Social Media, Part I: To Tweet, or not to Tweet - That is the question

I’ve been thinking about using social media for my business, but I have no idea what to do, where to start, or if I even should be doing it at all. Can using social media boost my sales? Or, is it just an ego booster and a big time waster for a tool and equipment dealer?

 

Social media can be tricky. Done right, it can help increase your sales. Done poorly it can be a huge timesuck. And if you’re like most mobile dealers, you already barely have enough hours in the day to get everything done.

There are tons of social media opportunities out there like Facebook, Twitter, Blogspot, YouTube, Flickr and LinkedIn. You could flush hours and hours down the drain just learning them all, much less generating content for them.

But using Facebook and Twitter wisely may help you build better relationships with your customers while actually saving time, says Jim O’Hara, VP of Marketing at Clore Automotive and previously part of the SK Hand Tools marketing team.

Here’s how he sees it: Let’s say you learn a tech tip from a customer at your first stop one morning. You want to share this tip with all your customers. You could tell each customer over the next week. Say it takes just a minute for each customer -- that could eat up two hours or more of your week. But what if you sit down at the end of the week and tell all your customers at once with a quick five- or ten- minute Facebook post or Tweet? How much time would that save you?

Obviously, not all your customers will follow you on social media, but even if only one third do, it’s that many more customers you’re able to connect with again each week. Even better, you’re connecting with them on their schedule at a time when you have their full attention and they’re not thinking about that SUV with a weird DTC code in their service bay.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your customers aren’t using social media. More Americans have a social media account than drive the same brand of car.

Facebook is the gold standard of social networking sites connecting friends, families and FarmVille players across the globe. As of December 2011 there were 800 million Facebook users worldwide, more than 350 million accessing Facebook through their mobile devices, according to Facebook. Many of these users are your customers.

Twitter, on the other hand, is the granddaddy of social micro blogging. It challenges users to communicate with followers in 140 characters or less. Founder Jack Dorsey (@jack) posted his first tweet on March 21, 2006. Since then, Twitter has grown to over 300 million users tweeting over 300 million messages and doing 1.6 billion search queries per day. Twitter mobile use increased by 182 percent from 2010 to 2011. That means many of your customers may be using Twitter right in their shop bay.

“If you think your customers aren’t using social media, you’re missing the boat,” says O’Hara. “A lot of sports fans are following their favorite sports personalities on Twitter.”

As a matter of fact, Tim Tebow broke records by being mentioned in 900 tweets a second as he played his losing NFL playoff game back in January.

And many of these Facebook and Twitter users aren’t as young as you might think.

“My 58-year-old brother-in-law uses social media,” O’Hara says. “Many of your customers may not be using social media now for work. But more and more will be using it in the future. Better to learn it and use it now so you’re ahead of the curve.”

I concur with O’Hara on learning social media now -- even if just a few of your guys are using it. It’s much better to face a learning curve when you have 12 followers than when you have 120. Like anything, it becomes easier with time. So, get up to speed before all your customers join and watch you make all your beginner’s mistakes.

Listen Before You Talk

Don’t just jump right into social media with both feet -- even if you use Facebook personally every day. Before you begin, spend a few weeks or even a month just listening. See how others are effectively using social media in the tool and equipment market and get a feel for what they’re doing.

“If you’re branded, I’d first follow your brand on Facebook and Twitter,” says O’Hara.

By following your flag’s and/or your WD’s feed, you’ll get to know how it works. The people at corporate running these Facebook and Twitter accounts have invested a lot of time and energy learning the ins and outs of social media. They usually know what works and what doesn’t.

“Next, I’d follow the other brands’ feeds,” says O’Hara. In essence, think of social media as a nice little competitive intelligence tool. Use it to your advantage.

Following the competition may give you even more ideas on ways to use social media. It also gives you a pulse on what the competition is doing and the new products they’re introducing. This isn’t really spying. After all, these aren’t secrets -- they’re posted online for the world to see.

“But most importantly, if I was a dealer, I’d keep track of my manufacturers,” O’Hara continues. “Follow them on Twitter and friend them on Facebook to get their newsfeed,” This can help you keep updated on their tools and give you something to share with customers face-to-face and eventually on your own social media sites. (Also, consider following “Professional Distributor magazine” and it’s website, “VehicleServicePros.com” on Facebook, fo up-to-date industry information.)

If you do all this, that should give you enough to chew on for a while. Next time, I’ll give details on setting up accounts and some dos and don’ts of social media.

Phil Sasso is president of Sasso Marketing Inc. (www.sassomarketing.com), a technical marketing agency specializing in tools and equipment. Subscribe to his free marketing tips at philsasso.com/blog.

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