Online diving for dive operators
With the modern world being what it is, we’ve never had more information at our fingertips. This is, of course, a double-edged sword. For those of us that remember having to visit a library to borrow a book (that you may not get a hold of for weeks), it’s an astonishing change in less than 20 years.
Let’s ignore the other edge of that sword, namely the hours spent watching clips of dogs avoiding bath time, or (my personal favorite), ships in storms. But what’s this got to do with diving, specifically technical diving?
Social media (and particularly Facebook) has become the primary way that most people receive their daily intake of news. Keeping up to date with all things diving is no different. There are multiple platforms that dive operators feel compelled to use. A Facebook page, Instagram, YouTube channel, Vimeo channel, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat… You may as well just pin a note to your door saying that you can’t take anyone diving because you need to update your social media. You seemingly don’t have much choice in the matter.
The consensus is that you are committing commercial suicide by not having a Facebook page or an Instagram account. For consumers, word of mouth notwithstanding, social media is the best way for a diving company to get on your radar.
As a dive operator, do you concentrate on Facebook? Ignore Facebook and focus on Instagram? Should you try and juggle them all? You don’t want to pay to boost posts or buy ads if you can get away with it. But that’s the problem. You can’t.
It’s common knowledge that Facebook has massively reduced the reach of organic content; they want you to pay to be seen, and they wear the trousers. But did you know that Facebook penalizes you if you write a post with a link to an interesting article? They view it as spam clogging up your friend’s feeds. Their algorithms are currently focused on providing good content for family and friends. Your post won’t get to anywhere near as many people as you’d hoped it would.
Does paying to boost content work? Google it. The answer is yes, but it’s complicated. Google “should I boost my posts?”. You’ll get literally a million hits ranging from “Nine tactics to promote…”, “Eight mistakes to avoid”, and “why you should buy Twitter ads immediately”. Well, that just makes me not want to buy Twitter ads, whatever they are. If you close your eyes you can hear Mark Zuckerberg laughing at you whilst doing his best water-sipping android impression.
Not so easy if you’re not 20
Technical dive schools exist as a niche within the wider world of diving. Margins are tight. You don’t do it for the money, that’s for sure. You must be careful about how you spend your time, and even more careful about how you manage your imaginary friend…you know, the advertising budget.
Most dive operators are small businesses that just don’t have the funds to pay a company to come in and develop a social media strategy for them. They also don’t have a lot of time to figure it out and do it themselves.
Sadly, there’s no easy solution, you do need to spend time learning about how to navigate the minefield of social media. Me too. I don’t own a dive facility, but I run a website promoting my own tech training and fun diving. I also manage the social media at the facility where I work. I’m learning all this stuff too (just in case you bizarrely thought I knew what I was talking about).
This isn’t an article about what proportions of which platforms to use and when to pay to boost content, sorry. Even if it was, Google has a million other articles to contradict any conclusions made here. What this article is about, is what type of content is effective no matter what the platform is.
Lights, camera, cut!
Here’s a suggestion of one thing you can do on most platforms: Home-grown video content. It’s unanimous that the big platforms love video. It’s no magic bullet by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s much more favorably viewed by water-sipping androids. Be it a promotional video, regular video blog, or any number of other options.
In popular tropical diving locations, underwater videographers produce astonishingly good promo videos and short clips. And they work. Really.
When that content gets out there on the internet it’s liked to death, shared, engaged with. It gets that dive school’s name out there above the fold. Without it, they’re just another dive school; it’s a cut-throat market. You can argue that the market in such places is much simpler; lots of young backpackers that live on their phones. Your market may be more diverse and, therefore, complicated.
Regardless of the market, there’s pretty good evidence that good video content translates into paying customers. This is of the entire point. But you need to keep producing regular good content. The only way that happens on tropical islands is because those underwater videographers are not well paid. They do it for the love of it too. In more temperate locations, you don’t have this hugely undervalued resource on tap, you must pay good money.
This helps in part to explain why there are so few promos for tech. It’s expensive and time-consuming. Of the videos out there, some are very good. Most do what they can but are lacking in the kind of thing that is standard fare for a professional videographer, namely creativity, and storytelling (sequencing and framing). Plus, a steady hand goes a long way.
The online dive police
One issue worthy of consideration is that of overseeing a brand’s reputation. This can make owners weary of posting content online. The reaction of the wider tech “community” can often be not very community spirited, so why would you put yourself in the spotlight?
Sidemount is a great example. When someone posts a social media video with lollypop SPGs and tanks at 50 degrees in the air, it rightly gets highlighted for what it is. But puritanical elements of the online diving community sometimes take this a little beyond the pale.
Photos can be selected carefully. A video doesn’t lie. If you deviate your buoyancy by just a small degree, you’ve just given away your location to an army of online soul suckers. Who cares that there is an obvious surge on the video? These individuals exhibit expectations on others that you can bet they conveniently disregard when it comes to applying it to themselves. Plus, they have the added benefit of not having to say it to your face.
Comments sections are seemingly no place for context and appreciation of the real world. Regardless, you could certainly do without a fecal storm of negative comments aimed directly at your livelihood.
The obvious advice is just to be careful with what you post. Of course, good practice needs to be demonstrated. That’s the whole point, to showcase that you do things well. Don’t feed the animals, but also try and relax about not posing for the camera on every single frame. Take that corset off.
The negative commentators are beyond reasonable reach anyway, let them get on with their Dunning-Kruger reinforcement. Most reasonable people are more, well, reasonable.
Not just promos
If video promos are not your thing or just not an option, there are many other possibilities, including interviews, tutorials, presentations, product demos and reviews, testimonials, and the latest “must do”- live streaming. Contrary to Google’s advice on social media, it’s relatively easy to find helpful guides online about how to go about producing good video content. It’s important to do the research, based on your own activities.
This starts with what you predominantly do. This includes things like courses, sidemount, backmount, fun diving, CCR. Type of environment, things to see and do etc. That leads nicely on to who you are aiming at. Sex, age, an understanding of what content they enjoy. Then and only then can you tailor content to suit them. This incudes how long your videos should be, which is the most effective type of video etc. Crucially, which formats are best for what platforms.
YouTube is a good all-rounder, and particularly good for tutorials, promos and anything longer than a minute. Instagram is best for very short snippets. Snapchat’s demographic is generally very young, and they are being devoured by Instagram, so should you even bother with it?
The sky is the limit. Just make sure you know what you are talking about! Speaking Sidemount, Steve Davis’s new venture is a fantastic example of engaging and interesting content. The salient point here is who else is doing it? No one.
The wider world wide web
So, what about that other minor thing they call the rest of the internet? I’ve just written a website on technical diving. It’s an information site, aggregating articles and videos, and promoting my own training. I’ve spent a huge amount of time in the last month reading about SEO. Things like keywords, back-links, meta titles, crawling, long-chain keywords. It’s dizzying to read, and as with social media, there are a million companies that promise to send you to the top of Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Here’s the “I’m sure some of them are pretty darn good at it too” disclaimer.
Some strategies are absolutely proven to work. This includes:
- Ensuring your website has a good infrastructure
- Making certain that it works smoothly on smartphones
- Only getting backlinks from authoritative and trusted domains
- Speeding up the page loading times
- Avoiding stuffing each page with keywords
You must also periodically update your website too. Leaving the same content on there for years is like leaving a poster out in the direct sun. It will fade and look shabby and dated. Eventually, no one will bother to look at it anymore, and the weird old guy called Google that stands on the corner will stop pointing at it.
Beyond these important factors, Google already tells you what you need to do to maximize your online audience. This is give the customer what they want. Write good content that directly answers the kind of questions that people type into Google. Content means good information on your website and regular blogs.
Now, I am about as far from an expert on this as it’s possible to be, and I am still very much trying to apply this to my own new and not-yet-properly-crawled-by-Google website. But it makes a hell of a lot of sense from where I’m sitting.
But what are people searching for in Google, Bing, Yandex, Baidu and whatever else? Type tech diving into Google and add an A. Google suggests words and phrases to complete the search sentence.
These results are not plucked from Atlantis, they are the most popular things that people are searching for based on whatever it was you typed in first. So, change A for B after whatever word or string of words you want to search for, then C to D, and so on.
It’s called the alphabet something or other, and it can give an idea of how you can tweak your content to be more likely to appear in those search queries. The alternative is trying to figure out how to use keyword planners properly. I think it’s probably easier to try and learn to speak dolphin than to do that.
To summarize, spend the money you don’t have, producing videos you’re not good enough to do well, of not quite but almost perfect tech divers, to an audience that will rip it to shreds. Repeat periodically. Then upload them to all the social media accounts you haven’t had time to make best use of. Once that’s done and dusted, re-write your website until it gets to the top of page one on Google. Not too difficult…right?
Joking aside, many dive owners do very well from having little to no internet presence. They work on word of mouth within their local diving community, based on their reputation. You may feel like none of this may be remotely applicable to you. I would say lucky you, but you are becoming more of a minority in the age of digital media.
The diving “industry” is contracting year by year. Your local dive community is getting older. Eventually, some will dive less and less. If you don’t have new divers to replace them, you’ll dive less and less too. The suggestions outlined here are just based on my observations of looking into it over the last few months. Hopefully, even just one word, such as content, has been useful or at least got you to re-evaluate the way that you present your offerings to the world.
Best of luck with your business.