And Other Valuable Lessons Learned On The High Seas as a Coast Guard Non-Rate
Hamilton Class Coast Guard Cutter somewhere in the Bering Sea
“Now Standby For Heavy Rolls!”
In the Coast Guard…on a ship…in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska, this is an announcement over the 1MC (main channel for relaying information ship wide) that you must pay attention to – and heed without delay.
For the most part, in heavy weather conditions where the wind is approaching gale forth and the waves are especially tumultuous, a ship will do its best to navigate a course to net the smoothest ride possible. However, when a change of course is needed and the ship must come about, the announcement is made to alert the entirety of the crew to stow any loose gear and hang on!
Aboard a Coast Guard Hamilton Class Cutter patrolling the fertile fishing grounds along the Aleutian Chain Islands, I heard this announcement frequently. It was part of the territory, literally.
Maneuvering in such conditions often sent us all stumbling about trying to keep our balance resembling a gaggle of drunk lumberjacks at a log rolling contest rather than salty professional sailors. Anything that wasn’t tied down would invariably come flying at you with surprising speed. Even inanimate objects posed a particular kind of danger. As your body, and head, were flailed about, you became increasingly susceptible to valve stems, fire main handles, gauges and a whole host of other exposed iron works.
But what does that have to do with digital marketing? A lot!
Smooth Seas Do Not Make Skillful Sailors
It is an ancient adage that reminds us that we become better when we are challenged. And, right now, it is challenging!
When bobbing around in the ocean like a cork in a bathtub, buffeted by 60 foot waves and nothing but more angry white capped water as far as the eye can see, you feel very small. Insignificant in fact. A sentiment no less mitigated by having your feet planted securely aboard a steel vessel as long as a football field. Even still, you realize how powerless you really are against the forces of nature. And, if you dwell on it too much, you can almost become paralyzed with fear.
That is the worst thing you can do in a such a situation. Times of crisis call for action. Do nothing and most assuredly you will be overtaken.
Social Media For The Win
Social media is an excellent tool that can be used most effectively during a “rough patch”. We’ve already discussed how social media has seen a tremendous surge in usage due to a lot of the stay-at-home orders netting larger chunks of idle time for many. Best news yet, social media seems to be inherently built for tough times… it’s free!
When business is slow and the budgets are razor thin, social media, and the huge prospective audience it affords, does not require any cash outlay. It does, however, take a little time, a little planning and a little skill. And for this, it must retain a priority in the operations department.
First things first, pandemic or not, your posts must always…
· Be real
· Engage with your audience
· Give of yourself/your expertise freely and generously
With that as your base, you are now ready to make the necessary changes in your social media strategy that will help you “arrive safely in port”.
8.5 Tips For A Pandemic World
1. Best Bio
Your bio is an opportunity to tell the world about you (in 101-160 characters depending on the platform). It should always be succinct and leave viewers curious to know more. Zappos is a prime example of that. An online retailer of shoes and clothing, it is simply, “Delivering happiness daily”. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely want happiness daily. I want to know more about how I can get some of that happiness delivered to me! No mention of shoes, online ordering, fashion and certainly not sales or specials.
Additionally, your bio should consider the current climate. Safety is of paramount concern and a bio blurb is a great way to keep that front and center. Reassure your audience you have their best interests, and health, in mind by including those significant operational changes via your bio.
2. Listen & Engage
One of the cool things about social media and the plethora of platforms, is that it allows you to have multiple “digital” locations. Your Facebook page, Instagram account, etc. serves as a potential customer service channel. Think of it like having multiple office locations throughout the city or country.
Now, obviously, the more accounts you have, the more difficult it might be to monitor every single message that comes in via comment, DM, etc. Believe me when I say, that is a great problem to have. However, leaving inquiries unanswered, is the same as ignoring a person standing at your waiting room window. Unthinkable, right?
Additionally, keep in mind that comments are public, meaning they are conversations everyone can see. And everyone can see how you handle questions (and how expeditiously), problems and other. Potential customers are keen to scavenge for these tidbits in an effort to formulate an idea of who you are as a company and how they might be treated as a customer.
3. Purposeful Posting
Never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER throw a post into your social media just for the sake of checking off the “I posted today” box. It is a waste of your time and, more importantly, a missed opportunity. For many businesses handling social media in-house, this is the toughest part of the job: meaningful, engaging content day in and day out, week in and week out. It is a malady we hear all too often from businesses that have tapped an office employee with the dubious honor of social media manager because they’re the youngest member of the team and know how to work this “new fangled invention called the interwebs”.
Your posts should target your specific audience (your perfect client/patient) and move your business goals forward. They should carry a strategy behind it. A post for post’s sake, no matter how “pretty” or clever, is still a missed opportunity to truly grow your business.
4. Logos = No. People = Yes!
Make it about people, not the same, stale corporate lines. Corporate imaging and messaging is to be avoided like the plague. Customers are too savvy these days and can sniff out hollow, meaningless messages and stock photos a mile away.
People connect with other people, not faceless organizations. And you know what truly makes your business exceptional, your staff! So, show them off! Plus, how cool would it be to have a prospective client enter the waiting room and exclaim, “Hey! I recognize you from your Facebook page!” Instant familiarity and connection (priceless)!
PRO TIP: along with your staff, spotlight your happy customers. No better advertising than a satisfied, energetic patron!
5. Context Is Everything
If you’re lucky enough to have a stockpile of photos/videos for your posts, make sure they represent the times. Social distancing and wearing a mask is now the norm. A mask free, non-distancing post may miss the mark and hint that you might be out of touch with local events.
The pandemic has changed life as we used to know it and our perception of the world. Failure to address this shift, or worse, ignoring it, will serve as a disconnect with your audience. You’ve heard of the “new norm” these days. It’s time to embrace it (as reality).
6. Out With The Old & In With The New
You’ve experimented with posting on different days and at different times to see what has worked best. Now throw that in the trash.
The daily routine for so many has been significantly altered. Yes, many are quarantined at home. No commutes. But, there are Zoom meetings, internet homework for the kids, etc. As such, we are seeing major shifts in what works and when. For example, some strong data suggests that early to late evenings are optimal as more are “catching up” on posts after dinner and kids are in bed. Your analytics, available inside your platform, will track when your audience is most active. Those will be the days and times for maximum visibility.
7. Play The Long Game
Work the inevitable elongated sales cycle. Moods, and budgets, are very tentative. However, just because some are not rushing to purchase product or services now doesn’t mean they don’t want to or that they will not in the future. And it doesn’t mean that they don’t want inspiration (before and after photos, success stories) and education (think presenting conditions and the services to help correct).
Think on how you can feature previous clients and how they have used your services. What changed in their life (for the better) or how did it solve a particular problem? Have they been receiving compliments? How has that made them feel? Are they more confident? Inspire your audience with how they might benefit from your services when they are able.
8. Ditch The Pitch
Hard selling is no longer en vogue, especially during a pandemic. The best way to sell (pandemic or not) is to provide as much value as you can - for free. That’s it! That’s the secret sauce. And those that figure out a way to do it better than the competition will win!
You’ve heard that purchases are motivated by the prospect of eliminating a pain point. If you can solve a particular problem, and do it with more value than your competition, they will remember you and reward you later by becoming a loyal customer. And, if you play your cards right, will also be an advocate and “living billboard”.
Have you had a post or campaign that did really well? Is there a post that garnered an explosion of engagement? Since you already know that it resonates with your audience, deconstruct, rebuild and re-purpose the post (assuming the content is still valid and contextually appropriate).
To Wrap This Up
In some ways, it may be a tough ask to run the social media account for your company or organization. But, now more than ever it is crucial. No pressure, right?
As the winds howl and the waves break over your bow, steady your course against the chart plot and you will eventually enjoy calm seas. Keep chugging along. Continue to communicate, inspire and educate. Support, help and assist your audience with the above in mind and you’ll soon see business flourish.
Fair Winds & Following Seas
A nautical farewell to wish you the best of luck in your journey and much success in your future endeavors. And, feel free to follow us on social media for (hopefully) inspirational content and (definitely) helpful digital marketing tips.
USCGC Chase moored in Dutch Harbor, AK (c. 1993)