Auto Service World
Feature   May 18, 2016   by Martha Uniacke Breen

The A-B-Cs Of Social Media

As a medium for promoting your products and services, connecting and interacting with customers and other stakeholders, communicating helpful and timely information, and consolidating and building your reputation as the go-to expert in your field, social media is the ideal vehicle.
Yet understandably, many industry members are baffled and intimidated by the entire idea. How do you get started? Which platforms are most effective for what you want to accomplish? How do you build an audience? How often should you post, and still have a life? And what, on earth, could you find to post?
In fact, once you get started, it’s neither as time-consuming or as onerous as you may think. If you do the proper research first, and commit to a regular program that works for you and your followers, you’ll find it’s not only feasible but an excellent addition to your other marketing activities.
Bob DeStefano is president of SVM E-Marketing Solutions, a New-Jersey based company that specializes in online marketing solutions for business. “The best way to describe social media marketing is to think of it not as a new concept per se, but as a new way of marketing,” says DeStefano. “It’s essentially the same as the regular public relations you may already be doing, but you are marketing directly to your peers instead of to the press.”
Maintaining a successful social media presence carries a lot of other benefits as well. One of the most important is its power to build your brand by sharing information within a network that grows organically, building traffic to your website, creating a community, and ultimately positioning you as the go-to source for your products and services.
If you are just starting out, the best place to start is with Facebook and Twitter, with LinkedIn as a third option. Facebook has become the fastest-growing tool for business in the last year or so, mainly since it’s already familiar to so many people. Launching a Facebook page is easy and free, and building followers is a straightforward process. Increasingly, though, the resources offered by Facebook have grown steadily to make it an excellent communications medium for business-to-business information as well, as a vehicle for disseminating product information, how-to videos, and articles on a wide range of information of relevance to your business community.
Facebook posts and articles are also a great way for your company to reach out, build connections among employees and clients, and to nurture company culture. The connection is strengthened if you post a picture and byline of your CEO or another prominent team member as your “human face.”
The other major winner from a b-to-b standpoint is Twitter. Simply because of its brevity, it’s a great way to communicate important messages quickly and easily, especially if you tweet frequently. Using Twitter hashtags, you can start discussions and monitor traffic directly, as followers retweet your messages and respond to you and to each other. It’s great for real-time communication, such as during an event, or for updates on an ongoing marketing initiative. It’s also great for building traffic to other platforms such as your Facebook page or website, where you can invite followers to read and share longer articles and posts.
LinkedIn is another popular social media platform for business users, though its focus is slightly different from Facebook and Twitter. LinkedIn’s particular strength is in its personnel communications abilities, and through LinkedIn groups, where followers can share information and participate in discussions on business topics. DeStefano advises that it’s good to have at least a company profile on LinkedIn where you can share business updates, personnel announcements, job postings, and other business information – both your own and clients’.
Other options include Instagram and Pinterest, which focus on pictures and videos, often with short captions or texts, and YouTube, which has proven to be very useful for longer videos than the typical 30 seconds or less that works best on Facebook.
Luciana Nechita, communications manager with AIA Canada, works with a team that manages two social media communications channels for the AIA, each with its own particular focus. The first is the association’s own platform, which goes to industry members and other interested parties. The second is its consumer-focused Be Car Care Aware platform, targeting consumers and customer-facing technicians, who share the information with their own clients.
Before the AIA launched its social media program, she explains, the association conducted research into very specific questions. “We started by asking who our audience is, how familiar they are with our platforms, what information our audience wants, and what exactly we want to accomplish.” After conducting this initial research, they opted to focus on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, though they are continuing research into other platforms.
Nechita points out that one way Twitter has proved most useful is in the context of promoting and building interest in industry events. It was inspired, she says, by the number of people she saw walking around events who were holding their phones in hand. “As part of an event, we will promote that we will be live-tweeting from the event; we’ll have a hashtag that identifies the particular conversation, so it encourages our followers to sign up and join in by following the event hashtag.”
It’s also great for giving quick, timely bits of information on the AIA’s consumer program, Be Car Care Aware, particularly during the program’s two major annual campaigns, Be Car Care Aware Month in May and Car Safety Month in October. “During Be Car Care Aware Month, for example, we’ll tweet reminders, and also provide Twitter chats with experts and make them available to our consumer audience.”
What to post begins with deciding exactly what you want to accomplish with your social media marketing. DeStefano recommends you talk to your customer-facing employees, such as counterpeople and sales team, and find out what customers want to know more about. Is it information on improving sales? Technical tips and product knowledge? News and information on manufacturer activities? Professional development and business articles?
Bob DeStefano recommends a mix of about 75 to 25 of original content and shared information from other sources. Few businesspeople have the resources to generate and post original content that often; instead, the power of the Internet offers you virtually unlimited material that you can share and adapt, along with original posts. There are sites that disseminate information and articles on virtually any topic; some, such as Feedly, organize items into subject headings that you can mine for items to repost. Your suppliers’ sites may have regularly updated information that you can share. And, since the core of all social media is its community aspect, you can pass along items from your clients’ posts as well.
“Be careful about making your content too promotional,”
says Nechita. “A good ratio is about 80-20 information and
self-promotion. A high amount of informational content shows people you care about them, with content that is relevant to their business. Then you can alternate it with your promo
messages and gain credibility.”
Tying your social media channels in with your website and with each other helps to build traffic on all your various media. “Your website should be where you have all of your content,” says Bob DeStefano, “so then you can use your social media platforms as ‘teasers,’ driving followers back to the website, where you can expand on the information in the post.”
To be truly effective, your social media program needs to be regularly maintained, with a minimum of two to three Facebook posts per week and at least daily Twitter tweets. (Bob DeStefano recommends as much as five to fifteen Twitter messages per day, though one or two per day is really the minimum.) Fortunately, there are a number of online tools available, such as Buffer, that allow you to build a library of posts and deploy them automatically at regular intervals.
Most importantly, “Create content that is important and
relevant,” says Nechita. “This may take time, but different social channels give you access to different resources. Then see what people respond to; a video may gain you many ‘likes,’ for example, whereas an article won’t. So this will give you a good indication of what your followers want.”
Once your social media platforms are up and running, if you are posting timely and interesting content on a regular basis, it will start to take on a life of its own. Followers will share with each other, join in discussions, “like” your posts and retweet your tweets, and your list of followers will grow.
“Focus on quality rather than quantity in your posts,” says Nechita. “It’s better to have 100 followers who retweet and
share and interact with you, than 1,000 who don’t. If you have dedicated followers, they’ll start to share your posts on their
networks too.” nJN

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