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A business doesn’t thrive for nearly 100 years without embracing innovation. At least, that’s the way Chris Fuller chooses to look at it.

His shop, Fuller Automotive, in Auburn, Mass., was founded by his great grandfather in 1914. And for a shop that started out servicing horse-drawn buggies, Fuller Automotive is an example of how to embrace technology without putting the horse before the cart.

“It’s not only about meeting the changing needs of motorists and the vehicles; it’s being proactive to stay ahead (of competition),” Fuller says. “Whatever it is, eventually everyone will be doing it, and it’ll become mundane and you can’t stand out.”

That’s why, in the last year, Fuller’s shop turned its attention to creating a strong social media presence, particularly on Facebook.

Over the last decade, social media has changed the way people interact with one another and has offered new, effective ways for businesses to reach customers. Yet, much of the automotive repair industry hasn’t gotten onboard.

Danny Sanchez, founder and president of Autoshop Solutions, an automotive industry Internet marketing company, says that “just a small fraction” of independent mechanical shops use Facebook—and even fewer use it effectively.

It’s a big mistake, Sanchez says, and most of that comes from a lack of understanding.

“It’s not just for building ‘fans,’” he says. “It’s for helping your overall picture—your presence, your (search engine) rankings, being the authoritative voice for your industry within your community.”

“Facebook should be treated like a conversation with customers. It’s a conversation in a place, and it’s a place to join in on the conversation.”
—Danny Sanchez, founder and president, Autoshop Solutions

And while social media can be as complex as just about any other marketing technique, Sanchez says there are some simple ways to create and maintain a strong Facebook presence that will help build your shop’s reputation and, ultimately, help the bottom line.

Why You Should Use It

Dave Erb is the owner of Dave’s Ultimate Automotive, which has two locations in Austin, Texas, each with its own Facebook page.

The way Erb sees it, putting time and energy into Facebook is an investment for down the road.

“Facebook seems to be pushing along the lines of being a sort of social search engine, where people are going now to find information,” he says. “ … From a dollar standpoint, I’m not worried about what it’s doing for me today as much as what it’ll do down the road, 10 years from now.”

According to Autoshop Solutions research, the average Facebook user has about 125 friends, and of those 125 friends, roughly 80 percent (or 100 people) are within driving distance of that user.

“Since most shops deal within a five-mile radius, it’s safe to say that 80 percent of people are likely to be within driving distance of your shop,” Sanchez says. “That means that 80 percent, or about 100 people, are either customers or potential customers.”

And each time one Facebook user “likes” your shop or Facebook posts, or comments on your shop’s Facebook page, Sanchez concludes, each of those potential customers will see it in their news feed and see your shop’s name.

Basically, it becomes an online referral system.

“Social media helps people see you, not just as a viable source, but a trustworthy source,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez also notes that recent changes to Google’s search methods factor in “social presence,” so Facebook can play a key part in how your business appears in search results.

Before You Start

Sanchez says to use Facebook effectively, there are a couple of things shop owners need to understand. 

Know your place. Shop owners need to remember who they are and what their business’s perception is to customers before starting a social media campaign, Sanchez says. And, let’s face it, a lot of people view a trip to their repair shops in a similar light as a visit to the dentist.

“We rank right up there with a dentist and an attorney,” says Sanchez, a former shop owner himself. “Hearing from your repair shop on a regular basis or tuning into that conversation isn’t usually high on the list.”

People use Facebook to either communicate with friends or for some sort of entertainment, Sanchez says, and repair shops are neither.

For your Facebook usage, this means a couple of things. First, it can be very difficult to get fans (“likes”). Sanchez says a number between 200–400 is very solid, and anything approaching 1,000 is “extremely” strong. Second, you need to use Facebook in a specific way to interact without irritating customers or potential customers, which is why you need to remember …

Facebook is Not Traditional Marketing. Businesses using Facebook as a marketing strategy is still relatively new, but according to Sanchez, there is one obvious trend: Companies that bombard customers and fans with relentless deals and coupons and promotions get tuned out.

“Facebook should be treated like a conversation with customers,” Sanchez says. “It’s a conversation in a place, and it’s a place to join in on the conversation.”

Sanchez compares it to a chamber of commerce meeting. As he put it: You wouldn’t walk into a meeting, stand on a podium and start tossing promotional cards at people, while shouting about how great your business is, right?

“You should be walking into that room trying to build relationships by starting a conversation,” he says. “You want to let people know who you are and what you’re about before you try to build a customer base.”

How to Do It: Rule of Two

The entire goal of creating and maintaining a Facebook presence, Sanchez says, is to establish your shop as the “authoritative voice in the community for your industry.”

To do this, Sanchez recommends posting just two times each week and often sticking to two types of posts: educational or entertaining.

“For repair shops, you start posting much more than two times a week and people will start tuning out. You want people to be interested every time you post,” he says. “Anything self-serving on social media is transparent. People aren’t that dumb.”

Using this formula is the simplest way to get people to interact by posting, commenting on posts or liking posts or your page, Sanchez says.

“The best tip about making these posts,” Sanchez says, “is to talk about things that involve customers’ cars, but where you’re not trying to sell them anything or promote anything.”

Trivia questions, car information or talking about events where cars are needed (summer road trips, rough winter weather, fall tailgating, etc) are good ways to get people engaged.

“And lots of pictures,” Sanchez says. “Pictures of your shop, pictures of your employees, pictures of you out in the community—post pictures that depict the image you want for your shop.”

As far as promotions, Sanchez suggests carefully reading Facebook’s guidelines, as businesses are limited in what they’re allowed to do. Generally, he says, internal contests (e.g. fans post a picture of their favorite car and the 10 best posts win a prize) and fan-driven (e.g. “Like” our shop and have a chance to win a prize) contests are allowed on the site.

“The thing you have to remember, though, is that it’s not a silver bullet and it’s not a short-term fix for anything,” he says. “It’s a marathon, and you have to be patient and let it pay off.” 

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