All I know about marketing I learned from ... a professional surfer?!

Saturday afternoon, cold and rainy, tired after a morning at swimming school with my son Tyler I flicked on the television and discovered Red Bull TV. I'm not a terribly sporty person and rarely watch TV sports but something about this was just so compelling.

I found a documentary series called 21 Days which followed several world class surfers on the ASP World Championship tour for 2013. The surfing was incredible as they toured the world's most beautiful surf locations, including Tahiti, Indonesia and of course Hawaii.

I was inspired by the mental challenges of competing at such a high level, obviously a recurring theme in any sport. But being a marketing nerd one thing that struck me was the (younger) surfers' use of social media and the role it plays in their success.

One such surfer is Australian Julian Wilson. Wilson employs a full-time surf filmer, Jimmy Lees, to acquire footage of his surfing whether it be a competition, a training day or a day out on the waves testing boards and gear. [this portion of the episode begins at around 10:50]. The best of these clips are loaded directly and often instantly to social media. According to the narrator social media poses a challenge due to its fast pace yet is essential to the modern day surfer. Creating 'content' quickly and effectively is the key to success.

In the documentary you'll see Wilson and Lees analysing clips, trying to work out which ones the fans will love most. They both laugh and express frustration over not being able to 'figure it out' - some posts gets tons of likes others don't. They admit to just trying to give as many options as possible.

Wilson has close to 180,000 fans on Facebook with the critical factor being almost 18,000 'talking about this' - which means he has a very active fan base watching and interacting. He's also followed by thousands on Instagram and has a media-rich website which is updated daily with photos, video clips, snippets of TV interviews.

These social media outlets combined show a true snapshot of the life of a young surfer and must be thrilling for his fans. In Wilson's own words "you have to show the kids, the people following you, what you're riding, what you're wearing. They want to see that stuff, that's why they're following you .... they want to be kept in the loop ... they're on the same adventure that I am".

Later in the interview Wilson proudly acknowledges that his fans are wonderful for the sport of surfing (as a whole) and that it's great that people are excited about what they do. He is appreciative of his fans and wants to give back. 

Wilson's celebrity status as one of the younger surfers on the circuit has also gained him some high-powered sponsors and he is an ambassador for the National Breast Cancer Foundation (of Australia). Having a huge fan base that hangs on your every word is great for the sponsors, and having sponsors is one of the keys to surviving as a professional in any sport.

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Do you use social media yourself or in support of your business?

One thing I'd like to take away from this is appreciation. Appreciate the role your fans or followers have played in your success and return the favour by giving them back what they want.

Just like we saw in the previous video of Oliver Jeffers, giving back might simply mean allowing interviews and photos of your creative process. Or it could mean sharing what brand of deodorant you love! It all depends on the fans and the nature of your business but it's definitely something the big brands pay serious dollars and attention to.

Since social media is largely FREE it's something we smaller players can participate in just as actively for the benefit of our business and fans alike. Pay close attention though, Julian is not SELLING anything or asking anyone to buy. He is communicating with his fans and giving them what they want: his time, energy and a peek into his real life.

Video not loading? Catch it here, as well as the rest of the series here on Red Bull's YouTube channel.