Q: With all of the social media sites out there, does LinkedIn have a role in the entire mix when it comes to body shops and the collision industry in general?
NS: It’s ideal for what I call outward-facing employees. These are your estimators, front office people and even the techs that deal with the public on a regular basis. And, of course, the shop owner needs to have his own LinkedIn profile, with a picture and a bio. LinkedIn is designed for business people who want to interact with other professionals in their respective fields. People are using it to constantly look for new products and services and vice-versa. Are you looking for a new piece of equipment or a better management system? Finding the top decision makers in each business segment can be done quickly and easily using LinkedIn.
Q: What should we know about creating a profile?
NS: Make it complete, with your employment history and keywords that will make it easy to find by other collision professionals. Use LinkedIn for yourself and then also create a page for your company. Users will want to link to you and others will link solely to your company page. You can do so much once you learn the bells and whistles of LinkedIn. We instruct companies how to recommend sales and build a marketing program via LinkedIn and if they follow the plan, it works without fail.
Q: Now I have created my profile and a company page on LinkedIn and a lot of people want to connect with me—hundreds of them. Should I accept all of them or carefully handpick each one?
NS: Some folks haven’t completely grasped the whole purpose of LinkedIn and want to limit their connections for one reason or another. But, think about it—how many people do you meet in the course of running your company or doing your job--maybe 500 or even 1,000? You never know how someone can help you in your business in the future. An old college buddy may want to invest in your business and help you to open up a new location? A former employer may now have a job with a vendor you want to purchase products from? How many people do you meet at shows like SEMA, AAPEX, etc.? I give my clients this easy formula: Take your age and multiple it by 10 times and that’s how many LinkedIn connections you should have. Don’t just connect with people you know—go broader and connect with their friends and their vendors. The wider your audience the more likely you’ll find beneficial deals and relationships through LinkedIn. Reach out as much as you can and never take social media personally. Let as many into your net that want to be there and then devise techniques for keeping them on your boat.
Q: Okay, I have 500 connections now. What’s next?
NS: Engagement is the key. Too many newbies create their profile and invite a bunch of people, but then they drop the ball completely and say, hey LinkedIn didn’t work for me. Create some interesting things for people to look at, such as niche applications or slideshows showing your shop and stressing your strengths. And always be looking out to meet new people, by joining special groups or entering discussion forums. Spend some time every week (maybe less than an hour) on LinkedIn and comment, discuss, offer your expertise and provide useful information whenever you can. Any form of social media is only as valuable as what you are willing to do with it.
Q: Can I start my own group to discuss things that are important to me, such as green practices, the ins and outs of DRPS and how to use my management system the best way?
NS: Definitely—groups are a great vehicle for becoming a magnet for more connections today and down the road. Groups can position you as an expert on any subject and will bring you a ton of secondary connections. You can also join as many as 50 other groups to further connect you to your industry. Many of the paint companies have groups and all of the professional trade organizations also have one, in most cases. Staying in touch with your existing friends, colleagues and associates is important, but finding new ones is even just as valuable. Once they establish a group, we tell our clients to create a very targeted ad campaign around the group. It’s inexpensive and you can use it to pinpoint people ten miles from your shop if that’s what you want to do. They might be future vendors or even customers. Being involved with top professionals in any area can be valuable to the further success of any company.
Q: If my shop hasn’t done any social media up to this point, does that mean I’m too late to the party?
NS: I tell people, it’s never too late to be a part of the social media game. All it takes is a few hours weekly and pretty quickly; you’ll be a pro at it and have a significant following. Let it build gradually and create new content; join groups and start your own and within six months--you’ll see the value of LinkedIn!