Growing Your Twitter Presence
When Julie Zara joined Twitter last summer, she just wanted to keep up with the ever-evolving social media scene. As co-owner of Zara’s Collision Center in Springfield, Ill., she expected that Twitter.com, the social networking website that lets you share your thoughts 140 characters at a time, would be a valuable marketing tool. What she didn’t expect, however, was for her presence on the site to bring a nearly $10,000 job to the shop: When a meteorologist for a local news channel was involved in a deer collision, he contacted Zara—via Twitter. “That one job paid off whatever investment we have in [Twitter],” says Zara, whose shop has 24 employees and earns $4.5 million in revenue annually.
As Twitter is used by more and more businesses, your customers (and potential customers) will increasingly expect you to use it, too. The good news is that, but for the time it takes you to post your messages, Twitter is free. The not-so-good-news is that Twitter works best when you work with it almost daily. And if you don’t consider yourself pithy, you’ll want to hone that ability to be both concise and compelling. Do that, and you can “tweet” your way to better community connections and—better yet—bigger business.
Jeanne Silver, co-owner of CARSTAR Mundelein in Illinois, began tweeting nearly a year ago. At first, she used Twitter solely for personal interest, but after seeing how other local businesses were taking advantage of it to connect with the community, she did the same for her 10,000-square-foot shop. “You can reach a lot of your customers,” she says, and “really get out there and get them to see your message.”
Silver tweets no more than five times per day and spends no more than half an hour on Twitter. She tweets quick, helpful tips. For example, during deer season, she tweeted, “Watch out at dusk and dawn,” and during winter, “Anti-lock brakes keep you straight.” She says people want to be stimulated by your tweets. “They pay attention to comments that are witty, smart and valuable. Don’t focus on touting your shop,” she says. However, the occasional, clever marketing message—like Silver’s recent “Skid into a tree, come see me.”—isn’t a bad thing, especially amidst mostly community-focused tweets.
Because each tweet is limited to 140 characters or less, it’s important to craft a quick, concise message. Chris Sheehy, president of Autobody Consulting Group in Providence, R.I., and Ben Littlefield, principal of the interactive and digital marketing agency Three Sixty Solutions in Austin, Texas, share a few tips:
Focus locally. Make your tweets relevant to your community. “Tweet what the market is interested in,” Sheehy says. Focus less on auto body news and more on general interest topics that show you’re aware of what goes on in your neighborhood or city: information about a local food or blood drive, or a snippet about a local sports team. Go for a connection between business and personal by offering safe driving tips when bad weather prevails, or cautions against drunk driving during Spring Break and high school prom weekend.
Know your audience. What are the demographics of your typical customer? If 60 percent of your consumers are women, Sheehy explains, don’t tweet about topics that won’t interest them. “Retweeting” (see sidebar) information from AskPatty’s female-focused Twitter account, for example, is a good and simple way to connect with women in your area.
Avoid contentious issues. Keep your tweets positive, Sheehy says. Avoid negativity and commenting on touchy industry issues, such as DRPs or OEM vs. aftermarket topics. Plus, your followers likely won’t understand the nuances of the auto body industry, and you don’t want to confuse them. “Tweet something they’ll understand and value,” Sheehy says.
Don’t overtly advertise. “The goal on Twitter isn’t to sell,” Littlefield says. “It’s one thing to occasionally say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this great thing. Check it out,’” he explains, but keep those tweets to a minimum. Aim for tip-laden posts: “Little quick things [you’d] tell your son or daughter before they’d take off on a road trip.” For example, how to check tire pressure or battery charge.
Know where to research. If you need a little inspiration for topics to tweet, check out websites like Digg, Technorati (a social bookmarking site that indexes blogs) or Yahoo! Answers, suggests Littlefield. Yahoo! Answers, he says, allows you to view questions that folks are asking about auto body repair in general, so you can gain a sense of what concerns consumers most.
Identify yourself. Sheehy advises identifying your business in your username. “Shops should try to incorporate their name into their Twitter handle,” he says, because that’ll help build top-of-mind awareness within the local community. He points out, however, that your Twitter name alone won’t lend you credibility. “The name doesn’t make the tweeter—it’s the tweets that count,” he says. And be sure to include your company logo on Twitter. This creates consistency between your Twitter account and your website, which in turn, reinforces brand awareness with prospective customers.
—Jeanne Silver, co-owner, CARSTAR Mundelein
POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Twitter’s value is in creating an immediate connection with customers, Sheehy says. That’s possible because your message is instantly broadcast to fellow Twitter users.
Though Twitter is still in its infancy, it has already trumped the presence of a traditional website. “I call [websites] electronic brochures,” says Littlefield. “The problem with that is they simply lack the interactivity that people want. Social media allows for an open dialogue in an open forum.”
That’s not to say you ought to ditch your website. Twitter can funnel folks back to your site, creating an opportunity to “re-brand them and educate them about your business,” Sheehy says.
Littlefield agrees, and points out that directing Twitter traffic to your website is a measurable way to determine whether you’re bringing in more business. “With digital media, we can see where people are landing on [your] website. You can measure where—and if—people are coming in to your site from Twitter. It gives us an idea if traffic is coming in the door.”
The best part about Twitter is that it’s essentially free marketing. “It’s building brand awareness, and it’s not costing you any money,” Littlefield says.
Silver sees the site as a way to highlight her shop’s ability to embrace new technology—a trait appreciated by today’s tech-crazed consumer. “Maybe they’ll think that if you’re on Twitter, then that’s the approach you’ll have with [their] car, too—that you’re on top of things.”
She doesn’t hesitate to tout Twitter’s power. “Do I think it’s valuable? 100 percent. I think it’s a wave of what’s to come. People who are really on the cutting edge of what’s happening are going to be part of this.”
Follow us on Twitter @FenderBenderMag for updates on industry news, highlights from the magazine and strategic tips to help you do business better.