Creating compelling, business-driven content (articles, photo albums, announcements, et cetera) for your website, then promoting that content on your Facebook page is a powerful strategy for creating an audience that keeps coming back for more, and thinks of your school as the go-to place for training, rental, and community. It's not rocket science; it's pretty basic. The challenge is implementation.
Many flight schools have started such a program, only to have it stall as the weeks and months pass and they run of ideas for content. Flight schools don't have professional writers on staff, and the task of creating this content often falls to the owner, CFIs, and clerical folks. It's easy to see how the content-creation task gets pushed to the back burner, sometimes dying a fiery death of “I'll get to that tomorrow-itis.” Here are 10 ideas to get your social media cooking and back in the forefront where it belongs.
- Success stories. You probably already post pictures and a short blurb about students who solo or pass a checkride, but do you go the extra mile? Do you tell your readers more about the customer than just that they passed this milestone? Do you mention their families, their careers, their other hobbies (if they have any after writing the big checks to the flight school)? Do you make the reader feel as if they know the person a little better? A few extra words turn the student or pilot into a human being, much more interesting than just a guy or gal who landed an airplane by him- or herself for the first time. The goal is to build community, and a little depth can go a long way.
- Instructor profiles. Why not publish a bio on selected flight instructors? Have them talk about where they trained, why they wanted to become a pilot, and what their career goals are. Little personal details are also interesting to readers. Knowing a little about the CFIs at the school tends to humanize the experience of training, and helps build a friendly vibe.
- Pilot spotlights. Do a nice story about a student or customer once or twice a month. Talk about their flying goals and challenges they experienced during training, and have them offer advice to newbies or those considering training. Use photos of the customer in both flying and nonflying settings.
- Beg, borrow, and steal. Don't think for a moment that you have to come up with all your own content. No way! There are tons of great blogs and aviation websites featuring loads of good stories and posts. Most would welcome you linking to them through Facebook or your own website, but be careful. Most material is copyrighted and the author or owner of the content may prohibit anybody from using their material in any manner without permission, especially if used for commercial purposes. A simple phone call or email will solve the problem.
- Opinions. One of the best ways to make your social media truly interactive is to tell the world what you think about something. Don't like the new BasicMed policies? Speak up. Think the new private pilot airman certification standard regarding slow flight is a dumb idea? Raise your voice a little. Opinions clearly expressed can start conversations that build understanding, clarifying confusing issues and fostering a sense of community. But be careful. Make sure everybody stays respectful and focused on the main goal of learning and improving the art.
- Customer surveys. How good is your customer service? Are airplanes available when pilots want them? Does anybody have suggestions for improvement? Several online survey sites exist (SurveyMonkey, Zoho, FreeOnlineSurveys, et al) that make it drop-dead simple to poll your site visitors about topics important to your school. These services create reports in graphic form to make it easy to see how your respondents reacted to your survey questions. It's a good way to truly quantify what your customers are thinking, and to get an idea of their priorities so you can adjust your policies, if necessary, to better meet their expectations.
- CFI Awards. Does your school have a way to recognize CFI for outstanding achievement? If the answer is no, it probably should. Which instructors have the highest student first-time pass rate? Which are evaluated by students as the most informative? Who just got their Gold Seal, or got hired by an airline or charter company? A short piece on your website, connected to your Facebook page, can create interest and buzz, and can serve to motivate the other instructors to push forward and improve.
- School policies. A gentle reminder about school rules can go a long way toward avoiding uncomfortable conversations between school crew and customers. Do you ask that nothing be put on top of glare shields to avoid inside windshield scratches? Do you ask pilots to return seat belts to the buckled position after each flight? What is your policy regarding fuel receipts on trips away from home? An occasional short piece on school rules, especially if written in a friendly tone, can save bruised feelings.
- Photos. Pictures speak much louder than words. Be sure your posts always feature at least one photo. Ask your customers to post pictures of a recent fly-out, camping trip, or just a close-up of the $100 hamburger they had last weekend. Research shows that photos are viewed and remembered many times more than text, so take advantage of that and post, post, post! A caption or short blurb that rides along with the photos can add context, but keep it short. Let the images tell the story as much as possible.
- Funnies. Everybody likes to laugh. Well, almost everybody. Find cartoons or humorous stories. Ask customers to write about their most embarrassing moments in aviation (we all have them). A jocular post every once in a while can set a mood and reinforce the user-friendly nature of your school. Just don't poke fun at somebody else's expense, and don't ridicule. Have fun with it.
Success at social media requires a little effort. Old or outdated postings (like the guy who soloed in 2014) do more harm to your brand than good. Keep it fresh, useful, and not boring. Most of all, keep it going.
William Woodbury is a flight instructor and freelance writer in Southern California.