengthen his name recognition and personal brand credibility. Facebook has more than 1.9 billion monthly active users.

Everyone has some expertise to share, and Jeff’s stems from the many years he spent as a volunteer lobbyist for the Florida (now International) Yacht Brokers Association. His knowledge of the arcane laws and regulations governing yacht brokerage is sought after.

He posts up to 20 times a week to his nearly 600 followers on his Yachting Capital Facebook page (facebook.com/ErdmannYachts). His biggest draw was a video posting of U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., during her reintroduction of a deferred importation bill. A good week for him is when Facebook’s analytical tool, Insights, tells him his “engagements” are up and people are either “liking” or “sharing” his posts.

Posting in many respects is much like putting out an old-fashioned press release. Back then you sent it out hoping that some editor would think it newsworthy and publish it. The major difference with social media is that there are no clearly defined editors between the source of the information and the intended audience other than the roar of the crowd.

Jeff uses Twitter because of its simplicity and to reach audiences that are not on Facebook. Twitter has 319 million active monthly users. He thinks more industry pros involved in marketing, policy or the media use it than the more casual users of Facebook. To date he has tweeted 831 times to 257 followers @Yachtbroker007. According to his “tweet activity” analytic, he spends less than an hour a week on the platform, including following 340 people.

Although some marine marketers have shied away from Twitter because of its 140-character limitation, Jeff points out that you can include an entire article or video link with your tweet, thereby having an impact far beyond the mere 140 characters.

Google+ is another platform Jeff thinks highly of because your post almost instantaneously shows high up in Google search results rankings. The higher you are on Google’s first page, the better your chances of being seen and garnering an audience. He spends less than two hours per week on this platform. Google+ has 300 million active monthly users.

Lastly there’s LinkedIn, the platform (full disclosure) that initially brought Jeff and I together six years ago. Jeff had taken to LinkedIn, a social media site for business professionals, to find someone to help the Florida Yacht Brokers Association with its congressional and public relations activities. LinkedIn has 106 million active monthly users.

Unlike other social media platforms, LinkedIn enables its members to create a virtual online resume, complete with recommendations and endorsements. He found me and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. He has also used LinkedIn to find vendors, as well as professionals with expertise on particular issues.

Jeff spends up to five hours a week on LinkedIn and boasts 9,560 connections. He says that more than 500 people have viewed his profile during the past 90 days, and one viewing paid off in a small way. He showed a boat recently to a client he had not talked to since 1994. The client had found him and his email address on LinkedIn. Although the client ultimately decided to buy new, you never know where any of these social media links may lead.

That said, one has to ask whether the 10 hours a week Jeff spends on social media is cost-effective. Does it produce tangible results, or is it building one’s brand more like public relations image building than the pure marketing of goods and services?

According to The Statistics Portal, only 12 percent of Facebook users, 9 percent of Twitter users and 5 percent of LinkedIn users used these platforms to shop for products.

Meanwhile, Alexis C. Madrigal, a contributing editor for The Atlantic, says “Pinterest is one of the four ways people find things on the Internet. The default is Googling. For real-time searches there is Twitter. For people or entities, there’s Facebook. But if what you want to find are things, objects, then Pinterest is the way to go.” Fifty-five percent of Pinterest users use that platform to shop (https://www.statista.com/statistics/250909/brand-engagement-of-us-online-shoppers-on-pinterest-and-facebook/).

So is the time that Jeff spends reaching out on social media simply a substitute for the time we used to spend on that 19th century device known as a telephone?

Time will tell whether social media marketing makes sense for a small or one-person shop. In the meantime serious marine marketers need to start posting, pinning and tweeting for the simple reason that your competition is already doing so.

And for those of you who are in the market for a yacht, you can always touch base with Jeff on that late 20th century platform known as a website: http://www.denisonyachtsales.com/2015/03/jeff-erdmann-florida-yacht-broker.

Michael Sciulla is president of Credibility & Company Comunications, as well as vice president of the Marine Marketers of America and a member of the board of directors of Boating Writers International. During a 28-year career at BoatUS he built the association’s brand, as membership grew from 30,000 to 650,000. He has testified more than 30 times before congressional committees.

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue.

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