#TakeThePlunge into Social Media!

Dive in! It’s easier than you think.

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Todd Westerlund, president and CEO of Kukui, a marketing firm based in northern California, likes to use this analogy in describing social media: “Picture your business as a party. Now picture a party where no one is talking. Social media is the method you use to communicate to your guests. Your customers are online and this is their biggest form of communication most of the time. Through social media, your facility gets to set the first impression, establish your reputation and showcase how valuable that is to your following.”

If you want to make a good first impression, be seen as a reliable place to get your car serviced and repaired and draw in more customers, then social media can be a valuable marketing tool for your shop.

Take baby steps

Social media is not rocket science. Most likely, you are already a user but you may be struggling to find its value for your business. Westerlund said the easiest way to get started is to create a Facebook page and start sharing local news from your area. This establishes your place in the community you serve. Consider having posts about your local farmer’s market, info on little league games or events from the local chamber of commerce, for example. Utilize the “Share” features on local news sites and link local news or people stories happening in your communities to your Facebook page. Get in there and have some fun.

Adds a representative with DemandForce/CustomerLink: “Social media may have started as a way to keep in contact with friends, but the site has quickly evolved as a way for businesses to connect with and keep in touch with their customers. With 85 percent of online consumers using Facebook, you can’t afford to not create a social presence. Facebook’s business pages make it easy for customers to find businesses in their area and do background research before going to a new business. Facebook is a great way to connect with your customers on an individual level but it also creates a “network effect” for your shop to get exposed to new customers. Whenever one of your followers “likes” or “comments” on one of your posts, that activity is shown to their entire friends list, which is free advertising for your shop.”

Diana DeLeon, marketing contact for Martin’s Auto Repair (www.Martinsautorepair.com), an ASA member-shop in Phoenix, advises to not over post about your shop’s services because that can be a real turnoff.

“Remember, your customers and future customers get on social media for the same reasons you do … to see what’s going on and what people are up to. They don’t go for ads or sales pitches. Yes, you can talk about your specials or deals – and you should – but be creative or post them in a funny video or take a fun picture,” says DeLeon.

Budget your time with size of your following

Many shop owners struggle with how to juggle their social media duties with higher priorities like fixing cars and meeting your customers’ needs. How much time should a shop spend on social media?

That depends on how many followers you have, says Westerlund. For a beginning shop, he recommends spending about five minutes a week doing a post. Hint: Make sure you do it around the same time for consistency. For an advanced shop, consider posting two or three times a week – maybe at the beginning or end of the week. For an intermediate shop, you don’t necessarily have to increase the frequency of your posts as much as putting out high-quality content.

In-house or out-of-house?
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Who should handle social media for your shop? Martin’s Auto Repair has its marketing and community relations department handle its duties but when they first began, they hired a company.

“The posts were full of automotive information, monthly specials, reminders and contests or giveaways to draw in new followers or ‘likes.’ We soon found that our followers were not engaging in what we were posting (even contests) so we took things in a whole new direction,” DeLeon says. “We brought the job in-house … we began seeing an increase in followers and page participation.” Shops must decide for themselves how they want to address social media functions. One question worth asking is “How much is your time worth?” says Westerlund, which may help you reach your decision. In addition, talk to other shops to find out what has worked for them to get additional perspectives.

To blog or not to blog

For shops that are at the advanced or intermediate levels with their social media skills, you may want to consider introducing a blog to your website. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, a blog is a website that contains online personal reflections, comments and often hyperlinks provided by a writer. “Blog” is short for “weblog.”

A blog can educate your following about your business and what you do. Blogs can also establish credibility and create confidence among your customers and pro­spective customers. Corey Dillon, owner of Dillon’s Automotive, an ASA member-shop in Katy, Texas, launched a blog on his site (www.DillonsAutomotive.com) earlier in the year. His main goals with the blog are to share ongoing automotive topics, focus on growing his rank on Google and showcase his shop’s knowledge and dedication to the industry. He said the response to the blog has been positive, and he’s happy that more people are finding his site, resulting in an opportunity to increase his customer base.

When a new blog post is written, you can cross promote it on all of your social networks. Be sure to come up with a great headline or teaser and attach a link to your blog for easy access, says DeLeon.

Blogs do require a certain amount of time and commitment. Before launching one, you will need to establish some clear guidelines including who will write the blog, how frequently you want it to be and have a list of topics ready to go. Dillon says he and his marketing team brainstorm ideas from what people are talking about as well as trending automotive news. “It all comes down to research and industry knowledge,” says Dillon.

If a shop decides to publish a blog, be sure it has rich content, which will help build a strong following. So often blogs end even before they begin. Pete Rudloff, owner of Pete’s Garage, an ASA member-shop in Newark, Del., says he sees more blogs that offer “make believe” value than real value.

Facebook Chat

A social media feature that is gaining momentum and popularity is Facebook Chat. Facebook Chats are ideal for business to business (B2B) companies as well as business to consumer (B2C) companies like automotive service and collision repair facilities. During a Facebook Chat, you need to come up with a topic that you would address on your Facebook page on a certain day and time. For example, you could host an “Ask the Technician.” How it works is after you make a post informing everyone that the Facebook Chat has opened, people can ask questions in the Comments section of the post, and you answer their questions in live time.

There are lots of great resources on the Internet on the how-tos for hosting a Facebook Chat – but this one by Constant Contact is especially helpful: http://blogs.constantcontact.com/product-blogs/social-media-marketing/participate-facebook-chat/

Facebook Chat could be a new avenue for establishing your credibility and serving as a resource for your customers. Other ideas for Facebook Chats include:
• Q&A about a new service that your shop offers
• Q&A on “All About Brakes” or “All About Tires”
• “Ask the Technician” about Motor Oils
• Informational chat on environmentally-friendly practices that your shop has (schedule around Earth Day).

As Constant Contact advises, “Just be creative and have your experts ready to discuss the topics with your fans.”

As you weigh the different social media options available to connect with your customers and future customers, consider this piece of advice offered by DemandForce/CustomerLink: “It may seem like social media is a fad, but we’re increasingly seeing that it’s something that is here to stay. Our biggest piece of advice for shops is to get on social media as soon as they can and experiment with different tactics to find what works best for them. Each shop is different, so what works for them on social media will be different as well. It may seem intimidating at first, but social media is a really easy and fun way to engage customers in a personal way and is one more place that potential customers can find shops in their area.”

#TakeThePlungeNow

In assessing your marketing, it’s important to keep in mind that social media is just one “piece” of the marketing pie (albeit a growing piece). Combined with your other marketing efforts, it can enhance and reinforce your image in a positive, fun and interactive manner. As a shop owner, you must decide if the return is great enough to allocate the time, resources and commitment it requires.

Know Your Social Media Platforms

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These are some of the more commonly used social media platforms and how they can help you market your business.

  • Facebook is a free online social networking service. After registering to use the site, users may create a personal profile or a company page, add other users as friends, exchange messages, post status updates and photos, and receive notifications when others update their profiles.
    How to use it for your shop: Create a company page and follow the tips in this article.
  • Twitter is an online social networking and microblogging service that enables users to send and read short 140-character text messages called “tweets.”
    How to use it for your shop: Spend some time studying other “tweets” before you send your own. Ideal platform for reaching younger audiences who like their news and info delivered in small bites.
  • LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking service. Launched in 2003, it is mainly used for professional networking.
    How to use it for your shop: This platform is best for profiling your general business info.
  • Pinterest helps people collect ideas for projects and interests. Users create and share collections (called “Boards”) of visual bookmarks (called “Pins”) that they use to do things like plan trips, develop projects, organize events or save articles and recipes. How to use it for your shop: Create Boards of any “cool” cars you’ve repaired, serviced or restored. Also consider Boards of classic cars, sports cars, etc. to appeal to car buffs.

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