As many of you know, when I moved to Hua Hin, Thailand, in January, I launched as new website for Hua Hin expatriates – huahinexpatnews.com. This site was modeled after my successful BatamExpat.com site in Indonesia, and actually most of the work was completed in North Carolina before I moved to Thailand.
I knew going in to this effort, however, that succeeding would be harder. First, in Batam I started off with two advantages I don’t have here – a built-over-four-years reputation for my marketing skills among the expat community and a mailing list of nearly a thousand expats.
I landed in Hua Hin as a total stranger, with no list whatsoever to start with.
My first effort at finding audience involved scanning any local publications for emails, which generated something above 100 contacts, mostly business owners. From there, I was able to convince 10 companies to run free advertising on the site until the end of May, at which point I hoped (in January) to have reached. Those goals included signing up at least 150 subscribers and averaging 200-250 page views a day.
But how to get a substantial number of new subscribers? How do you reach people you don’t know and for whom you have no email address?
As it turns out, Hua Hin has a wide variety of Facebook forums for expats. There are general discussion forums, sales forums, individual company forums, etc. ad nauseum. In fact, FB seems to be the default for communicating here, including a lot of companies using FB and not having their own websites, which I find absurd (at least in how they’re not using FB effectively but just letting it sit there, occasionally posting something.).
Anyway, I found seven general interest forums, one with more than 14,000 members. The total members for the seven is more than 31,000. Of course, only a small portion of those members actually actively participate in these forums so the actual number of eyeballs they represent is questionable.
My plan was to post my daily news link on these forums, often with messages to subscribe. My fear was that I would be seen as abusing the forum privilege but I proceeded anyway, figuring if someone gets their nose out of joint they’ll just ask me to not post so often. One forum did, in fact, question my daily posts and we worked out an agreement for fewer postings (and then the forum suddenly disappeared).
So how is this FB outreach to 31,000 potential subscribers working out? A mixed bag.
First, I’m not sure of the tech savvy of this audience. When I asked them to “share” my post to reach more audiences, all I received were a lot of “likes.” Most of my advertisers did not have web-ready ads to use, with me creating a few for free.
And don’t get me started about the mobile phones. OK, I will start. One of the problems with smartphones is that they don’t display sidebars that are prevalent with WordPress websites. All they see is the main content section. I figured this out in Batam and started placing the sidebar ads within the news copy to get advertisers some traffic.
Now, some smartphones, maybe most, allow you to slide the screen to the right or left to see what else is there. I guess they never learned that here. So now I’m explaining the simple way to find the subscription box in my news feed and my subscription numbers have improved. There’s always something.
And finally, I think my efforts have awoken a few people here who see themselves as responsible for feeding news and photos to the community. That is how it has been until my site started, people would find interesting news and post it in the forums. A couple of pro photographers also post daily photos of Hua Hin.
Now, it seems like a couple of those people have started being more proactive in posting the news before me. My content is far more expansive and interesting but there are a lot of expats here who only want news about Hua Hin, preferably good news, and maybe get news in their own language from their hometown newspaper. I have had complaints about why I ran an article about somewhere else in Thailand, or, heaven forbid, another country. Nothing I can do about those people.
One person this week even said – when I mentioned on the FB forums that I might have to discontinue my daily postings so as not to be a pest – that I was going “counter to all online marketing consensus.” I told him I didn’t even know what that means. In fact, and I didn’t say this, “online marketing consensus” may be an oxymoron.
My self-imposed 4-month trial period will end at the end of May, at which time I hope to start asking advertisers to pay to play. Page views are climbing 30% monthly and now average 150 per day, with spikes about 400. Subscriptions are above 100. And I haven’t been kicked off the forums yet so I’m still hammering away for more subscribers.
Lost in all this are the residual benefits of this effort – I’m educating myself about Hua Hin and Thailand, I’m introducing myself to the expat community, and it gives me something to do for a couple hours every day. And it might even help me get some marketing work, which was the original intent of the BatamExpat.com site.
We’ll see in June, however, whether my efforts will bear fruit.