Coconut shrimp for less than $6? They had me at hello

I love shrimp. Not the little ones that come in cheap cocktails or the week-old ones at the local all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.

Christian Riddell

I’m talking about the big, fresh, beautiful ones you only see when the background of the picture is the ocean. As luck would have it, our recent move to the Texas coast has put us right smack in the middle of some of the best shrimping in the galaxy.

Yesterday, I had shrimp for lunch. That may not sound like much of a story (and definitely not a story for a marketing column), but the tale is found in how I ended up at the restaurant eating it.

As I’ve taught in this industry over the last six years, I’ve watched as we’ve embraced using social media because of the benefits that come with it. In the beginning, I would ask questions like: “How many of you in this room have corporate accounts on Facebook for your business?”

The subsequent show of hands was always only a smattering of those in attendance. In contrast, when I ask that same question today, all hands go up.

While this represents progress, it actually doesn’t directly correlate to the benefits derived from our social media efforts any more than simply owning a hammer does in the building of a house. How the hammer is used is remarkably more important than the act of owning one.

Social media is a slippery slope; after putting effort into it, it’s easy to dismiss it as irrelevant or useless. You can invest time, for example, and see little results — particularly if you didn’t put the effort where it counts or if the metrics you’re looking at aren’t good indicators of what has come from what you did.

Checking Facebook

Now, back to my lunch. As someone new to the area, one of the first things I did was join Facebook groups that would give me some reach beyond my few local neighbors and the crazy cat lady across the street. I wanted to poke my nose into the community, see what was going on and be able to ask questions and get answers from others outside of my normal social sphere.

It worked.

I almost immediately felt “plugged in” to conversations about local hot spots and happenings. From the comfort of my couch, I gleaned information as people discussed everything from ways to reduce the amount of trash on the beaches to where the best steak is on a Friday night.

One Sunday evening as I was perusing the local goings-on, I stumbled upon an ad:  “Monday, Monday, Monday…Coconut shrimp and fries, $5.99.”

Now, while I love shrimp, they are expensive. Even living close to the shrimp fleet, these little crustaceans cost real money. So, finding a “deal” on them looked good to me.

Monday rolled around, and though I’d made a note of it, I hadn’t penciled it in my calendar or even really decided to go. But then something interesting happened. When lunchtime came, I got a call to run a quick errand. I wasn’t really thinking about it as I drove over, but as I pulled out to leave the place I had been asked to go, I found myself driving past the restaurant. I remembered the ad, pulled over, went in and enjoyed a $5.99 plate of coconut shrimp and fries.

As I sat eating the butterflied, golden-brown, coconut-crusted balls of deliciousness, I thought about what had brought me there. While I noticed a lettered sign out front advertising the aforementioned special, I honestly wouldn’t have given it a second glance if I’d driven past twice.

Nevertheless, the restaurant was full of people who were eating coconut shrimp, and so I pulled open Facebook to try to find the post I had seen the day before. I found it. Zero likes, zero shares, zero comments.

Part of the slippery slope of social media is the belief that our mission is to garner feedback from our audience; that is to say, we judge the effectiveness of our efforts by simply looking at the “engagement” statistics from a post. While there are times when these stats can be helpful indicators, they can also give a false negative.

This little restaurant may have believed that its post did nothing. The owners could have looked at the engagement stats, thought “no one cared, no one shared,” and decided to simply cut Facebook because, darn it, it just takes so much time.

But doing this would obviously have been a mistake. As I sat enjoying my meal, I thought back to my days as a creative director in a remarkably pre-digital world. In that world, campaigns were thought out and tracked via traditional means to try to determine the ROI without the instant results of digital statistics. It was a world in which we simply could not watch in real time how an ad was performing or see exactly how an audience was interacting with a post.

Playing the ‘long game’

While this now seems a bit like the Dark Ages, it also brought some comfort as we played what I can only call the “long game.” We would create a strategy and work the plan until we could ultimately determine exactly how our efforts were affecting the bottom line.

As I sat in that every-seat-taken restaurant watching an endless stream of shrimp pouring from the kitchen, it struck me that the long game is just as relevant and important today. How do we play that game on social media in the bus business, and how do we not let analytics stand in the way of our ultimate success? Those are great questions.

First, we must have a strategy that we believe in. Social media has changed and there are a few things to keep in mind. The first — and perhaps most important — is that research shows that people are not looking to “connect” with brands.

People often bristle when I say that, but think of the last time you saw something going on in the world and thought to yourself, “I wonder what Pepsi has to say about this?”

Remember when the only ads we saw were in the Sunday paper or on billboards? Today’s advertising on social media is a far cry from how things were advertised when most of us were kids; in fact, marketing has crept into almost every aspect of our lives. (I remember, for example, that shortly after my wife gave birth to our fifth child, the nurse came in to deliver a “gift.” Turns out, it was a packet of coupons.)

Advertising has become something we have learned to filter in our heads. We see it, recognize it and file it away. Sometimes that information is never thought of again, but other times it will come to mind — perhaps during the lunch hour as you drive by the place you know is selling shrimp, or when you’re put in charge of booking transportation for your family reunion.

As you focus on marketing your charter business, recognize that your job is to provide clear and relevant information to potential consumers. Period. The vast majority of the time, your posts might have the same stats as this restaurant’s ad about the coconut shrimp: No shares, no comments and maybe not even a single like. Nevertheless, your posts will still be useful in growing your business.

The second part of this is establishing what’s relevant to a consumer. In my case, it was shrimp. The idea of shrimp for lunch for under $6? Come on…they had me at “hello.” But how do we do this in the transportation business? Probably not with shrimp.

Is it with pictures of shiny, beautiful buses? No! Definitely not, because we spend so much time thinking about, working on, paying for and using motorcoaches, buses and other vehicles in our industry, we sometimes start to believe that we’re somehow in the equipment business.

Unfortunately, filling your social feeds with pictures of empty buses — even against scenic backgrounds — is tantamount to the restaurant I ate lunch at sharing pictures of clean dishes and silverware, empty booths and beautiful shots of their business establishment. (None of those images would have resulted in me sitting there eating coconut shrimp.)

Our social strategy in the motorcoach industry must be about the shrimp. It has to get right to the heart of what our customers care about.

Whether you’re speaking to the bridal market by sharing information about wedding planning, talking to corporate clients about the liability associated with planning holiday parties where alcohol is served, or sharing a photo of a sports team on your coach with their testimonial about the perks of traveling with you, the information you post needs to be relevant, interesting and pertinent to your intended audience. That is how you leverage social media.

Here’s the thing: if you were to take a stadium full of people and statistically calculate how many of those folks would be responsible for booking a coach in the next 12 months, the number of people you’d end up with would fit inside one van.

This means that an entire stadium of people wouldn’t think about coaches when they have a transportation need. That’s why seeing pictures of shiny new buses would be completely ineffective; they don’t even know they need what you’re selling!

We have to remember this and use social media advertising as a way to inspire consumers to drop what they’re doing to come try our coconut shrimp. We must look beyond the instant statistics of shares and likes to see how our social media strategy is actually helping us sell more charters, to more people, for more money.

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