Jungle Guide medIf you’re just thinking about heading into the social media jungle for your business, it can be pretty overwhelming; I’ve spent a couple of hours just trying to get my head around how to organize this article.  My goal is to provide a basic comfort level with social media and, hopefully, convince you to give it a try.  If you’ve already started – read on, there may be an idea or two you can use.

This first part contains an overview of why I think an automotive service center should use social media and hit on some strategic concepts.  Part 2 will go into detail on some social media tools, what I do and what I see others in this segment doing.

Let’s get this out of the way: There’s a lot of silliness in social media.  You don’t have to play.  I block the games so I don’t have to read about anyone’s virtual farm or pirate ship, etc.  I unsubscribe from news feeds that feature posters of kittens doing adorable things.  I’m not a celebrity so I don’t presume anyone wants to know what I had for lunch.

That said, I’ve gotten enough good business from social media that I’m committed to keeping up my efforts and learning how to be more effective.  There is a lot of how-to information on social media that you will find helpful, but for now I just want to give my perspective on how it can be used to promote automotive service business.

Be a Story Teller
Everyone likes a good story and we love a good story told well.  In my mind, that’s what social media is: a way to tell good stories – stories of my own or other people’s stories that I’ve heard and want to share.

Think of a social gathering: a party, church social, etc.  There will be people there that you want to avoid at all costs (like my neighbor that won’t accept “no I don’t want to sign-up under you to sell medicinal chocolate”).  And there will be others that people gravitate to; the guy who tells interesting stories or the one who’s generous with her knowledge and friendship.  The goal of social media marketing is to be like the last ones.  Not pushing what’s good for you, but offering what’s good for them; something helpful, interesting or entertaining.  If you can be that person, you can do well in social media marketing.

Most social media marketing experts agree that just 10% to 20% of your social media content should be promotional.  That could be 60 words of a 600  word article or two out of ten posts – just try to maintain the feel that most of what you are putting out there is designed to benefit the reader rather than for self-promotion.

How Social Media Fits in Your Marketing Plan
Social media marketing should be part of a marketing plan, not the whole plan.  You need clear objectives about what you want to accomplish.  My strategy for a national business will be different than that of a local business that draws most of its customers from a 5 mile radius.  I sell business-to-business, you sell to consumers.  Neither one of us has the resources to compete with Coca-Cola’s social media program, but we can tell stories that are of use to our customers and prospects.  In some ways, social media is a great equalizer: a quick lube with 2 bays can be as effective with social media as a dealership service department with 20 bays.

So start with big-picture goals like 3 new customers a week, 25% increase in ARO, etc. think about how social media marketing fits into your overall marketing efforts along with direct mail, yellow pages, website marketing, customer rewards, and so on.  How can you use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to draw attention to and reinforce your marketing promotions?

Part 2 will go into this in more detail.

Lance Boldt is V.P. and Co-Founder of AutoNetTV Media, Inc.  AutoNetTV creates automotive social media content and distribution tools to help automotive service and repair businesses more effectively market themselves, increasing ARO and improving CSI.