Embracing Social Media

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Do you Like? Follow? Share? Blog? Tweet? Or do you despise social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr as time wasters and an invasion of privacy? Do you sometimes feel that somebody created a new language and forgot to provide you with a dictionary to explain words that you have never heard before? Either way, it’s time to shake off any lingering discomfort and dive in. There is a new, effective and inexpensive tool that you can use to reach your fans and add value for sponsors. You can either embrace it or get run over by it. There really is no in-between.

Earlier in 2010, Facebook surpassed Google as the internet’s most active website, making it the 800-pound gorilla that one can no longer ignore when planning the marketing strategy for an air show or air show act. Facebook now has more than 500 million active users. In any given day, half of them log on to Facebook. And, collectively, these users are spending nearly 25 billion minutes PER DAY on the social networking site. In just a few years, it has gone from a faddish curiosity to a marketing and communications behemoth that cannot be ignored.

At many levels, the Facebook phenomenon appears to have been created by an event sponsorship professional. Traditional websites engage in traditional marketing communications: a largely one-way monologue with the consumer or fan. Conversely, social media encourages a conversation in much the same way that the most effective air show sponsorships attempt to create a dialogue between sponsors and air show spectators. Of course, once that dialogue begins, it cannot be controlled as precisely as the monologue. Air show fans that use social media now have a mechanism to ask sometimes-difficult questions about ticket price or to complain about long lines at the port-a-potties. But, for the sponsor or prospective sponsor using event sponsorship as a marketing communications tool, that kind of dialogue is precisely why they put some of their money into sponsorship rather than traditional advertising. They want to establish that kind of back-and-forth communication.

So, all you have to do is set up a Facebook page or Twitter page and you can be one of the cool kids too, right?

Not so fast. Social media experts say that the biggest mistake most businesses make is lack of execution and follow through. “It is almost as if people think that social media is a magic bullet that also ends world hunger and solves world peace. Like anything else, social media requires real work,” explains Brian Wallace of http://nowsourcing.com. “Having a basic strategy, set of rules, and goals to be trying to measure against are great first steps.” Once you have outlined a plan, you can and should create a fan page, but the challenging part is how to make it engaging and stand out from the other millions and millions of pages.

Here are a few easy tips you can apply today.

  1. Maximize Your Logo Visibility

Facebook allows you to make 200 x 600 images on the left side of the main content area. This is also a great area to include your top sponsors creating visibility throughout your page as a value added benefit.

  1. Create a Custom Landing Tab

You can easily make your Facebook page more engaging by making a custom tab.  This is another dramatic way for your page to stand out and encourage people to click “Like.”  On the Facebook app directory, search “static FBML” and follow the steps to creating the tab and then customizing it. You can also find great tips on www.techipedia.com.

  1. Keep Your Content Fresh

Some social media neophytes are surprised to find that the proverbial 800-pound gorilla has quite an appetite. You must feed the beast! Many air shows create a Facebook page or start a Twitter feed to promote their event, but allow weeks or even months lapsing between posts. This misses the point of Facebook and Twitter almost entirely. Performers have it a bit easier as they can cover everything from grueling practices during winter training to that awesome little burger joint in Nowhereville and everything in between. Encourage others to contribute and respond to their posts. “Be active during peak hours. Don’t just have a set it and forget it attitude,” explains Wallace.

Beyond the obvious, you also want to engage fans with other sites, photos, and videos that you think are compelling. Air shows should tap into their performers’ pages and take advantage of applications (apps) that can help you feed the content machine. Wallace suggests RSS Graffiti as one potential app that automatically checks RSS/Atom feeds that you specify and posts any new entries to the Facebook walls you select.

However, try not to rely too much on automation. You keep your wall and the content of your page fresh and relevant by manually identifying and placing content that you think your prospective audience may be interested in. If readers sense that you are not engaged, they won’t engage, either. There’s no shortcut here. Somebody needs to be looking at and involved with your page on a very regular basis.

  1. Get a Vanity URL 

This is an easy one that will allow you to identify your page on other materials rather than a long line of characters and numbers. Many performers have seen their personal pages overrun by fans making it awkward to share personal photos and information with family and “real” friends. If you have 25 “fans,” go to the Facebook Username page and click on pages to create your vanity url. Ex. www.facebook.com/icas You’ll still have to get fans to switch over to your fan page as Rob Reider, Dale Snodgrass and Michael Goulian have done. 

  1. Don’t Keep It a Secret

Take advantage of the Facebook widgets page that offers all sorts of options regardless of your skill level. An interactive fan widget should be included on all your promotional materials, i.e. electronic newsletters, emails, website. Wallace suggests the Facebook Fan Box, which will help you increase your “Likes” from your website.

Another option is to break out the cash and buy Facebook ads, which allow you to target your audience by demographics and user interest. 

  1. Run a Sweepstakes with a Sponsor

Facebook tries to keep the user experience free from spam so it has recently created new restrictions on promotions. It’s a little more complicated to navigate and requires Facebook approval. If you have the budget, consider hiring a company such as Wildfire (www.wildfireap.com) to create, manage and execute the campaign.

An easier route is to host a sponsor-branded sweepstakes/contest on your website and use Facebook and Twitter to promote and drive registrations.

Follow Me!

Twitter is perfect for live events like air shows where large groups of people are gathered looking for real time information. EAA’s AirVenture effectively used Twitter this year to keep attendees updated on the field conditions after torrential rains changed parking and camping plans. They continued to build excitement with hundreds of users tweeting the plane arrivals in text and images. By using a hashtag, you can group and attract other users to the same topic. Ex. #OSH10. When writing your tweet, only use 120 characters to allow room for the hash tag and re-tweeting by others.

Tim Nash, an Information Architect (http://timnash.co.uk/), segmented a tweet like a broadcaster’s sound bite, but called it a social bite. “A ‘social bite’ is a short, concise and engaging message to gain traffic on social networks,” says Nash.

The hook should be crafted carefully so that it grabs attention, but also retains its message once it leaves your site and loses the original context. The line is the page url, but use a shortner like bitly or tinyurl to conserve space. The retweet is simply leaving enough character space for others to share your posts without losing the “hook.”

The same rules for Facebook apply to Twitter as far as posting. No one wants to that hear you just stopped at Starbucks, or if you are only tweeting about yourself or your show. Wallace adds, “Nobody enjoys getting a message shoved down their throat; typically, we recommend a golden ratio of at least 5:1, meaning that — for every five Tweets — be helpful, funny and interesting, helping out others and what they have to say. Then include a brand centric message.”

Another useful tool is CoTweet, especially if you have multiple people tweeting. This management system allows your team to work together, delegate tasks, track conversations and even schedule posts.

All of this leads to building a robust, loyal audience that appeals to sponsors. According to IEG’s Rob Campbell, “The most valuable benefit is tapping into social media’s ability to foster feelings of deeper connection between users and a property, and thus the property’s sponsor.”

While you can’t necessarily place a hard value on tweets or likes, you can create an intangible benefit from a well designed social media plan that adds value to your sponsorship sales kit.  Evaluate the success of your efforts through engagements such as sharing, voting, watching, commenting, and registering.

Social Media is no longer just a way to find your high school classmates or connect with family, but a powerful marketing tool that the air show industry needs to embrace and exploit to stay relevant.

One final note: If the terminology used in this article only deepens your resistance or aversion to social media, don’t be intimidated and don’t let it stop you from immersing yourself in this exciting new form of communication. It’s not as complicated as it sounds and you don’t have to be fluent in the jargon to make effective use of it as an air show marketing and sponsorship tool.

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Deb Mitchell
Deb Mitchell is a former broadcast journalist who ran the NAS Oceana Air Show in Virginia Beach, Virginia for several years and helped create the Air Show Buzz website.