Each year, we survey horse professionals all over the world on how they promote their businesses. Word of mouth consistently tops the list but social media is not far behind. The two are very closely related and the reality is social media is word-of-mouth marketing on steroids. Not only are you able to talk to those people right in front of you but with social media you can talk to hundreds or thousands of people at once.
However, when it comes to social media, it can sometimes feel like you’re talking to an empty room. Here are a few tips to help you find your customers and start the conversation with them.
Start Small and Build
When I talk about social media, I usually mention the six most popular platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest and LinkedIn). However, that doesn't mean you have to be on all of those platforms, especially when you are just starting out. Actually, it's better if you're not. You’ll see better results if you focus on one platform that you enjoy using and build your presence there. Most horse professionals start with Facebook because of its reach (more than one billion active users) and since it's relatively easy to use. Starting with just one platform, you'll be able to focus your time and efforts to build a following much quicker than if you tried to do the same across two or three different places. Once, you get the hang of one, then you can add another.
Be the Expert
You are already an expert in your field so use that to your advantage by creating content, answering questions and starting the conversations about what your customers are interested in. You can do this by first listening to what your customers are talking about. What type of information are they looking for? One great listening tool is Twitter’s search feature (Twitter.com/search). Here you can type in any keyword or phrase, find and/or join real-time conversations on that topic.
For instance, let’s say you see several people asking which stallion to breed their mares to. You might respond to those people with suggestions or ask them questions about what they would be looking to do with the foal. By engaging them, you’ll be able to start the conversation and learn more about what qualities they are looking for in a stallion. The more you talk to your customers, whether it’s in person or via social media, the more you’ll understand what they are looking for and this can help you adjust your marketing to hit those key points. You might find out that the majority of your potential customers are interested in a stallion who is enrolled in a certain incentive program or one that has foals that are successful in a certain discipline. From there you can adjust your marketing message to address those needs.
Just remember the quickest way to shut down a conversation is to be overly promotional all the time. Don’t start the conversation by telling someone that your stallion is the one they should breed their mare to, especially without knowing more about their goals. You might find out that yours might not be the right fit. Let them know. You might not get that person as a customer right now, or ever, but they might come back in a few years with another mare that does fit well with one of your stallions or they might have more than one mare. Either way, your honesty won’t go unnoticed by them or their friends who might also be watching the conversation. As the saying goes, people do business with those they know, like and trust. Having those public conversations can help you build upon all three of those.
Using Images and Videos
Images do speak louder than words, and it is no surprise that they play an important role in capturing people's attention on social media. A recent study by Buffer, a social media sharing tool, showed video and images can increase social media engagement by up to 150% over text alone.
The reason is simple. Online people tend to skim over text very quickly; you're probably doing it with this article right now. However, when you see an image, especially one that is unique or that you can relate to, your eyes tend to stop. This is especially true on Twitter where you don’t see many images with posts, so one image will certainly stand out among the crowd. Images can trigger emotions, good or bad, which words sometimes can't. If the image is compelling enough, you’ll probably also read the text around it or click the link for more information.
Social media has become more and more visual because of this. It seems that each new update that Facebook or Twitter make includes a better way to feature images and video. Then there's Pinterest, which is all about communicating through images. Overlaying text on an image, such as a quote, quick tip or a question, can also increase the chances that someone will take notice.
Behind The Scenes
Whether it is getting ready for a big show or the birth of a new foal, people are interested in what goes on behind the scenes. Sharing those fun or interesting moments that most people don't get to see also helps your audience feel more connected with you and your business. An example of this is when the University of Pennsylvania decided to document a mare's pregnancy all the way to foaling. It gained the attention of 133,000 people in 112 countries because it's not something the average person gets to experience. Think about what experiences you encounter on a daily basis that others might not and consider sharing those.
Spotlight a Customer
One way to make your current customers feel like they're appreciated and show your potential customers more about your business is to, well, brag on your customers. It's kind of like proud parents showing off their kids (however, the same rules apply - don't go overboard). You can show off your stallion’s offspring competing and winning on the show circuit, new foals being born and horses being offered for sale. These types of posts can help convey the successes of your customers and ultimately your stallion. It also offers social proof that your current customers are happy and/or successful because of you.
Calls to Action and The Numbers
Just having engagement on your social media site is great but having a defined sales funnel to move those fans down the path to become customers is what will ultimately increase your business. About 20% of the time you need to have some type of call to action. This can be asking your fans to sign up for your monthly newsletter, download a free guide from your website, call you for more information or book their breeding.
Don’t get hung up on what are known as vanity numbers, such as number of page likes or followers. Those numbers are nice to brag about, but at the end of the day they don’t pay the bills. You would much rather have 100 fans that are actively engaged than 1,000 who are silent. Even if those active fans don’t become your customer, chances are if you have built trust with them or helped them in some way, they will be singing your and your stallions’ praises. That’s marketing money can’t buy.
Take Home Message
Social media can be a great tool to communicate with your customers and market your business and it can help save you time and money over traditional advertising if done correctly. That’s not to say that you should stop advertising, but if you include social media as a part of your marketing mix, you will be able to reduce your marketing budget over time.
In short, social media comes down to understanding your customers and being social. It means having two-way conversations instead of just talking at them. Ask questions, listen and respond to those who take the time to engage with you. Not every person who you talk to will become a customer but that doesn’t mean they won’t help promote your stallion to their friends. Who knows, one of them might be looking for their next stallion or prospect. If you become the person everyone turns to for advice or networking help you’ll be able to command an audience instead talking to an empty room.
Chad Mendell is an editor and partner at EquestrianProfessional.com, a website dedicated to helping horse businesses become more successful, and the co-host of the Equestrian Social Media Boot Camp and Mastermind Program. Additionally, he and his wife own and operate a 34-stall boarding stable near Lexington, KY, where they train, sell and show their own reining horses. You can reach Chad at firstname.lastname@example.org.