Flying High With Social Media

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Over the years, the air show community has experimented widely with different type of tools to help spread the air show marketing message. From posters, billboards and direct mail brochures to television, radio and newspaper advertisements, air show professionals are uniquely motivated to find effective, costs-efficient marketing tools. More recently, the maturation of the Internet has been a boon to creative, thoughtful air show marketers.  And, as social media tools become more refined and more popular, some of the biggest beneficiaries have been air show professionals who are savvy enough to recognize not just the future potential, but the marketing power of these new marketing tools right now.

Social media tools are better known individually: YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, blogs, and, the granddaddy of them all, Facebook. Kids these days are using them to share videos, photos, and thoughts; to make plans and rehash good times; and to keep in touch with distant friends and relatives. But they aren’t just for kids; from major corporations to local clubs, many different kinds of organizations are using these tools to reach their customers and members more efficiently and cost-effectively. Nothing can replace the simple act of picking up a phone and making a call, but — when working with a significant number of people all intently focused on a specific event like air shows — these are valuable tools to know how to use.

Many air show pilots, organizers, and volunteers are already using social media tools and using them well. And it’s true that these technologies are so new that no one is completely sure how they will fit in the long term marketing picture. But one thing is already clear: social media has moved past “fad” stage. In one form or another, it is here to stay. Although the hottest and most productive platform tomorrow might not even be invented yet, the principle is the same: you can unite your fans, employees, and customers more intimately and effectively using social media.

There are at least three ways the air show industry can use social media right now:

  • Internal use (gathering volunteers and event organizers)
  • External use (Getting people to talk about the event and sell tickets)
  • Performer use (Personalities connecting with fans and event organizers)

Internal Use

Far and away, Facebook is the largest and most influential social network today. If you don’t have a profile, your children, nieces, nephews or grandchildren certainly do.

Facebook has become the primary mode of communication for Generation Y/Millennial Generation: they join “Groups,” become “Fans” of “Pages,” and send messages to their “Friends.” They share photos, news, music, or video links with a network of Friends. Event organizers can create an “Event” or “Group” on Facebook for their next show and invite all interested volunteers and update them regularly. The beauty of social media is that the fans of a local air show Group or attendees to an upcoming Event can easily pass along messages to their network of Friends with just a few clicks. The old-fashioned “phone tree” is dead. In its place is Facebook, a more powerful, entertaining, and interactive communications tool that is revolutionizing how members of different types of groups talk with one another.

External use

That’s why businesses and organizations the world over are also using Facebook for advertising and marketing. Word-of-mouth happens much faster and more accurately through Facebook, with much less effort and cost since it’s free to make a Facebook “Page.” Companies and organizations use Facebook Pages to explain what they do, and create communities around a shared passion or interest. Instead of sending a press release to a newspaper (and hoping that prospective air show spectators happen to read an article), event organizers can now send a message to all the “Fans” of their Page via Facebook and know that everyone who follows that Page will get it and read it that day.

And rest assured: air show spectators are already using Facebook. According to this year’s Edison Research/Arbitron Internet and Multimedia Study, 87 percent of Americans know about Facebook and 50 percent of them have a profile. In fact, the Online Publishers Association said last year that more people are using Facebook than email to communicate with friends and family. And it’s not just the kids: nearly half of American Baby Boomers actively maintain a Facebook profile, according to eMarketer’s 2009 report.

If air show event organizers want people to be talking about their air shows, then they need to create a Facebook Page.

There is more to social media than Facebook; Twitter is another good way to spread your message. Twitter accounts are also free of charge and, though the service is less popular than Facebook, it’s growing. Plenty of people know about it, but it has lagged behind Facebook in adoption. It’s sort of like the younger sibling to Facebook; its a “micro-blogging” service that launched in 2008 as an online form of text messaging. Users create a profile and can send not-more-than140-character messages to whoever chooses to “Follow” them. It can be useful in communicating with volunteers, but it’s a better tool for conveying messages to a broader audience.

You can then scale up from micro-blogging to a full fledged blog. A blog was the first true social element of the web. Almost every business these days has a corporate blog, and they can be useful for air shows, too. Annual events can keep people up to date on plans for the next show, as well as share news, or comment on industry events for the entertainment of their readers. Blog pages serve as a good home base for an event coordinator who works on an event every year.

But the best and most social element of blogs is that readers can comment and have a discussion. Then, an air show event isn’t just an annual celebration, but a year-long conversation. 

Performer use

For many of the same reasons that they are useful to event organizers, all of these social media tools can also be useful to performers. In addition, performers can make effective use of two additional tools: YouTube and Flickr, two sites that specialize in showing video and still photographs, respectively.

It’s hard to exaggerate the power of video and pictures. CNN reported last year that, according to Internet marketing research firm comScore, Internet users in the United States watched 14.3 billion videos in December of 2009. That translates to more than 19 million videos watched every hour of every day for a full month. Flickr is the most popular photo sharing site on the web, with more than 3 million regular visitors. A YouTube and/or Flickr account can serve as a home base in the social media network for a performer, who can direct interested event organizers or fans to those sites to see him/her perform. And the performer can use Twitter, Facebook, and a blog to update fans on the latest footage or photos to view.

Maintaining altitude

Of course, all of these tools are only useful when they are used continuously.  If people aren’t engaging with you, it doesn’t matter how many platforms you’re using. Social media marketing requires adopting a new philosophy about reaching out to audiences and markets. It’s about making a connection with volunteers, fans and sponsors them and giving them an opportunity to be a part of and identify more closely with a show, an event or a performer.

This makes measuring the effectiveness of social media marketing challenging.

Ten years ago, the effectiveness of online marketing strategies was measured with the number of clicks. Today, it’s less about clicks and more about page views, or the number of people looking at a site. But it’s now possible to measure even more closely than that. How much time an individual is spending on a site, for example.

The bottom line?  Air show professionals – both event organizers and pilots – want fans and followers to be talking about air shows and air show performers. They want to use social media as a tool to help get the general public marketing the event or the performer through word of mouth. Experts agree that a truly effective social media marketing campaign captures the attention of the right people and inspires them to act on your behalf. Here are three simple rules to follow:

First, you’ll need to add new and interesting content on all platforms on Facebook, YouTube and more. That means posting on your blog a few times a week, uploading new pictures and video whenever its available, checking Facebook regularly, commenting on posts, and sending Tweets to your followers on Twitter.

Second, it requires that you go to your audience: reach out to potential sponsors on these social media platforms and invite them to check out your own pages. Follow the blogs or Twitter accounts of your business contacts, or Friend them on Facebook. The social internet is all about connections. It’s easy to create a Facebook page, but just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come! Instead, make sure people know you have a presence online, give them a reason to visit, and give them a reason to return.

Third, it requires patience. Success in social marketing and networking doesn’t happen overnight. But don’t be intimidated. This is an emerging industry, and the “rules,” if there are any, are still being developed. With new technology coming out every few months, everyone is still experimenting. Try out these services, experiment, and see what comes of it. Industry experts talk about the importance of an evangelist within a company or organization; of having someone who’s passionate about social media and willing to spend time and energy at the beginning to get a program going. Identify that person within your organization and empower him or her to establish that presence in various social media on behalf of your organization. You might even consider hiring a professional to get the job done.

In any case, poke around on Google and see what you can find about social media marketing. It’s an exciting time to get involved in this industry, and there is a lot of information available out there.

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Tyson Goodridge
Tyson Goodridge is the director of social media at Acsys Interactive, a full-service interactive agency in Farmington, Connecticut.