A lot of martial arts dojos are now dealing with an entirely new world of technology, where the traditional brick and mortar strategies are slowly becoming obsolete. In a world where people look to the internet first to do extensive research before trying anything, our online presence is now inextricably tied to the perception of the dojo. While what I have to say on the topic is based on what I’ve learned in the last year and a half, and is a bit specific to Aikido schools–a How To on Aikido Dojo Marketing of sorts–I’m writing it to be somewhat general so that with a little bit of creative adaptation, you could use these tips for your business too.
Feel free to follow our IG account @liaikikai.com
Visit our website at http://www.liaikikai.com/
Or our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/liaikikai/
Visit my personal website at http://dearjuneberry.com/
Here’s a disclaimer: This guide is more for dojo owners to be able to discern true social media managers who will grow your presence organically and increase engagement compared to those who will be providing “purchased” followers, and can also allow them (you) to gauge whether or not what they (you) are paying for is “worth” it, versus the amount of work that’s put in. A good social media manager is worth more than gold, so being able to spot one keeps the niche honest. You can definitely do all this yourself, but it’s more or less a full time job–and if you don’t have a dedicated finder (we’ll get into the nuances of finders, minders, and grinders in a later post), it will be all but impossible to run good campaigns.
If you’re interested in current online market perception (so you know what you’re up against), here is a post with some data on that–including a report by a social media analytics company on the positive effects social media marketing has had on the hashtag “Aikido.”
Here’s a post on some survey results of Aikido practitioners–with surprising insights. It’s more of a brainstorming post as I don’t have the answer to it without doing some large scale psychometrics testing, but there is some interesting questions it raised.
**Update: Starting 2020, Google won’t be listing sites in search engines that don’t have SSL certificates (if you’re confused whether or not your site does, it means it has HTTPS and not HTTP at the beginning of the URL.) Supposedly they will be removing all sites without SSL in 2021 (more info here: https://hosting.review/tips-tools/google-ssl-update/). There are free options like from https://letsencrypt.org/
Thanks to our collaborators for keeping us up to date!
First up, there are some general rules of marketing that you should keep in mind.
- The previous rule of thumb was that if you can’t afford to run a marketing campaign at least 7 times in a row, it’s not worth doing. This means regardless of what you’re doing, be it mailers, email, newsletter, ads, social media, you must consistently be able to run them for a minimum of 7 times. Why 7? That was the average it turned out for the campaigns to begin generating responses.
- In the past, it was accepted that if you have a 1% return on your marketing campaign, that’s already really good. 3%? You’re a king. Higher than that? You might as well be god. Keep that in mind as the benchmark of whether or not your strategies work. With the onset of technology and internet research, the average online landing page conversion rate (that is, the rate at which your page gets a person to do what you want them to do–provide an email, call for more information, purchase your product–after a prospect is led to the product website) is holding at 2.35%. This means that out of 100 people who followed a link to your page from a marketing campaign, you will get about 2 people who will respond to the page. Higher or lower depends on your content and how effective your marketing campaign is.
- Who answers inquiries to the dojo? How quickly do they respond? What is their protocol when speaking to potential students? There’s a reason why salespeople go through training for this because there’s a special formula to increase the odds of a visitor coming and joining. You should have an answer for each of those questions, and a target to hit for them as well.
- Make sure you have a clear idea as to what the goal for your marketing campaign is and stick to doing things that work towards that goal. Are you doing it to retain customers, generate new customers, generate leads, increase exposure, etc.?
- Make sure your website and social media pages are up-to-date, user friendly, and utilizes SEO (this will be explained below.) I personally prefer wordpress.org (NOT wordpress.com) as a very user friendly and intuitive website builder. The websites above for the dojo and my personal one is built through installing wordpress using one of their recommended hosts (in my case bluehost.) It doesn’t cost much either (maybe a little over $100 to get everything set up) and the number of tutorials, themes, widgets, and plugins make it super easy to do what you want.
- Remember the golden rule that if someone has a bad experience, or heard of a bad experience with you, they are likely to tell an average of 8 people. If they have a good experience, an average of 1. Don’t let people walk away with a bad impression (within reason.)
The platform I deal with the most is Instagram, and peripherally Facebook, as well as run my own blog. I’m also active on Reddit and Discord, but these last two particular platforms are more forums to exchange ideas and network rather than drive prospects.
Here are some rules when it comes to gathering organic traffic and engagement on Instagram, and some equations and tips to keep in mind about managing content.
- Keeping in line with the first rule above, consistency is key. For both IG (Instagram) and Facebook, what you post, while very important, is second to the consistency of when you post it. Posting 1 – 4 posts per day, spaced out, is ideal. Make sure if you want to hit the highest number at 4, to space it out throughout the day evenly (every 6 hours or so) since it’s not about how many total you, rather the widest spread of audience (for the international community.) If you post too quickly in succession, some people might unsubscribe/unfollow due to finding it annoying. I usually prepare a week’s worth of content at a time because I can’t be at the dojo every day. Your mileage on that will vary depending on how your time is structured. Be warned, if you stop for even 3 days, your user follows will decrease dramatically because people love stability, even in an online relationship. (Let me give you an actual number–I stopped posting for a few weeks since the holidays. Prior to stopping, we were gaining 60 followers per post. It has taken 9 posts since then to get back up to 28 per post on 1/17/2019, and it goes up exponentially. It was 1 – 2 followers until we hit 3 daily posts where it moved to 4 – 5 and continued to climb.) It’s possible it has something to do with how Instagram’s algorithm determines whether or not a profile is engaging, and if you don’t post often enough, it doesn’t push your content to potential followers. If your content manager isn’t posting much, but you are gaining followers quickly and suddenly, it’s possible (and likely) they are purchasing followers. It took nearly 6 months of consistent daily posting to reach 5.3k (at the time of this article), and an average follow rate of 50 followers and 150+likes per post for our Instagram account. Artificial follows and engagement is cheap on the internet, ranging anywhere from $5 – $10 for 3k – 8k followers. Beware of promises of quick and fast follower numbers–you should be watching for actual engagement with your posts.
- Hashtags is the not-so-new kid on the block. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook now give the ability to follow hashtag topics, and utilizes it as a way of tracking user psychometrics and interests. It uses these hashtags to push content they think might be interesting to those who often engage/view posts that include them. Start taking a look at which hashtags in your industry are most popular and most likely to be followed (you can do so by viewing posts that have high engagement and seeing what hashtags they use.) If your post gains velocity (as in the rate of engagement is high at the outset), it could be picked and featured in a hashtag category (which is why good content that drives organic user engagement is so important.) If you are looking to increase awareness in those who are already interested in the particular hobby, choose hashtags that are more specific to the hobby itself (for example #aikido #jiujitsu #martialarts #dojo), if you want to drive up awareness to those who previously have no awareness of your industry, you’ll want some popular hashtags that are peripherally related (for example #*day of the week*motivation #*day of the week*feels #familylife #thingstodo #trysomethingnew) The optimum number of hashtags per post (while you are allotted 30) is 10 – 13.
- Be aware of shadowbans, which is when your use of hashtags or your content/comments trigger Instagram to hide your content. Using the same hashtags over and over can also cause it. You can see which hashtags will cause that here: https://instavast.com/instagram-banned-hashtags/
- Another way of getting shadowbanned is by liking too many posts in a day. 700 is the upper limit right now.
- Your content and your captions should not be boring. If it’s too pretentious (and I see a lot of dojos making this mistake because we tend to take ourselves very seriously), or you feel like you’re too good to use hashtags, you’ll end up losing out to those who have no issue poking fun at themselves and engaging with users.
- On Instagram, the maximum video length is 1 minute. Any video that doesn’t deliver the “punch line” so to speak within the first 3 – 5 seconds will be ignored and scrolled past by the average user. You can somewhat mitigate this is you choose a good cover photo, but if it takes too long to get to the main point, users will get bored and not wait to see it. The name of the game is instant gratification (Get it, Instagram? It’s literally in the name.)
- Your posts should not only be consistent in quantity, but consistent in terms of the topic. If you’re an Aikido dojo and suddenly post a picture of your dog (with no context to it being in the dojo or otherwise related to your martial art), be prepared for a drop in following, ranking, and engagement. Separate topics should stay on separate profiles, and the good thing about IG is that you can have several profiles.
- There are optimal times to post, depending on your industry. Take a look at the different insights available from those who collect data on user engagement. (SproutSocial is a good one.) I like to choose times where people in my geographic location are likely bored out of their minds waiting for the workday to end, lunch, trying to fall asleep but insomnia’s dug its claws in, or during a long commute.
- Instagram allows automatic sharing to your Facebook page, which often has a different set of demographics. Where Instagram is weak in that reposts are tough to keep track of if no one tags you, Facebook’s sharing is much more intuitive. Connect them in order to automatically share content across these platforms.
- Have a few different ways of calculating your engagement. There are a few formulas for engagement rates out there such as ((comments + likes)/followers)*100) and do it for every post. Some do ((comments + likes)/views)*100). For Instagram, I personally just like to calculate average followers per post, which is just total followers/number of posts and track it over time to see if you’re growing. Remember, this can be thrown off if you had a slow start with a lot of non-engaging posts that lacked hashtags, or you could be putting too many posts at once (sometimes this can’t be helped for seminars and events) which will decrease the average. There are workarounds like not counting them or considering each event, no matter how many posts, to be a single one. Currently, without manipulating any numbers, we’re at an average of 24.5 followers per post.
- Your engagement matters too. Unless you’ve somehow gone viral in a way where you don’t need to engage with other people’s content, there’s no escaping the work it takes to get noticed. There are two ways to generate interest back.
- Following and followbacks are helpful, but be aware that they can be short-lived. You might find that you get about a 10% follow-back rate, if that, when you randomly follow profiles related to your topic. Other users who see you followed a profile might then follow you to try and get you to follow them back. I don’t particularly like this method as it has low organic engagement. The profiles that are only following you for followbacks (or returning the favor) often unfollow after a set period of time.
- Engaging with comments and other profile content. A friend of mine who runs a very successful social media profile is all about the maintenance of networks. While we hang out, her fingers are absentmindedly scrolling through posts on Instagram and liking them (the double tap feature is very helpful) without even looking. She comments quickly with emojis and a few words on as many posts as she can whenever she has a little bit of downtime. This engagement results in people becoming curious as to what you do, and often leads to followers (especially those hoping you’d notice them.)
- You should respond to every comment you receive on your posts by liking them and thanking (if it’s positive.) How you deal with trolls is up to you–I like practicing my rhyming skills with them by writing silly limericks in response. Other people choose to delete, or engage in aggressive debate with them, but my personal favorite method by far is to not take what they say seriously and use it as a time to train some ad libbing poetry.
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization), this scary acronym, isn’t so scary at all. It’s a few general rules for producing content that will be picked up by different search engines (websites, articles, or blog posts that should drive users to learn more/purchase your product.) Google, Bing, and Yahoo! are search engines that use specific algorithms and tools to rank your website. The higher you rank with them, the earlier in the pages your website will show up. Being on the first page of a particular keyword search is always ideal.
- 300 words is minimum in order to be ranked on search engines, so on top of having good keywords, you must have enough compelling content.
- Keywords and keyphrases are important to utilize and be placed with your content. Titles and subheaders should contain the main one(s) you wish to hit. While we tend to want to name our website/schools uniquely, that often works against us if we lack branding capacity. A rule of thumb to follow is that your keywords must include (if you’re a brick and mortar dojo) name of the martial art (in our case “Aikido,” “Aikikai,” “Japanese,”), location (in our case “Long Island,” “Bay Shore,” “New York”), and type of business (“School,” “Martial Art.”) Then you make sure the content hits upon peripherally related words of what you believe are what people who would be interested in your hobby would care for–”Exercise,” “Fitness,” “Sword,” etc. You can find out the popularity of certain keywords and phrases utilizing free online tools.
- Links-backs. Gone are the days where you were just ranked by your content and the number of visitors to your page–these days having your page’s address shared is what’s going to improve your rankings quickly. It’s why people pay for affiliate links (where they give you a cut of revenue generated through sales made with the link you push out)–the more times your page is shared by other websites, the higher your rankings will be. That’s why Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and a good network of bloggers, plus activity on forums will help page rankings. It’s not enough to just share the links though, the rule for keywords and how relevant they are to the page or user that’s sharing it is important too.
- If you haven’t already, make sure you register your location with Google maps and Yelp. How can people find you if they don’t know where you are? Google maps will send a postcard to that location with a pin code, which you will then input to register your dojo. It’s also another place to slap your website link, and give you authenticity. I often feel a little unsure and distrustful if a business doesn’t have a website.
- Should you pay for advertising? Sometimes you’ll see Facebook or IG offer paid advertisements for you to target specific demographics based on the number of views and likes on your video– its algorithm picked up the fact that this particular video or content has good potential based on the engagement (which includes metrics we can’t easily see, like the average length of the video watched.) If you have money to spare, a good landing page, good content–both copy and visuals, it could be worth it to run it a few times (at least 7! Never forget this rule.)
- Should you pay for an Instagram business page? The pros are that it offers analytics, albeit not exceptionally detailed ones, but it allows you to add links into the captions of your posts. Depending on what kind of product you’re offering, it could be worth it. However, a good workaround is to point users to your profile bio, where you can link a page. This obviously has its shortcomings in that some users can’t be bothered (instant gratification) so if you want to drive more traffic to your website or blog, it might be worth paying extra for that feature.
So now that you understand a little bit, and hopefully now have enough tools to decide if you want to do it yourself or hire someone to do your marketing campaigns for you, here’s some extra food for thought (and for another post possibly at a later date.)
The types of marketing campaigns you do could also provide valuable insight on your prospective customers. Just to give you a few ideas–QR codes, email campaigns, social media, tear off flyers, well placed business cards, ads in the paper, mailers, posters with landing pages (usually websites) that capture user data like e-mails, geographic location, demographics etc. to help see how a particular marketing strategy is working for you. It could shape how you understand the needs of the average consumer, and what drives them to purchase your product. Large companies run different campaigns all the time often together in order to figure out what uniquely suits their product.