Cover Story: Marketing with Social Media
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Marketing with Social Media

Why, you ask, would you want to be on social media? The answer is pure and simple: it’s free.

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Alicia Lewis is a 2014 graduate of Kent State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in both magazine journalism and fashion merchandising. While at Kent State, she worked as a student correspondent at the copydesk of the Akron Beacon Journal.

social-media-revolutionSocial media is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with on the marketing frontier. Some would say it is already there, although it still remains only one component of an overall marketing plan.

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Slowly but surely, collision repair facilities are realizing this. They are also realizing the networking benefits social media offers: “Hey, this adjuster is telling me they don’t pay for this in our area. Does anyone else get paid for this?”

While this may overwhelm or even scare some, the truth nugget of this so-called social media revolution is actually quite positive. Why, you ask, would you want to be on social media? The answer is pure and simple: it’s free.

But if you need even more reassurance as to why social media is now the go-to outlet for marketing and networking, look no further.

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Top of Mind » Social media keeps you top of mind. While it’s hard to physically track sales derived from social media, it’s easy to see the visibility it creates. Just ask Leona Dalavai Scott, director of marketing and communications for the Automotive Service Association (ASA), who has seen this benefit firsthand.

“For those shops that use it, I think [social media] has definitely helped them connect with their customers better and helped strengthen relationships. It also helps create ‘top-of-mind’ awareness with their customers since body shop work is not as frequent or routine as service maintenance.”

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John Keller, operation manager for 1Collision Network in Milwaukee, explains how there have been several instances when their customers have sited 1Collision’s Facebook presence as their reason for stopping in.

“To me, the benefits of social media are often times unquantifiable,” said Keller. “A consumer doesn’t always need our services, but staying ‘top of mind’ is our main objective on social media so that when they do [need our services], we are fresh in their memory.”

Keller’s preferred method of social media is Facebook.

“Once you’ve captured a consumer with a Facebook ‘Like,’ you have direct access to their timeline with no character limit. To me, it’s the best platform to engage your audience in direct and diverse ways.”

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Instagram, which also has no character limit, has been around for only a few years, and so some businesses are just now dipping their toes into this photo-sharing app. The site is a bit less formal than Facebook or LinkedIn, but what gives it an edge is its ability to reach a company’s audience and communicate with them on a different level, showing them the ins and outs of the business while having a little fun at the same time.

Richard Gardella, owner and manager of County Line Auto Body in New Jersey, said Instagram gives his shop the ability to engage an audience that never realized there were cool things going on at an auto body shop. He explains that as a customer, unless you see it visually, you can’t picture it. That’s where Instagram comes in.

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“It allows you to reach a variety of people. You never used to have that outreach to that many people,” said Gardella. “We’ve got people reaching out to us in California saying, ‘We want to send our Porsche to you guys to be painted’ because of our Instagram page.”

Networking » Social media also enables you to always be networking. Before social media, “networking” was reserved for talks over drinks at conferences or one-on-one conversations in your shop with a customer. Now, you can basically network without lifting a finger.

Scott says social media has benefitted ASA through networking because they’re now able to connect with shops around the nation and get ideas on how to keep the information flowing.

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“Go where your members and community are,” said Scott. “Since the popularity of social media has exploded in the past few years, we realized that it is a way to connect and inform ASA members in a fun and less formal way that seems to be effective with our audience.”

On the consumer side, Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS), believes that social media provides a great opportunity to connect with vehicle owners that just didn’t exist before.

“Now that you have some of these types of [social media], where on a daily basis you can connect with thousands of other users, it makes the exchange of information that much easier,” said Schulenburg. “So from an association standpoint, being in touch with what’s going on and connecting our members to the things that are happening around them is really good.”

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When it comes to which site is the best, Schulenburg explains how it really depends on the intended purpose.

“For communication of message, Facebook is a great tool. For connecting with other member businesses or other collision businesses, LinkedIn is also really good. For delivering or creating content, I think YouTube presents a really great opportunity. YouTube is more readily findable when you’re utilizing something like Facebook to share it.”

Having Fun » Social media also allows you to have fun with your customers. There’s a place and position for every social media outlet out there. LinkedIn tends to be looked at as a formal, business-only site. But with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, there’s a bit of room for some fun, too.

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It used to be customers just wanted your service. But now, they want to know what goes on behind the scenes and connect with your shop or organization on a different, less-formal level. To achieve this and stay ahead of the pack, there are definitely some things to remember.

Gardella, owner of County Line Auto Body, believes that the quality of photos you share on Instagram sends a big message.

“I believe that the higher definition, the more views you’re going to get,” said Gardella. “The more quality of a photo that you give, the more quality of a response you’re going to get.”

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Gardella shies away from the common before-and-after pictures that flood Instagram feeds.

“[Customers] want to see the interesting stuff like a car in action, people grinding and sparks flying,” said Gardella. “What gives you a high-definition photo? Those things are more important than a low- resolution before-and-after.”

Gardella thinks Instagram is a fun new way to reach out to customers.

“I think it’s new, it’s refreshing and it’s a way for us to take this old-school body shop mentality that people have and show them behind the scenes, what really goes on and how it goes on. It’s a lot more fun than you would’ve expected.”

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Keller has found that by keeping it fresh and diversifying your postings, your business will be top of mind for customers. 1Collision Network has found that some good ways to keep its social media pages fun and interesting is by posting ticket giveaways, sharing stories about advancements in the auto industry and keeping the pages local.

“It’s important to make sure you don’t over-saturate your audience with posts solely about the work you do, i.e. before-and-after shots, pleas to stop at your location, etc.,” explains Keller. “Diversifying your posts with car care and driving tips, happenings in the community, traffic reports toward the end of the work day, coupons for your services and new state driving laws will help keep your page followers engaged.”

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Show Your Quality » Visually show customers the quality you offer. While word-of-mouth is probably the best free publicity you can come by, social media has to be right up there with it.

Social media offers customers a look into your business. It gives them an idea of what your shop offers and puts a picture into their mind so they know what to expect stepping into your shop.

Keller explains that Facebook gives the customer a better understanding of how 1Collision Network’s locations run an ethical business.

“I would say Facebook is neck and neck with word-of-mouth and the perceived quality repair work and customer service we provide our customers. While we often times pay for ‘boosted posts’ on Facebook, the free services of social media have worked, and as we evolve our messages, we’re confident that it will continue to work even better.”

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Gardella believes you have to be running a high-quality shop to be successful on social media sites like Instagram.

“There’re a lot of old-school people in this business. The problem is that unless you’re running an honest and reputable facility and you’re repairing cars back to factory condition, Instagram is not going to work for you,” he said. “If you’re doing it, and you’re running an honest and forthright operation, then you can share anything you want as long as you have the right permission and you do it in good taste.

“You have to keep it professional. You always have to remember that there’s an audience watching you, and your every move is important.”

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SCRS’ Schulenburg added, “[Social media] has given those who seek after quality repairers a good platform to document why it’s so important to pick the right shop, to be a shop that’s following and adhering to OEM-recommended repair procedures, and the results for consumers if that’s not the case.”

It’s Free » And don’t forget: social media works and is free.

In June 2015, there were 1.44 billion monthly active Facebook users, 302 million monthly active Twitter users, 300 million monthly active Instagram users and 350 million LinkedIn users, according to Digital Marketing Ramblings.

Gardella says that today, nearly 15 to 30 percent of his business comes from social media.

“I rarely ever buy an advertisement in a local magazine,” says Gardella. “I feel there’s no better [advertising], if you know how to hashtag and you know how to draw people to your page. There’s not a better form of advertisement than free social media.

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“I think people should embrace social media because they’re spending money to advertise in magazines and Yellow Pages and Yelp, but in all actuality, if you just put more into your social media, you’d get more out of your website and, in turn, drive more traffic to your location.”

Keller has found that social media has had many benefits for their shops that can’t be quantified.

“Several of our pages’ posts have done better than others, but when you see a post get upwards of 20 ‘Likes,’ there is great satisfaction there,” said Keller. “’Tagging’ larger companies in your posts increases your audience as well. We just partnered up with NABC for a Recycled Rides presentation and posted about the event while tagging Met Life Insurance. The audience of Facebook users who saw that post was larger than anything we’ve ever seen.”

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Schulenburg thinks social media has provided a fresh opportunity for the industry.

“I think for the industry as a whole, [social media] has provided a tremendous amount of opportunity,” he said. “You don’t have to have a huge budget to produce good, quality marketing.”

Gardella adds that your website can only drive in so much traffic if you’re not promoting it. But through social media, “we’re able to share a side of the business that people were never able to share before.”

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