Used properly and with a well-thought out strategy in place, social media can help tire dealers boost awareness, drive more traffic to their stores and secure repeat customers. Used improperly and in a scatter-shot way, social media can potentially damage a dealership’s reputation and drive customers away.
Ginger Griffin, a marketing professional with 25 years of experience helping independent tire dealers manage and grow their brands, has spent a great deal of time helping clients avoid negative, social media-driven outcomes.
Many tire dealers use social media, she says. But not all are making optimal use of the channels that are available to them.
“The two biggest mistakes I see are dealers using social media so sporadically that nobody pays attention to — or follows — their posts, and other dealers shoving information down their customers’ throats, all day, every day.”
Dealers should seek a happy medium in both activity level and content, she advises. But that can only be achieved if dealers first understand their audience.
“The first step is to think about your customer base — their age, their location and their income,” says Griffin. “What’s important to them?”
There’s nothing wrong with promoting new products, sales or services, “but what’s more important is establishing relationships with customers. You want to humanize your dealership.”
Here are some ways to achieve that, she says:
• Highlight your people and their expertise. “Post a brief Facebook message about your top service technician and how he has special training and will take such great care of your customers’ vehicles.”
• Spotlight work your dealership has done. Instagram, she says, is an effective tool for this, since that social media channel is so photography-driven. “Post ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of your customers’ tires, wheels and vehicles — with their permission, of course.”
• Involve your audience. “Post questions like, ‘If you could have one dream car, what would it be?’ Hold a contest where you donate $200 toward a new set of custom wheels. Maybe you have a customer who owns three different sports cars? Would that person let you post a photo of his or her vehicles?”
• Create and post videos about your dealership. “People tend to respond well to videos. But they should be short: 20 to 30 seconds. And you don’t need a professional videographer. If you have a decent cell phone, you’re golden. People don’t expect your videos to be incredibly polished. You can record something with your phone. That’s totally acceptable.”
• Link up with different groups, like car clubs. “Reach out to them. Feature them on your social media channels. These communities are very tightly knit. Members will say, ‘Check out this tire dealership. They did a great job for me.’ You can even offer incentives – like 10% off a particular service – to members of different groups.”
“The more you can make a personal connection, the better,” she says.
Best practices by channel
Social media channels are evolving constantly, according to Griffin. Here are tips for using four of the most prominent ones:
• Facebook. “One of the hidden gems of Facebook is Facebook-boosted posts,” which Facebook members can set up themselves. “They allow you to target different audiences. Let’s say you sell light truck tires and want to reach customers who love the outdoors within a 15-mile radius of your store. For as little as $25, Facebook will serve your boosted post to hundreds of people who fit that profile.”
• Instagram. “Hashtags are important,” she says. “You can tag different groups, like car clubs.” If someone tags or follows your dealership, make sure you return the favor. “If someone likes your post, you’re supposed to like them back. It’s super-easy and only takes a couple of seconds. Sharing posts from suppliers and vendors can be effective, too.” Instagram is a highly visual medium and is dependent on photos. “You don’t necessarily need professional photography. But you do need quality images.”
• Snapchat. “This channel is still very popular,” particularly with the under-40 crowd. “Put a sign up in your showroom that says, ‘Tag us and be entered to win’ a discounted product or service, she advises. “You also can put a sign on your counter that says, ‘Follow us on Snapchat.’”
• Twitter. When composing Tweets, strive for a natural tone. Communicating through Twitter is most effective when tweets are made “on the fly. We don’t closely manage our clients’ Twitter accounts because the content they post should be more organic.”
One of Griffin’s tire dealer clients recently found a kitten that was stuck under the hood of a customer’s car. He rescued the kitten and filmed the entire process, later posting it on his dealership’s Twitter account. “He had the foresight to say, ‘We should film this and do something with it.’ The video went viral. His customers loved it.”
Managing online reviews
For better or worse, contending with online reviews is part and parcel of doing business in the social media age, according to Griffin. You can’t control what customers say about your business, she says. But you can control how you respond to online reviews.
“You have to address every single comment — negative or positive. If someone has a complaint — even a small one, like ‘Your mechanic left dirty fingerprints on my car’ — you have to face it. Occasionally, you will see ridiculous complaints that you have no control over or aren’t just true. You have to address those, too.”
Not comfortable with composing impromptu responses? Griffin says developing a basic template for responses can be a useful strategy. “But you have to come across as being genuine.”
Dismissing online reviews “is a big mistake. Store owners who might not use social media themselves may not see the value in responding to online comments and could think, ‘I don’t have to worry about that.’ But you do.”
Online feedback provides one more opportunity to personally interact with customers. After reading a negative review, always follow-up with a personal call to the aggrieved party, she advises.
“Seventy-five percent of the time, once you call and say, ‘I am so sorry. Here’s what happened. Will you give us an opportunity to make it right?’ people will take their negative posts down. Why? Because they were impressed that you took the time to deal with the problem.” ■
The evolution of tire dealer marketing: Don’t be afraid to change with the times, says Griffin
Ginger Griffin has guided clients through many changes in tire dealer marketing since she started her own agency in 1997. (Before that, she handled marketing duties for her husband’s tire dealership, Griffin Brothers Tire.)
In most markets during the late-90’s, print advertising and direct mail were the dominant channels, with a mix of TV and radio thrown in for good measure, she says. “Yellow Pages also were a big thing. That’s all we had.”
Ads often ran in the sports section of local newspapers. “If you included any kind of photography in print ads, it was usually just a black-and-white tire. And you might have some information about pricing.”
Realizing there was a bigger audience to capture — including women, whom, at the time, comprised up to 50% of her tire dealer clients’ customer base — Griffin began pulling ads from the sports pages and placing them in local news and lifestyle sections.
“We began to promote the idea to customers that ‘We’re here for you, we’re here for your family, we’re here to make you safer and we’re here to make the tire buying process more convenient.”
The refreshed messaging was well-received, according to Griffin.
The advent of Internet-based marketing, including websites, proved to be another challenge, she says.
“We did our first website for a client in 1999. That was a big learning curve. Then when social media emerged years later, that was another thing we had to quickly figure out. ‘How can we utilize this to help clients establish their brand and get their message out?’”
The lesson, says Griffin, is that tire dealers must be flexible and open-minded when it comes to marketing. What worked five or 10 years ago might not be effective today.
“Traditional advertising and marketing methods still have their place. But there are so many additional channels you can now use to reach people.”
Posting too often? Pushing boring content? Are you making these common social media mistakes?
The following social media mistakes should be avoided, according to marketing guru Ginger Griffin:
• Overposting. “We advise that you don’t post every day — maybe three or four times a week instead,” she says. “Don’t make it all price-driven, as in ‘Come out today! We have a sale!’ Use your posts to establish your personality and brand.” And don’t get too wordy, she advises. “People think they have to get their full story across in one post. You don’t have to put everything into that first or second post. You want to make your main point and then leave some room for conversation with customers. Give them an opportunity to interact with you.”
• Dull content. “Don’t put stuff out there just to put stuff out there. Maybe you’ve posted a link to a long, boring article about timing belt replacement. Why? Very few people will care about that. Don’t post boring, mundane content.”
• One-way communication. “Ask your customers for their opinions. Ask for their input.” Make sure you encourage regular dialogue.
• Inauthenticity. “What do you stand for? How do you conduct business day in and day out?” Make sure the reality of your operation — from the appearance of your showroom to sales counter etiquette — matches the image that you are trying to portray, says Griffin.
• Slow response rate. News travels at warp speed via social media. “That’s why it’s important to address customer concerns promptly and thoroughly. The fact that you took the time to deal with an issue sometimes means the world to a customer. And they will tell other people within their social media networks.
“If you’re going to tout yourself as the dealer who truly cares about customers and their vehicles and doing the right thing, you have to walk the walk.”