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Social media Gathering "fans' Branding tool

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AKRON—Since January, Tire Business has been putting an emphasis on the use of social media by creating a blog that highlights different social media sites, along with how dealerships are using this technology to connect with customers.

If there is one thing gleaned from interviews with several dealers, it's that some are just getting their feet wet while others are old pros at the social media game.

Blog titles have included: “The 'whys' of utilizing social media”; “The basics of 'Liking' on Facebook”; “The anatomy of a tweet”; and “LinkedIn: the social media platform for the business-minded.”

Different dealerships have been featured both in print editions of Tire Business and on www.-tirebusiness.com, including Phoenix-based Community Tire Pros & Auto Repair, Highland, Ind.-based Levin Tire & Service Center and Big Brand Tire & Service in Camarillo, Calif.

Howard Fleischmann, owner of Community Tire Pros, described his dealership as an “early adaptor” to using social media, noting that it pays dividends because “it allows us to stay in contact with our clients. It's communication. It's staying in contact and then we try to add some fun to it.”

His wife Pat does most of the daily posting on social media, which includes Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google +.

“Those are really the five top ones,” Mrs. Fleischmann told Tire Business. “We use just all multiple types of those search engines to contact and reach those customers.

“We are kind of educators. We try and put out things that people don't know or remind them of what they should know.”

She added that Community Tire is looking into 30 additional social media sites to get into, and once her team looks at the sites, they can decide which ones to integrate into their platform with the goal of expanding the dealership's “reach to more people.”

Mrs. Fleischmann said she and four other company staffers are part of the social media team. She pulls information from a variety of places to find what things to post on social media sites.

“Well, the things that I find intriguing or get information from is, No. 1, I turn on the TV,” she said. “What's going on, for example, in our area, we're in Phoenix; it's raining. It doesn't rain a lot here.

“So, I'm just now posting on hydro-planing because people get a little crazy when it rains. And they are not used to it. Oil rises to the top (of road surfaces). And right now I am looking at about three fatalities on the freeway downtown because of the rain.”

She also keeps tabs on seasonal information. “We have things that never go away. Arizona is going to get hot. So I post stuff about tires: heat, damages that arise from the heat, safety.”

She added that Community Tire also tries to “throw in a splash of fun so we don't always sound so serious.”

Mr. Fleischmann noted one other positive attribute of social media is the boost in search engine optimization (SEO). He said he watched Community Tire rise to first and second in searches from seventh and eighth.

“It's interesting that we'll see clients actually go on their social media sites spot, whatever they choose it to be, and make comments on our stores while they are there shopping,” he said. “It's pretty amazing.”

Todd Sachs, founder of Meetlocalbiz.com, a social media platform that aims to help local businesses advertise and market their promotions online, said the site encourages its members to incorporate social media into their business plans.

“In working with the local business establishment, we acknowledge the fact that they need to utilize any platform that's available to them that they can afford,” Mr. Sachs said. “And if they're free, certainly, that's even better. We encourage them to utilize Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Pinterest and any other social platform that can gain them exposure.

“I think collectively, them working together can make a big difference in their bottom line.”

Mr. Sachs warned that if a company takes on social media, it must stay committed. “I think the most fatal thing one can do is set up a Facebook page and not frequently use it.”

Whatever a company commits to can make a statement, he said, but a reverse effect also can happen.

For instance, if potential customers visit a blog or a Facebook page and it has not been updated in a few months, then they may not be getting the information they are seeking and will move on.

“So what we say is: Find something. Stick with it. Be committed to make it work,” he said.

Facebook is still the No. 1 social media site, but others are gaining ground or allow dealers to present information to their customers in a different format.

“We decided to become active simply because it's a great way to reach customers and engage them outside of the business atmosphere and really build a rapport with them,” said Rachel Shrop-shire, marketing dir-ector for Levin Tire.

She added that social media are a known way to reach customers nowadays and that companies not active in social media may actually be hurting their business.

“They are certainly lacking that opportunity by not doing it,” Ms. Shropshire said.

One way Levin Tire uses Facebook, she said, is to offer coupons and other deals, including a coupon for $5 that customers can print directly from the company's Face-book page.

“We do give our customers an incentive to be a fan on our Facebook page,” Ms. Shropshire added. “When customers come in...if they are able to like us on their smartphone and show us that they liked our page, they get an instant $3 discount.”

Levin Tire's main platform is Facebook, however, it also participates on Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and Blogger.

“We certainly want to utilize Twitter,” Ms. Shropshire said. “We know Twitter has a large following, so we wanted to make that part of our social media plan.” But she noted that it is not as easy to engage with customers on Twitter as it is on Facebook.

“Anything that we post on Facebook will be posted to Twitter and typically we'll post more on Twitter than to Facebook,” she said. “On Facebook we don't want to inundate our pages with 10 posts a day, but with Twitter you can do that.”

Even if it has no “major” announcements, Levin Tire still posts items on Twitter, so “we might have up to six or seven or eight tweets a day,” Ms. Shropshire said.

It is important to remember the engagement aspect of social media—and that it is not just straight advertisements for customers.

Ms. Shropshire said the majority of Levin Tire's posts include special events about any of Levin Tire's locations, humorous content or informational posts, like why it is important to rotate tires.

“And then, once in awhile we'll do some sort of advertisement, but that's rare,” she said. “We try to keep that to about 10 percent or under of our content.

“We want it to be seen more as an engagement and a way to connect with our customers outside.... But we don't want to ignore the fact that we can still use it to do (some advertising) in some circumstances.”

Chris Cassidy, Internet marketing manager for Big Brand Tire, said the company started with social media in 2011 with Facebook and Twitter and has expanded into Pinterest, Google+ and LinkedIn.

“We started it originally...just for branding, to grow our fan base,” Mr. Cassidy told Tire Business. “And as that started up and as we started seeing more interaction from our customers, we realized that we can use it as a sales platform as well as a customer service platform.”

Social media are often thought of as something for younger generations; however, the different options sites offer can change that.

“I would say the demographic is a little bit younger on social media, but with the advent of LinkedIn, we also found that that demographic can change as well, depending on which platform you're using,” Mr. Cassidy added.

“So for instance, with LinkedIn we found we can get a higher age group demographic as well as more of a business-to-business demographic for our wholesale.”

He said that LinkedIn works best to find future employees in higher management positions and for IT-related positions, but other job outlets work better for tire specialists or mechanics.

He explained there is a difference between posting on LinkedIn in comparison with other sites because it is really a business atmosphere, where other sites are more open.

“If we're talking LinkedIn only, then we try to keep it on a business focus, what's happening in the tire industry. If there's financial news happening in the tire industry, we'll put that on LinkedIn, whereas with Facebook and Google+ and Twitter, we kind of open it up to anything and everything...,” Mr. Cassidy said.

“And then, we also try to cater to our different customers as well. We have the auto import tuner customers that like to fix up their Japanese import, racing style, and then we have the classic car guys that have the classic muscle cars. And then we have the off-road guys and then we have the NASCAR guys, so we try to do a little bit of everything.”

The common denominator, according to many dealers, is that social media help their dealerships shape their online presence and create an open, direct communication with current and potential customers.



Have any ideas for the Tire Business social media blog? Anything you wish you knew more about when it comes to this topic? Contact Jennifer Karpus at 330-865-6143 or jkarpus@crain.com.
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