The New Word-of-Mouth

Experts say you’re missing a critical opportunity if you’re not using social networks to build brands, trust and sales
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Today’s consumers make at least 70 percent of their buying decisions online, and social media

can be the most targeted, cost-effective way to reach existing clients while also inspiring prospective customers to buy. Social media can also be the fastest way to build a new brand or strengthen an existing one.

A recent study cited by Forbes found that 73 percent of consumers were impacted by a brand’s social media presence when making a purchasing decision. The Pew Research Center reported 68 percent of Americans are Facebook users, and about 75 percent of them use the platform daily. The same study found that 81 percent, or 264 million people, have at least one social media account.

“In this day and age, Facebook and Amazon control everything,” says Chad Rockholt, who oversees the social media and online store of Tuppen’s Marine and Tackle in Lake Worth, Fla. “If you don’t utilize the new technology, you’re going to be like the mom-and-pop stores down the street that are closing.”

Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and YouTube will have measurable short- and long-term impacts on every marine business. Marine companies can use these networks to their advantage if they invest the resources to determine what will interest customers, learn how to create content geared to each platform and are consistent and creative.

Avoiding social media is a seriously missed opportunity, says Yamaha Outboards’ social media manager Brad Dreyer, who has grown the company’s Instagram following from 22,000 to 107,000 in two and a half years. “Dealers who have been in business for generations have relied on word-of-mouth,” Dreyer says. “Today’s word-of-mouth often takes place on social media.”

Companies can speak to thousands versus a handful of people by using the right platforms. “It’s really an opportunity to showcase your whole brand, not just one part,” says Mercury Marine chief marketing officer Michelle Dauchy. “It’s about the product, for sure, but it’s more than that. It’s about the experience that comes with that.”

Someone needs to own it

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Businesses often assign social media responsibilities to employees who have full workloads and can’t post consistently. But hiring someone whose sole focus is digital marketing can be the equivalent of several salespeople, says Marcus Sheridan, who runs a digital sales and marketing company. “When it comes to social, I find the person running it is the intern or a niece that understands a little bit about Instagram,” Sheridan says. “It’s pretty silly putting inexperienced people as the face of your brand.”

Tuppen’s Marine and Tackle hired Rockholt four months ago to beef up its social media efforts and manage Internet sales. He already has doubled the dealership’s Instagram following and engineered sizable increases in online sales each month.

Rockholt still doesn’t spend the time on social media that it requires. During a Tuesday when he hadn’t yet posted on Facebook that week, page views were down 53 percent, and page likes dropped 67 percent.

“It really is pay to play,” Dauchy says. “You don’t have a chance to engage with your audience in meaningful ways if you’re not investing in your strategy.”

Experts say if you don’t plan to take social media seriously, with constant updates and new content, it’s best to avoid it altogether, since it gives the impression that a brand is stale and out of touch.

Regardless of platform, creating relevant content takes time. “I spend maybe 20 percent of my time doing what my friends think I do,” Dreyer says. “They don’t see all the planning, editing, early morning hours and late nights — most of the time with a camera in my hand.”

Measuring ROI

Data from MDG Advertising shows that 44 percent of chief marketing officers don’t know how to quantify the return from their investments in social media. The investments are obviously the amount of time, human resources and money spent. But how companies measure the return depends on their goals — for example, Web traffic, lead generation, sales or brand-building. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram offer a vast amount of free tracking data, and though complicated, it’s worth figuring out, Dreyer says.

Urchin Tracking Module is a system that allows users to tag hyperlinks in order to trace where visitors originated. Companies that use them on Google Analytics can track how people get to their website and what they do once there, according to information from the online publication DigitalMarketer, which breaks down ways to determine social media ROI in detail.

Companies such as Wicked Reports help small businesses measure success in the areas they’ve prioritized, and online payment processing companies often capture data to help businesses specifically attribute the sale.

Savvy posters don’t necessarily have to pay to boost ads, but since Facebook changed its algorithm so businesses don’t appear in newsfeeds as often as they once did, most do. Rockholt sometimes posts promotions, breaking what marketers call a cardinal rule of social media, and he never pays to boost them. But he learns exactly who is engaging with the company on which platforms, and targets them directly, by studying analytics.

“The analytics is a full-time job in itself,” Dreyer says. “If you’re using social media for a branding tool, your ROI is trickier to measure. But you can see the value, reach, engagement and cost-per-click. If we have a retail promo, we get clicks for that, and that turns into dealer leads.”

Engagement doesn’t automatically translate to sales, but retailers can measure financial success. Rockholt is increasing out-of-state online sales by about 11 percent each month and says he can trace that directly to posts that contain a unique coupon code.

“Raving fans”

People trust their family and friends, even strangers, more than anyone with a vested interest in a brand. Trust plays a role for 92 percent of Americans making a big purchase, according to the Associated Press, quoting SurveyMonkey research released in November, and 65 percent say friends are most influential. When it comes to big-ticket items, 54 percent of U.S. consumers consider themselves “researchers.” That is where social media is key. “Every brand, and not just the high-end ones, should have raving fans,” Sheridan says.

Yamaha dealers tag the company in posts when a customer buys a new boat, and Dreyer congratulates each by name. “Imagine how it would feel if Ford’s corporate account congratulated you on your new F150,” he says.

Social media also provides a platform to share the bad as well as the good, which can be positive for companies with loyal followings. “If you have a customer post a critique, one of the most wonderful things is if you see a whole bunch of your own followers come in and defend you, or help set that person straight with other information,” Dauchy says.

Some companies offer the bad with the good themselves, instead of taking a sales approach, Sheridan says, and do it in a fun and quirky way. “When you do that, you become a dramatically more attractive company to the customer because you build trust,” he says.

“You have to put yourself in the viewer’s position,” adds Dreyer. “Dealers have so many other things to worry about other than social media, so they just throw something up there. That worked in 2010, but it doesn’t work on today’s social media. The dealers who understand how each platform works are the ones who see great returns on social. It’s the best advertising you can do.”

Video

Investing in social media and video is especially important for small businesses. Forbes cites a study that shows 46 percent of consumers watch more video ads on social media than on television and that 73 percent of consumers have been impacted by a brand’s social media presence when making a purchase decision. “Video is shared 1,200 percent more than text and pictures combined,” Sheridan says. “If you’re not doing that, you don’t get social media.”

Engagement on Facebook Live videos is 10 times higher than regular videos, says Bob Denison of Denison Yachting, which has a full-time videographer on staff and full-time social media manager.

“Facebook and Instagram are rewarding people for embracing videos,” Denison says. “But it’s the biggest challenge to get people to pick up their phone and do a Facebook or Instagram live video. Their biggest concern is that they’re going to look stupid, and that interferes with us engaging with people online.”

Though still relatively young, social media’s appeal continues to grow. “The platforms and target demographics change, but we’re all used to having information in our pocket,” Dreyer says. “That will not change.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue.

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