Social Media in the Personal Security and Firearms Training Industry
Many in the personal security and firearms training industry are still living in the cave where social media is known to be responsible for the downfall of society. The question for many in the industry who are learning to walk upright is how can we leverage social media? For the record, I am still learning, but these are my observations over the past three years or so of trying to pick up my knuckles and embrace the future. I did not have a personal Facebook account when we opened Aegis Academy to the public. I did not have a LinkedIn account. I didn’t know how to use instant messenger, or have any idea why anyone would send a 140 character tweet into cyber space on what they happened to be thinking of at the moment and even less of a clue as to why anyone else would care. Here are a few of my takeaways on the process of trying to develop an effective marketing strategy that leverages social media in the personal security training industry.
Email lists are critical. Depending on the goal you are trying to achieve, you may need to use different channels, but lets start with a few basics. Your opted in email list (not something you can purchase – you have to build it yourself) is the most valuable digital asset you have. We use a weekly newsletter, but there are certainly those who communicate with more or less frequency and are effective. Your email list is your means of staying in contact with your clients, keeping them up to date on what you or the company is doing and staying visible to them. Use it too frequently, put irrelevant or poorly formatted material in your newsletter, or make people upset and they will unsubscribe – and sometimes accompany it with an “I hate your last article” or even better “I hate you” comment – both of which are great feedback. At least it is not apathy and we know we are reaching people on an emotional level! We add specials from partner retailers or our own discounts on certain courses as a benefit to our clients and readers.
Blogging is important. Your next best friend is the content you create, meaning the articles you write and post. Unlike some of what I see out there, simply picking a key word and using it eight times in a poorly constructed document is not helping you out any more. The search engines are much more finicky about measuring how long people stay on your page once they search for a term. If that metric is low, you are punished for it with lower search rankings. Relevant, engaging content is critical to your search rankings. Making engaging social media content is critical to getting in touch with and maintaining contact with the younger generation who like it or not are the future of the industry.
Images and how you label them matter. Every article should have a relevant image associated with it (preferably one of your own). If not, check the copyright information in the metadata and use Google’s search by image to try and find the original owner to ensure it’s not copyrighted before you use it. Your photo gallery of images of you and your clients, properly labeled with relevant key words also matters significantly. Google indexes every single image with your brand name on it and relevant key words in the title. When your image is tagged, shared or copied by your clients and their friends, your brand appears more relevant to Google for the keywords in the image title.
Google plus is a necessary evil. For the most part, Google employee’s, bloggers and businesses are the only people using Google plus. Your business (and you) have to be on Google plus. Not because you will connect with a large user base, but because of authorship, which is complicated and somewhat difficult to set up, but it is absolutely crucial to your search rankings on Google. If something is worth doing, its worth doing right and Google plus is no different. Set up a sloppy page with poor images and mediocre content and you’ll get exactly what you put into it. Fail to set up authorship and your articles and content are far more likely to be relegated page 142 of the search rankings.
Twitter is probably not useless… Maybe. Twitter is still a bit of a mystery to me, but here is how we are handling it (and admittedly we are lacking here). The difficult part for education and training on twitter is more contextual than practical in that twitter is all about what is happening now. Education and training is more about what you’ll be able to do if you show up so the two are not easy to merge. We are turning to a “look what we did today” strategy. Hash tags are how you can search and see what people are talking about right now or what is “trending”. We add two to three potentially relevant hash tags to our articles that we post so that should those tags start to “trend” or become popular, we are already indexed by Google for those terms, which may result in increased search rankings.
LinkedIn company pages are a showcase of what your organization does. It is a decent place to post articles like this, which are largely business related, but technical articles will perform better elsewhere. LinkedIn is a way to connect with business people, and potentially organizations, but is less likely to directly translate to training course registrations. Your personal LinkedIn page should showcase your background as well as what you want the public to see about your organization. It is more or less a free advertising tool for both you and your company. From a brand awareness perspective, this is great. From a local business perspective, this is not particularly relevant so if you are not catering to a national market, I wouldn’t spend a lot of time here.
Pinterest looks like art because it is. The key to Pinterest is having high quality images that people will want to share and post to their boards. (Hash tags and keywords are important in how you title theses photos as well). Because Pinterest is really centered around the visual experience, posting poor images here is a bad idea. You may only have one or two images worth posting each month or maybe none. Better to post quality than quantity here. (That is the opposite of your photo gallery, which should have all of your images which do not embarrass a client or show something you would not want seen).
Why YouTube? The metrics are higher by 10 to one. If I write a post like this one and post it, 100 people click on it. If I add a relevant image, 300 people click on it. If we post a video, 1000 click on it. Our Youtube channel is in need of a make over, as we originally set it up to house video content used by the website. (That is not a good YouTude strategy, but it is better than nothing). People found it, and liked some of it and started subscribing to it. It drives a small, but not insignificant portion of our website traffic. What the future of the channel looks like is instructional snippets from the course material, and examples of course content. Recording and processing video is time consuming and resource intensive – but make it a point to start collecting video footage and periodically putting it to work for you. Once it’s there, it just keeps going…
You should waste some of your time with Facebook. Every thing mentioned previously is indexed by Google. Email, Articles, Websites, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Images and Twitter all contribute to associating your brand name with the keywords that are relevant to your users. Facebook is barely indexed by Google and almost nothing you do there will matter for search rankings. What Facebook provides that the others really haven’t cracked the code on is two-way interaction. People like things because they want their friends to see what they found. They post comments because they are interested or engaged, and they share content because they are connected to it (good or bad) in a personal way. The key to Facebook is that you already created content, posted it to a suitable location, and this is one more place for people to see it and interact with it. Writing an article on Facebook is meaningless. Creating Facebook only content is a waste of time. Posting a link in Facebook to your article (housed on your website or blog) drives Facebook fans to your content where Google can measure their engagement.
What are “Good” metrics? The short version is – it depends. You cannot expect that every person who goes to your blog page will intently read every article. We average 3 minutes 23 seconds per page overall. Our articles are higher, our webpages are lower, and some things like our schedule and waiver pages are high, but only because people have to use them to register and it takes about 5 minutes, but I don’t delude myself into believing they are interested in the content on the registration page! Our email list has a 32.4% open rate and a 6.2% click rate. We have an email subscription growth rate of about 2% a month and our unsubscribe rate is about .5% a month. Those are metrics that are exceeding industry averages significantly according to the relevant benchmarks I can find.
Should I advertise? The first thing to note is that it takes time to build a user base. There are a number of options out there to purchase fans, or likes, etc… however, what you have purchased is an uninterested user base who will ultimately hurt your ability to measure engagement with your prospective clients. Purchasing fans is different than advertising. Advertising can be effective at building a relevant user base. I spend about $100 a month between all of our social media platforms to advertise posts and put them in front of very specific groups of people. That is the beauty of social media advertising. I can target my competition’s clients; I can target my own base of users, or I can target nearly any group on the planet if I know enough about who they are. Last quarter was focused on Facebook. This quarter is going to be Twitter and Pinterest focused. Where you choose to advertise and who you advertise to is virtually limitless, and pretty cheap from an exposure perspective.
Read a book on Google Analytics. It is the system by which you can measure your effectiveness. If you are simply throwing things against the wall and hoping to notice what sticks, you are going to have a very hard time in the social arena tracking what works and what doesn’t. Google Analytics does it for you and it’s free (except for the time you invest in learning how to use it). For those still on AOL, Yahoo, Bing, Etc… they do not matter at all in global search, Google is the only thing you need to worry about measuring.
Blending Social Media and the Firearms Training Industry is not really a significant challenge. We in the industry need to do a better job of engaging the next generation, because they are future of personal security in this country – and we can! For those in the industry, I hope this helps give you a framework and some ideas to avoid mistakes and chart a path to engaging with the next generation of shooting and training enthusiasts. For our clients and every one else who is still reading – Thank you! Please go read another article, post a comment, or share something on your social media pages; search your inbox for that newsletter you didn’t open and click on a link, or go follow our Twitter page – we sincerely appreciate your time and your engagement!
Interested in potential security risk posed by social media? Check out Social Media and the Attack Cycle Here!
Have fun & stay safe!
– Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry received his operational training and experience from the U.S. Government, 22 years of which were spent in the Marine Corps where he served in the Reconnaissance, Infantry and Intelligence fields. During his active service, he spent more then seven years deployed overseas in combat, operational and training assignments. After the military, Pat worked as a contractor and as the Director of Operations at a private paramilitary company, specializing in training special operations forces and providing protective services to select private clients. His education consists of an MBA from the University of Southern California (USC), and a BS from San Diego State University with an emphasis in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology and a minor in Psychology. He holds an extensive list of security and training related certifications from a variety of government and nationally recognized entities. He currently sits on the advisory committee at USC’s Master of Veterans Business Program, and is an active member of Infraguard and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS). He has been a guest speaker at ASIS, the San Diego Industrial Security Awareness Council and other private organizations on physical security, travel security, and competitive intelligence collection counter-measures.
First Published at Aegis Academy