Social media creates new challenges and opportunities; you can't afford to ignore it, and getting up to speed can drill enthusiasm into your business

In reviewing a recent PTEN reader survey, I came across the finding that slightly more than half of our readers use a tablet or a smart phone and a similar number are using social media. Given the fact that most of our readers are more than 50 years of age, I was encouraged to see that most are using new communications technology. Our readers are more technology savvy than a lot of people; no doubt because they see how it’s changing the tools they use to diagnose repairs.

What’s not so clear is how many of our readers are using social media to promote their business.  This is an area that needs further study, since social media is quickly becoming one of the most powerful marketing tools ever invented.

Service businesses in particular recognize the value of social media. That’s why all the big aftermarket shows this past fall – ASRW, AAPEX and SEMA – offered education sessions on social media marketing.

The reason it’s so important to your business is that it’s a fast and easy way to share thoughts, pictures and videos with your customers and potential customers. Unlike traditional media, social media provides a chance to be engaged with your customers and potential customers, and a chance for them to talk to you.

We all know that customer relationships can make or break your business. Repeat business and referrals are critical. Your customers are not some abstract entity hidden in your computer. They are a community of real people, and by using social media you can interact with them regularly. It offers a forum where you can pose questions, offer advice, and maintain a timely presence.

But it’s not a quick or limited proposition. Many businesses stop using social media after they start using it because they don’t see the benefits. You have to know what you’re doing to use social media effectively. You have to educate yourself and dedicate time to it. (Ouch! – I hear you.)

Getting up to speed on social media is not as hard as you think. Once you start, you will find interacting with people through Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and YouTube invigorating. There’s a good chance you will gain a better understanding of what things you can do better and how people outside the company see you.

Those of you who employ younger people (under 35 years of age) have an onsite resource for learning about social media. It’s possible that the young technician you hired is already making his social network aware of your company’s capabilities. Such employees, properly directed, can be your company’s “brand ambassadors.”

At the same time, if that technician is tweeting his associates while at work, is he giving you all the time he should?

Perhaps a policy is needed whereby employees are encouraged to tweet. Maybe you can set up a project whereby the employees brainstorm what to tweet and when.

The Internet is full of information about social media. There are books available on social media marketing. There are consultants willing to share their expertise. And in the near future, industry conventions will continue to hold education sessions.

There is a lot to learn. Business owners should make the time needed to understand new tools. Something most of us can agree on is that the future is not going to be kind to those who ignore new technology.