AKRON (March 16, 2009)—Ask most independent tire dealers how they grew their business and odds are they'll tell you it was through word-of-mouth advertising.
These dealers know that in a people business like retail and commercial tire sales, if you do a great job for someone, that person will tell a friend, who will tell someone else and so on.
The same holds true for the opposite. Do a poor job and it it seems that customer will tell even more people.
It's one thing if these discussions take place on a one-on-one basis. But what if they are happening on the Internet in one of the many social networking groups that are attracting millions of participants? What impact could that have on a business?
Do you want a disgruntled customer bad mouthing your business on a social Web site like Facebook—and you don't even know about it?
Wouldn't it be better to be tapped into that “community” and resolve the issue before it grows into something bigger?
For many tire dealers, the Internet is still a foreign entity and the concept of marketing their operations on it is something they just haven't found the need—or perhaps the time—to do.
But the time is fast approaching when all dealers will have to include the Internet in their marketing plans if they want to successfully reach and keep in contact with their customer base—for example, through service reminders, “Internet-only” specials and the like.
Too many people are using the Web as their primary means of communicating socially for this to be ignored.
Some dealers already have begun to understand how marketing via the Internet and tapping into Facebook and other social networks like Twitter can significantly impact business.
Barry Steinberg of Direct Tire & Service in Watertown, Mass., earned four new customers in 72 hours after his daughter told a friend on Facebook who was having car troubles to visit her father's dealership. After the friend received great service, she told a friend who told another friend.
That experience delivered a powerful message to Mr. Steinberg and it should to all independent tire dealers: Ignoring the Internet and how people are using it comes with some peril.
The ways to take advantage of the Internet are many. Dealers or their designee can get on sites like Facebook and Twitter and begin communicating with customers and potential customers. They can provide valuable content on these sites to draw attention to their dealerships.
Dealers also can set up their own Web sites, where they can showcase their expertise by answering customers' tire and auto service questions. They can post blogs, offer online video and even produce podcasts, all aimed at capturing the online tire and auto service community.
The effectiveness of word-of-mouth advertising hasn't changed, but how it's done has.