• Timeframe: 6 months
  • Budget: Average US$50.00 per day
  • Time investment: initial research of 65 hours than the average 1.5 hours a day. (Monday to Friday)

Two years ago, we decided to create a global boating community called Boat Show Avenue and share all our digital content with the public and our friends from the industry.  While our team spent 18 months completing our website (which will launch soon), I thought it would be interesting to develop a social media community, so I decided to start with the biggest platform: Facebook.

I tried to hire some Social Media experts but after 2 weeks of research, I realised that what they offered me didn't fit my objectives so I decided to do it myself. I am excited to reveal how we did it and also sharing our top 10 recommendations.

1. Start out by finding out what your community likes and shares
My first objective was to know our audience perfectly, find out what they liked as well as what they were willing to share. I hired a guy on Fiverr and asked him to scan 20 of the most popular boating fan pages and extract all the most viral photos. It was the best $50 I ever spent. I learned exactly what the boating community was attracted to, but most importantly, what type of posts they shared. Today, on average, we get several thousand shares every week and all of this because we took the time to study our audience carefully and offer them exactly what they want.

2. It is all about A/B testing
I spent my first 2 weeks testing posts. My goal was to identify what type of post would get the most number of likes and shares.  After dozens of different variations, I found out that a simple, elegant photo of a boat with an arrow and the word “Click” with a redirection to a custom tiny URL gave us the best results. You might think that custom text, call to actions and designed photos will be better but the truth is they are less likely to be shared and liked.

3. Time of the day and number of posts
Your goal is simply to reach the largest number of people. You can attain this by using great content and by being very strategic with posting and how many times a day you should. It will totally depend on your audience but you must spend some time figuring this out. We found out that 5 posts every 24 hours gave us optimum results. We always plan our best post for the optimum time of the day to get the best results as well.

4. Don’t build a page to sell something or to advertise
People don’t like to be sold and don’t like to be advertised.  They like to belong to a community and feel that they are being treated with respect and love. Our vision was to build a globally trusted boating community and our mantra is “Pushing the boating industry forward”.  We constantly remind our viewers of this vision and as a result, they always feel good about engaging with us.

5. Social proof
What is the first thing that people look at when they want to go to a restaurant?
-If there are some people inside.

Consumers act the same way when they stumble upon a new Facebook fan page. The social proof concept also works for social media and we are more likely to follow a boating community page with 35k fans compared to another page with just 150 fans.
While one of our first objectives was to find shortcuts to expand our audience, we made sure not to fall into the trap of "fake likes" that are sold all over the web for a few dollars. Those are robots and you might get shut down by Facebook or end up with the worst audience ever. It might be the cheapest option but you will always end up paying the price later!

Our ideal target for BSA are boat buyers and I will share how we were able to reach almost 50 thousand of them directly. But in order to have those boat owners like our page, we needed to “fill our restaurant first”, so we went for cheaper advertising to boating enthusiasts. A boating enthusiast in a developing country will cost me virtually nothing compared to a boat owner in a premium area. Those boat enthusiasts will help me establish social proof on my fan page and help me acquire premium prospects later.

6.Organic vs paid growth
Don't be fooled by paid advertising and try to keep your traffic organic. While experts suggested better results on boosted posts, we stuck with classic advertising. 99% of our timeline traffic is organic and we've had fantastic organic growth. Our best was 1979 organic page likes in just one day! We found that our best option was to advertise for page likes and maintain strong organic timeline traffic.

Avoid promoted posts campaigns and try to build engaged and organic traffic.  

7. Target audience & Facebook ID
People have no idea how wonderful Facebook is. You can extract individual FB IDs. We used it and got tons of fabulous leads. The secret is to know how to use the Facebook Graph Search.
For example, if you want your page to attract boat owners: Open Facebook Graph Search and type “Open Group named boat owners.” Once you have the group,  use a tool like FB snatcher to extract FB IDs. (This tool cost me $17.)

Using this, I was able to capture 47.400 boat owners FB IDs. Now, you have to understand that this is the cream of the cream when you're building a boating community. I then created a laser targeted ad campaign for those owners and had many of them join BSA. If you put a smart ad together, you can get them for an amazing price per page like.

You can see my Facebook Snatcher in the bottom capturing all the FB IDs of the group of my choice.

8. Watch out for your time
Experts usually teach you to spend quite a lot of time building your audience. They recommend tagging people, writing comments on other Fan pages, linking your FB page from your website or other places online. It might work in some cases, but if you are looking to build a large fan based community, it will take you forever.  Let’s assume that I am worth $100 an hour. I'm not willing to spend 3 hours on FB every day just to gain $20 worth of traffic! So instead of using my time, I decided to use my brain and try come up with the most efficient shortcuts.  I spent 2 weeks learning FB inside and out and came up with quite a few innovative ideas.  Some people don't want to spend any money and would rather use their time, but personally, I would rather spend one hour and $50 a day on social media than no budget at all and 5 hours a day on it.

I value my time and I'd rather help my clients than burn hours on Facebook. Once I figured out the overall strategies and techniques, (by the time we had around 30k fans) I asked our office manager to take over so I didn’t need to spend as much time on it anymore. Make sure to pre-post your content for the weekend to help you save more time too. And finally, remember that it is smart to engage viewers but make sure that the engagement doesn't require 24-hour monitoring. Our strategy to only put visual content and not too much text helps us monitor the page once or twice a day.

A typical week: Weekly engagement (June 3rd 2014)

9. Don’t always think online
Make sure to talk about your page offline- you'll be surprised to see how many people join it. As I said earlier, people don’t like to be sold or advertised but they like to be entertained so if you have a cool community on Facebook talk to them about it and they will get onboard.

10. Apply the 80/20 rule
I always try to apply the 80/20 Pareto principle in life. I believe that growth in social media comes from 20% of the users. You can divide social media users into 3 categories: The users who look, the users who like and finally the users who share.
I quickly realised that if I was able to identify the 20% of users who shared posts, our page would grow much faster. So here is what I did: I hired a data extractor on Odesk for a couple of hundred dollars. I gave him a list of 20 boating fan pages and I asked him to individually extract FB IDs of the people who shared posts. I ended up with a final list of over 3000 FB IDs. I did an advertising campaign to those people as I absolutely needed them to join my page. It wasn’t so hard to get their attention as I knew what they liked to share and they were all interested in boating. The campaign was a huge success and the week after, I noticed a significant improvement in organic grow.

In conclusion:
Facebook is a wonderful social media platform for businesses. Building a Facebook presence is simple but not easy and can be very time consuming if you don't implement the right strategy. I am very proud of the Boat Show Avenue page and the success we've had so far. I would like to thank our team for putting all this amazing digital content together. The rapid growth of BSA was facilitated by our amazing visual content and relationship with hundreds of shipyards worldwide and I believe that you can still learn a lot from the tips I just shared with you. Despite these performant results, I still don't consider myself a social media expert and realise that with social media constantly changing, there is always a lot of new things to learn.

I hope that you enjoyed the article and I invite you to join and check our community here: Thank you so much for your support and contact me anytime if you have any questions.

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Vincent Finetti