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More Shops Joining Facebook, Twitter to Increase Market Presence

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Recently, a teenager who attends a high school near CARSTAR Mundelein “friended” the Illinois collision repair facility on Facebook, the most popular social networking Web site on the planet. Owner Jeanne Silver’s presence with the school was already strong due to her participation in its career fair and on its career advisory council, but this was a special kind of connection only a social networking site could produce.

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“I thought that was really cool,” Silver says.

What’s also really cool is that the school has 4,000 students, many of whom, of course, get in car crashes.

Thanks to Facebook, Silver also found a group of people who are passionate owners of the Pontiac G8. In networking with these people, she discovered the G8 was particularly susceptible to chips and ended up selling a paint protection job to one of the group’s members.

While no body shop owner is ready to claim a staggering sales boost as the result of being on Facebook, social networking/micro-blogging site Twitter or any other social networking site, Silver and others like her who are creating presences for their businesses on these sites feel they’re reaping some benefits from using what amounts to free marketing tools.
 
“Anyone who’s not doing this is losing out because, let’s face it, it’s free,” she says. “This is a great opportunity to reach out to today’s consumers, many of whom are young people who are all over the Internet. They’re not picking up newspapers or magazines, they’re on laptops and iPhones.”

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It’s clear that the majority of collision repair facilities are still debating whether or not to join social networking sites. Some are probably ignoring the idea altogether because they don’t understand how to do it or aren’t convinced it’s worth their time.

Tim Dunn, owner of Wyalusing Collision Repair in Wyalusing, Pa., joined Facebook simply because his friends urged him to. While he also thinks it’s “cool,” he can’t say it has boosted sales.

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“I don’t think I’ve ever gotten any business yet directly attributable to Facebook,” Dunn says. “It’s like those stupid plastic covers on phone books or placemats at restaurants – I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten any business from those either. How would you know unless a new customer came in and said, ‘Hey, I saw you on Facebook’?"

Still, Dunn says it’s a thrill to occasionally check out the page to see if he has any new “fans,” or Facebook members who have chosen to become a fan of his page and thus be notified of any updates or goings-on at his shop. Updating the page is important, Dunn says, because if it gets stagnant, people will ignore it. Whenever Dunn updates his page, for example adding new before/after photos of repairs, all of his fans can immediately view those updates on their own pages.

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If you’re lucky, it’s not your friends or business colleagues bugging you to join Facebook or Twitter but your children, who are not only insisting that you join but offering to do all the work for you. Such was the case with Lillian Jovell of Quality Collision Repair in Fayetteville, Ark., whose 21-year-old son pushed her into the 21st century three weeks ago by creating a Facebook page for her shop and recruiting fans (129 at last count).

“I’m not thinking so much about increasing sales as I am just getting recognition that we’re here,” Lovell says. “We’re in a college town, and if we can get recognition from younger people who are on [Facebook], that’s great. Hopefully, if someone gets in an accident, they’ll think of us.”

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Tim Sargent of Spring Creek Collision in Gypsum, Colo., said he too is simply trying another avenue to market his business.

“We’re trying to market our business and let people know that we’re in business,” said Sargent. “We’re just trying to get what jobs we can from people we know.”

One recent update he posted with photos was: “Our new Ameri-Cure spraybooth was just installed in March. It’s beautiful and allows us to paint any vehicle in a dust-free environment. It’s environmentally-friendly too.”

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Facebook and Twitter may both seem like no-lose propositions, but they aren’t exactly without their downsides.

“The downside is that the entire world community is on there, so how do you target the audience you want?” says Silver, who has a sign in her reception area inviting customers to join her shop on Facebook and Twitter. “It’s kind of like a shot in the dark even though you have a presence.”

Laura Bertolli can’t say enough about Twitter and Facebook. The owner of Bertolli’s Auto Body Shop in San Rafael, Calif., says being on Twitter helped her get the word out on an anti-steering bill she was opposing.

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“I was ‘tweeting’ about it, and Gov. Schwarzenegger decided to follow me,” Bertolli says. “Obviously, someone was reading my tweets.”

Bertolli’s Twitter followers include fellow repairers, insurers and consumers. She will often tweet to customers about their rights, and isn’t afraid to call out insurers for what she feels are questionable business practices. She recently tweeted this about State Farm:

State Farm wrote to put used suspension parts on the car. They said to collect the difference from the customer since we won’t do that.


Unlike some repairers, Bertolli claims she has gotten new business from being on Facebook. As far as MySpace, which many believe is now a distant third in popularity to Facebook and Twitter, she once posted a “cruise and barbecue” event and 140 cars showed up. She suggests posting an event to Facebook, Twitter and MySpace to see which posting gets the most attendees.

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To those repairers who are scoffing at these social networking opportunities, she says, “Good for me. It gives me a competitive advantage. If you’re going to stick around for awhile, you should learn what these kids are doing because eventually they’re going to have cars for you to repair.”

Dee Rainwater of Collision Hub, a social networking site for the collision repairer industry, says that collision repairers are becomingly increasingly intrigued by social networking.

“We’re fielding questions every day from shops on if they should and
how should they use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace,” says
Rainwater.

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Rainwater recommends TweetDeck, software for managing a Twitter account. The program allows you to manage your Twitter page from your desktop and scan all tweets for keywords such as body shop, collision repair, wrecked, adjuster, insurance, etc. By doing this, repairers can find potential customers who are looking for shop recommendations. They can further hone their search by adding their cities or surrounding towns to the search list.

Rainwater cited a few examples of tweets from consumers who were desperately seeking shops:

“Just wrecked my car, I need a good body shop in Miami.”

“Need to get my bumper replaced…I need body shop hook-ups!” (Viewing the user’s profile, you can see that his location was San Francisco, Calif.)
 
“Ouch! Backed into a pole with the gate down. $1103.97 to fix! Is there a body shop in San Antonio cheaper?” (This person included a photo of the damage)

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Rainwater’s other tips about social networking include:

1. It is not advertising, it is connections – you’re seeking new “friends,” not making a hard sell. You do not “advertise” on social media.

2. You must be interesting. Think of social media as if you’re at a bar – you have a short amount of time to make an impression that encourages others to want to spend more time with you. Telling them about a free car wash or oil change with a repair is not interesting.

3. You must be passable. You must not only be interesting to the person you’re “talking” to, but you also must make them want to share you with their friends. The average user of Facebook has 130 friends. You want to get to them because that takes you “viral.”

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