Log on and promote
Social media has become a powerful promotional tool. Information about your business can be shared with thousands, even millions of potential customers almost instantaneously thanks to the popularity of mobile phones, tablets and laptops.
Having an active business presence on social media sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook is something that may become a necessity for commercial dealers — if it hasn’t already.
Promotional tweets, advertisements on YouTube and, for the commercial dealers who also offer retail services, scrolling advertisements for local stores on Facebook are part of a new age of reaching and developing a customer base.
According to a report this year by Business Insider, 93% of marketing strategists throughout various industries use social media to spread the word about their business practices. They are well aware that scrolling through news feeds and checking status updates have become second-nature to the younger generation and the tech-savvy.
Media Bistro says close to 83% of consumers across industries use their social media encounters to decide whether or not to visit a store when they need products or services.
“Most of the remarks we were getting at tire conferences were that social media is not a fad — it’s here to stay,” says John Taylor, president of the tire marketing agency JTMarcom. “Social media gives businesses a way to communicate and engage customers directly. It’s got direct value for small businesses.”
On a local level, tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus help level the playing field for smaller stores against their bigger, more corporate competitors, says Taylor. “They are local businesses and they’re involved in their local communities. It helps them build not only their brands, but also awareness of their businesses. It’s tremendous for customer service. It’s great for consumer research, both for consumer and commercial tire dealers. It gives you that opportunity to engage with your customers and potential customers.”
The Facebook tool Graph Search allows Facebook users to search for stores and companies and see what their friends — and their friends’ friends — know about specific stores. Think of Graph Search as a Google search but specific to content that’s solely on Facebook. This is a huge benefactor that allows tire retailers to come alive online not only through what they publish to their profiles, but also to share what others are saying about their experiences and join in the community conversation.
“Before, we knew it was a good thing to gain a lot of quality fans,” Taylor says. “With Graph Search, the more fans you have, the more opportunities you’ll have for word-of-mouth.”
That is true of commercial tire dealers and retreaders as well. In analyzing “Modern Tire Dealer’s Top 100 Retreaders in the U.S.” report, the top five retreaders and eight out of the top 10 are spreading the word about their commercial businesses via YouTube, and their retail businesses through Facebook and Twitter. Take McCarthy Tire Service Co., for example. Ranked No. 6 on MTD’s Top 25 U.S. commercial tire dealers list and No. 8 on MTD’s Top 100 Retreaders list, the Wilkes-Barre, Pa.-based dealership has 29 commercial outlets, 13 combination commercial/retail outlets and seven retread shops. It has a strong social media presence for its retail business, but also features its commercial services where warranted.
Web boost: 4 guidelines
“Dealers need to be following strains of information: what’s happening in their communities with their customers, with their competitors,” Taylor says. “You can create that strain in Twitter to follow keywords. Local tire dealers need to be seeing who says, ‘I just got a flat; I need some tires!’”
In addition to keeping up with local and community conversations, Taylor suggests retailers increase their application and monitoring of Facebook advertising — who clicks on sidebar advertisements, where they find the ads and when the most high-traffic times occur. Hone in on your audience and do Facebook ads to them.
At a cost of between $10 and $40 per day, Taylor recommends retailers pay attention to who’s viewing the advertisements and whether those advertisements are making a bigger-picture difference in sales and promoting the company’s name. Taylor says this can even be done for a few days to a few weeks as a test trial.
Although starting an online persona might not be the same experience for everybody, these four guidelines point out main concepts to consider when giving your business a boost on the Web.
- Deciding on your social media. Although most social media sites are laden with teens and Millennials (members of the Millennial Generation, or Generation Y) who share news and communicate about the latest trends, the fastest-growing demographic within Facebook and Twitter users span ages 55 to 70 and ages 45 to 54, respectively. Given the older age statistics of these social networks, social media moderators for retailers and retreaders can strategize how to communicate effectively to those age groups.
When developing a social media strategy and deciding which mediums are most beneficial to your company, “The dealer needs to think about his demographic, his core audiences,” Taylor says. “Are they a lot of suburban moms? Do they make up a large amount of their audience? If so, they may want to look at Pinterest. If their audience is a lot of gearheads and off-road enthusiasts, I think Twitter and Instagram would be beneficial. Really think about who your core audiences are and go from there.”
- Finding a focus. Decide what you want the bulk of your content to be. Once you have a content outline or a defining idea of how you want to come across online, follow that plan.
Take Best-One Tire & Service, based in South Bend, Ind., for example. Also a Top 10-ranked retreader and strong retailer, Best-One focuses on the retail deals on Facebook: oil change discounts, service specials, even the Best-One credit card that allows customers to charge now and pay in increments. The chain runs numerous videos on YouTube, including “Best One Tires & Service installing new drive tires.”
- Defining your personality. This might take time to develop, but think about the personality of your store/plant and how to relay that into an online persona people will understand. Purcell Tire & Rubber Co., the eighth largest commercial dealership in the U.S., takes a non-traditional approach: It doesn’t share basic company information with its 9,000-plus followers on Facebook. The bulk of Purcell’s Facebook content is news about bizarre concept vehicles, photos of elegant classics and occasional open-ended questions for people to answer.
Purcell’s approach might seem odd to some, but all of the content is related to the auto industry in some form. Entertainment value keeps people coming back, and fun-yet-informative posts is one method of doing just that.
- Staying Current. Once you’ve set up your company’s social media page or account, upkeep is essential. Whether you’re doing two posts a day or two posts a week depends on what kind of content you’re sharing (news vs. photos, etc.). Regardless, an online presence in the form of new material is paramount to your success.
Posting regularly and scheduling specific posts for specific days will give your online followers expectations, and will keep them coming back for more. If customers praise you, thank them. If they rant about a bad experience, find out as quickly as possible how to alleviate the problem. Users who see an outdated profile might be off-put and might choose a different provider for the tires or parts they need.
It’s important for the moderator to be logged in and check the profiles multiple times per day to catch customer comments and news as it happens. And he or she should always have the last word in a series of comments, even if it’s a simple, “Thanks again.”
‘We’re figuring it out’
Social media has been a work in progress for 10 years. “Now that tire dealers realize how important (social media) is, a lot of them have risen to the occasion,” Taylor says. “They’re struggling, but they’re heading in the right direction. They’re smart people. They’re smart businesspeople. They’ll figure it out, and they’ll continue to figure it out. We’re all figuring it out.” ■
Justin Whaley is a social media professional based in St. Louis. As a freelance writer, his other works have appeared in GQ, Nylon Guys and city magazines throughout Missouri.