Auto Service World
News   March 14, 2024   by Emily Atkins

From the Magazine: Social media and the aftermarket

The importance of embracing social media and tips from those who are succeeding

Social media is a vital tool for anyone in the automotive industry. DriveCentric reported in a LinkedIn whitepaper that 90 per cent of new-vehicle buyers who used social media in their decision process feel it influenced their decision.

The same is true for the automotive aftermarket, whether you’re a repair shop or jobber store. TikTok’s 2022 Automotive Playbook, “Driving in the Fun Lane”, reported that 70 per cent of users discovered new automotive brands and products directly as a result of the platform.

Research by social media marketing firm Hootsuite found that more than half of internet users between the ages of 16 and 24 use social media as their primary form of brand research. And two-thirds of Facebook users check out local businesses every week.

All of this demonstrates the value of an active and engaged social media presence.

Two Ontario shops come at the social media question from two different angles — with both are seeing success.

2021 Shop of the Year winner Master Mechanic, in Toronto’s High Park neighbourhood, uses Instagram to connect with its community and drive engagement, led by owner Josie Candito.

Candito started her shop’s Instagram account in 2017 just as a way to have fun and spread positivity. She said the Instagram account is an extension of who she is, who her team is and how they run their business.

“My community makes it very easy to love them, so it’s just natural for me to be on social media and let them know how much I appreciate them,” she said. “Social media lets people see who we are and represent our business and our team in a real and positive way.”

Candito didn’t come into the social media side of the business with a concrete plan. However, she has seen success just by being authentic and engaged.

“I guess I just have fun energy,” Candito said. “I do a lot of things that are probably different than what other shops do.”

“Social media lets people see who we are and represent our business and our team in a real and positive way.”

The store is known in the neighbourhood for the inspirational quotes on the signboard out front, and Candito uses those signs in her Instagram posts, as well as sharing both company and personal milestones. That helps connect the physical store to the social media account.

“I’m also very into animals and animal advocacy, so I kind of tie in my passions in life and things that inspire me, and things I find inspiring in the community and combine them as well,” she added.

Using the social media account for advocacy is one of the less intuitive tips shared by TikTok in its automotive marketing playbook.

According to TikTok, 63 per cent of social media users say it’s important that companies support causes important that are important to them.

The Playbook also reports that 58 per cent of users say it’s important companies are actively involved in their communities. That’s the key to Carlo Sabucco’s approach over at Sil’s Auto, in Oakville, Ontario.

“Really, we’re tying into the community and using Facebook ‘six-degrees of separation’ style content,” Sabucco explained.

Sil’s Auto doesn’t do any paid promotion on Facebook; their primary usage is as a member of local community groups. Sabucco said it took time for this approach to really reap results. They’ve been helping people in the community, talking to them, answering automotive questions for three years, he said.

“Throwing Facebook money and doing a paid campaign could work, but I’ve never had success with it because you’re basically just a blip on the radar for a 30-second impression. But if someone asks a question in their local community group and you answer it back, give them some guidance, then you’re a part of the conversation and you can really connect,” Sabucco explained.

“Now three years later, we measure our Facebook return and it’s top three in our company sales, and it’s cost nothing but my time.”

Answering questions, helping people solve their automotive questions, and being an active member of the local social media community has helped Sil’s Auto earn an army of community advocates.

“You know you have success too when the community answers for you. As an owner, I don’t have to be the guy that responds to questions like, ‘Hey, is there a local mechanic?’ because those people in the community are now answering on our behalf and saying, ‘Go to Sil’s Auto,’” he said.

“Even if people post comments and say, ‘Oh, Sil’s Auto is expensive,’ you get the community stepping in to defend us. That’s where the magic really starts to happen because the community does a lot of that work for you.”

Both Candito and Sabucco agree that the key to social media success is authentic results that show the integrity behind the business.

“You can’t hire a third-party company to do that,” Sabucco said.

Candito sums up her philosophy by reminding us that social media is supposed to be social. “I shy away from how-to videos and things because for us it’s more about just showing that we’re engaged with our community and our customers,” she said. “We stay involved in their life and keep them involved in ours.”

“Now we see people searching their groups for mechanics too, and they’re finding us just through the search too because we’ve been doing this for three years now, so we have a lot of posts and comments up there.”

Another tip is to use social media in conjunction with community outreach like contests, and in particular, charity work. Both Master Mechanic and Sil’s Auto use charity to help cement their roots in the community.

Sabucco has increased his investment in charity since seeing the way it amplifies his social media efforts, and vice versa. “During COVID, we did more charity because it helped with community engagement. Now we use social media and charity together to get better results,” he said.

“We went from $2,000 in charity work to $10,000 and because of the social media aspect we got a lot more conversation and benefit. And I can see that when I’m more engaged. For example, we’re doing a charity function, then I can see Facebook rise, so I know that the charity thing I did caused the engagement and drove in more customers.”

The time Sabucco put in is also paying off because his presence in the group has grown over time, and those posts don’t go away.

“Now we see people searching their groups for mechanics too, and they’re finding us just through the search too because we’ve been doing this for three years now, so we have a lot of posts and comments up there,” he said.

But, as with every tool businesses use, there are pitfalls, and social media can be especially fickle.

Candito said it’s important to stay organic, and not try to force a set number of posts per week or at specific times.

At Sil’s Auto, Sabucco said he learned early on that it’s important to manage his time. “There are some shops doing really great social media engagement, but I also know those owners are answering their phones at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, or they’re on vacation but not switching off. Social media is hungry — when it asks, you have to give.”

Both owners stress the importance of representing your business in the best possible light.

“Stay positive and keep it light,” Candito said. “You can still stand up for things you believe in, but it’s important to make sure you really think carefully about how what you’re saying can impact people.”

That was a lesson Sil’s Auto boss Sabucco admitted he learned the hard way. His advice: “Bite your tongue. People can pound the crap out of you online, and my instinct was to defend myself, but it’s not the place,” he said.

“So now I am careful about how I respond, and I might even encourage them to call me. Or I might even call the customer and address that complaint right with them. If you come back with an edge, people will make an assumption about your business.”

At the end of the day, Candito said, small business gets its best results by focusing on the customers in the community and having fun.

“I think social media is a big part of people’s lives, but it’s still a distraction. So, let’s engage them on that human level and let them know that this is a real business run by real people.”

This article originally appeared in the February issue of CARS

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