If you’ve been in business for more than a day, you’ve no doubt read articles and heard grapevine chatter about how advertising on social media is becoming the Next Big Thing. Truth is, it’s not becoming—it’s already there. If you’re not allocating at least 75 percent of your advertising budget to Facebook and other social platforms, you’re tossing away dollars. Here’s why.
Traditional media, such as newspapers, radio, and TV, go to a broad audience. Advertising rates are based on their ability to take your message to the masses. A common metric for determining rates is CPM—cost per thousand—that is, how many dollars does it take to reach 1,000 of their readers/listeners/viewers. About the best they can do with targeting is tell you how many people in their audience fit within the age range that matches your market.
But you’re not just after a specific demographic age group; you want a targeted psychographic audience. You want people who have expressed an interest, in one way or another, in flying. Ideally, you want people who want to learn to fly. Want to see a blank stare? Ask your newspaper or radio rep how many people in their audience have expressed an interest in flying. How many have said they want to learn to fly? They won’t know.
Let’s say it’s 10 percent. Now, calculate the CPM based on this new audience number. It’s astronomical. Buying traditional media in hopes of dragging in a flight student or two is like buying a truckload of groceries to get to a jar of peanut butter—a jar that you’re not even sure is on the truck. That’s why most flight schools give up on local advertising after a try or two. It just costs too much.
The genius of social marketing: targeting
Enter Facebook. People who are on social media give up all kinds of information about themselves. They tell “friends” and “followers” what they had for dinner, where they went for the weekend, what they did. They tell us how old they are, how much money they make (indirectly through complicated algorithms), where they spend that money, and what their hobbies are. Our friends like to see that stuff. It helps them keep track of us and share ideas. It’s fun. But to the geeks at Facebook and other networking sites, it’s much more than fun—it’s serious business.
While you’re sharing your favorite recipe for Mongolian spiced aardvark, the geeks are filing that little tidbit in a database in Utah or Sri Lanka (probably both). When Fresh Aardvark Meats Inc. advertises on Facebook, it tells the company it only wants to pay for its message to go to exotic meat enthusiasts. Because the geeks have billion of bits of data on millions of people, they can target the messaging to just that market. The CPM for the target market plunges compared to that of traditional media. Orders for aardvark come pouring in, with relatively few marketing dollars going out. Aardvark Meats hires more people to fill the orders.
Flight schools and clubs can follow the lead of thousands of companies worldwide that have discovered the power and efficiency of social marketing. Facebook and others have created multiple methods of displaying your marketing message, from in-line promotions to those sponsored links that appear on various parts of the page. All you have to do is specify the market you want to reach, tell the company how much you want to spend per day or per month ($10 to $15 per day is a good start), create your advertising message, and push Enter.
Experts in the field will tell you that the content of your message is critical. Bland “We’re here” messaging often falls flat, but a strong offer can bring amazing results. “$99 demo flight” is a common promo in many flight schools. So can be a “FREE Ride-Along Lesson” if your current students don’t mind the extra passenger. The point is to offer something of value—something that will get the social networker to call you NOW. “Offer Expires” dates can motivate faster responses, and be sure to mention that you take all credit cards.
Once a visitor clicks on your message, the page should jump to your Facebook business page, complete with a repeat of your offer and a button that completes your call to action. This business page should also feature posts from followers and lots of photos of your school and airplanes in action. This is a great place to post testimonials from current and past customers, as well as images and videos of fly-out destinations and school activities.
While social networking sites provide tremendous opportunities for targeted marketing, they’re not the only game in town. Search engines such as Google and Yahoo also offer advertising opportunities that promise to drill down to your desired audience based on site visitors’ previous search activities. Imagine a viewer doing a search for aardvark chops when, presto, an ad for our friends at the meat company pops up, complete with a FREE SHIPPING or COMPLIMENTARY ROAST offer. Talk about targeting! That same level of specificity can bring new students and customers to your school at surprisingly low cost. All you have to do is craft a compelling offer and git ’er done.
DIY or agency help?
Sometimes it’s the “git ’er done” part that gets in the way. If you’re the nerdy computer type who likes to tinker and learn about new things, creating and managing your social media should be no big deal. There’s a learning curve to it, but reading a couple of good books, such as Facebook Marketing for Dummies, should get you going in the right direction. You’ll learn about A-B testing to make sure your messaging is hitting the target in just the right place. You’ll also learn how to integrate your social marketing with the rest of your outreach efforts.
If your days are already filled to the brim with other activities, and adding one more thing is just too much, consider hiring a social media agency to help. Good ones really know what they’re doing and can save you time and trial and error. They can take the entire project off your hands, leaving you to run your business. One word of caution: There are lots of bad ones out there, small groups or individuals who are trying to learn the business on your dime. Many come from the computer community, not the marketing world, and the sales orientation needed for creating a successful advertising campaign is just not there. Ask for references and success stories. Caveat emptor.
However you implement your social marketing program, just do it. Don’t expect lines out the door with eager new flight students flashing shiny new Visa cards eager to run them through your Square Reader. It may not work that way. What it will do is identify a targeted demand for your services and bring new people to your school at a cost that won’t break your bank. Start small and grow. Join the twenty-first century. And tell that newspaper rep that Facebook is always hiring.
William Woodbury is a flight instructor and freelance writer living in Southern California.