Thursday, 20 October 2011 17:55

How to Use Five Different Forms of Social Media to Gain Customers

I mentioned social media to a body shop owner recently and, to my surprise, he was almost hostile to the concept. There seems to be a very localized group in the collision industry that really understands social media and this guy was not one of them.

“Why would I put my shop on Facebook?” he said. “I don’t have a lot of customers who are teenage girls!” I told this gentleman that Facebook and most other forms of social media aren’t being used exclusively by teenage girls. Facebook’s 800 million members aren’t all teenagers, and they certainly aren’t all girls.

Last month’s NACE meeting featured a keynote speaker, Chris Brogan, who’s a social media guru accustomed to talking to large automotive groups like those attending NACE/CARS, and the GM Dealers of Canada, for example.

What’s going on here? Why would some shops and associations spend valuable time instructing on social media while others can’t run away from it fast enough?

David Moore, the owner of CollisionBuilder.com, a company that designs web sites and develops social media plans for body shops and related businesses, has seen a recent spike in body shops getting involved in several forms of social media.

“It’s unavoidable,” Moore explained. “Three or five years ago, having a company web site was enough, but now your shop’s customers are using more and more social media. It’s not just for students or people in their 20s anymore. Corporate types, senior citizens, your employees and your competitors are using it and in many cases, several times daily. To keep in touch with your clients on a regular basis and attract new ones, more and more body shops are gravitating toward sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even Youtube, with solid results.”

One of the early adopters of social media in the collision industry was Wren’s Body Shop in Douglasville, Georgia, a company that repairs 160 cars monthly, employs 20 people and does approximately $3 million in annual sales. Owner James Wren jumped into the social media game with both feet several years ago and it’s paid off for him in a big way.

“I know for a fact we’ve received a good amount of business through our involvement in Facebook and LinkedIn,” Wren said. “Sometimes we get several new customers every month and the social media keeps us in touch with our past customers. We’re still doing the other forms of advertising, but now we’re focusing more on social media. All it costs us is our time, so it makes a lot more sense. Facebook has been great for us getting new business. LinkedIn has been booming for us recently and we’re definitely interested in using Youtube to get exposure for a video we produced.”

Facebook and LinkedIn are ideal vehicles for body shops or professional organizations, such as the California Autobody Association, to keep its members informed and in the loop about news and events. Rather than getting an avalanche of e-mails from you, people interested in your business can check in for updates along the way. It’s not as disruptive as e-mail because you don’t have to worry about spam. When your neighbors and peers see your social media posts, it adds immediate value to your message, and the interaction among the group can rapidly build.

The first thing you need to do in order to start a social media plan, (in my opinion), is to create a Facebook page. Then, invite friends to your page and spread the word. Get your employees, customers and vendors who use Facebook to invite their friends as well. This will enable you to contact anywhere from hundreds to thousands of people just be tapping into your employees’ friends’ lists. For a direct approach, it’s very easy to find specific people by searching for them on Facebook and sending them a message through the link that’s under their profile picture.

What types of information should you post about your shop? Well, pretty much anything and everything to create ongoing online conversations among your friends. Did you recently repair a rare or classic vehicle? Did some of your techs win an award for their job performance or recently complete some I-CAR courses? Does your painter have an amazing hot wings recipe (forward it to me, please)? These are the types of things that will keep your circle of friends engaged and continually checking out your social media. Make it fun  and readable and people will come back again and again.

The process with LinkedIn is basically the same, but focusing more on your professional contacts. With any form of social media, setting it up is a big step, but administrating and maintaining it is also crucial. Too many shops start doing it because their competitor down the street is doing it, but eventually they let their social media sit dormant. People think “If I build it, they will come” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Ideally, you should have a person dedicated to keep the dialog flowing and your social media up-to-date, with at 2-3 new posts monthly.

The advantage of Twitter is that anyone out there in cyberland can find your shop.  I suggest putting the name of your city in your Twitter address (like @joesbodyshopsanjose) so that people can find you searching that way. Hopefully, if you’ve been tweeting for sometime already, you already have a considerable Twitter community assembled, but if not you can rapidly build one by letting all of your current and former customers, vendors  and associates about your new Twitter account, by sending notifications to everyone on your e-mail list.

Blogspot.com (others are blogger.com, wordpress.com, tumblr.com) is an easy site to use for setting up and maintaining a blog for your shop. Blogs are stronger than ever before and they provide advantages over web sites, because they can easily be updated on a regular basis. Think of a newsletter concentrating on your shop. Blog readers will anticipate and expect fresh information. Give customers helpful tips; talk about your paint, parts and equipment vendors (they appreciate it) and continually sell your brand. It’s fairly easy to publish a blog and by leveraging it and linking it to your main web site, you’ll get major mileage out of it. To learn a lot quickly about blogging, there are a ton of books and online tutorials. But, trust me—blogs are easy to create. If you know how to attach a photo or cut and paste text, you’re already there.

Finally, Youtube can help you to attract people to your company. Shoot some video of the shop, interviewing your managers or your techs and counter people. You can even interview your vendors and/or customers, but get them to sign releases first. And then post the videos on Youtube, linking them to your social media, including your blog and your web site. One suggestion is make your videos less than two minutes in length, because studies show that people have very short attention spans and won’t sit through anything longer.

A step beyond a blog would be a more dedicated phone app which provides a service but also helps customers find your shop such as those created by shops like Nigro’s in Philadelphia. See last month’s Autobody News or go online to check this out.

Hopefully we’ve outlined some basic forms of social media for you to use to promote your business, attract new customers, strengthen your relationships with your existing customers and make money. All it takes is time, a rudimentary knowledge of software and the willingness to induct yourself into the new age of customer-focused advertising.

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