Using Social Networking for Results

July 1, 2009
It may take time at first, but virtual connections can lead to real results.

I admit I have been slow to get with the new wave of online social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. I’m still working on how to set all the buttons on my digital watch, so I have been reluctant to figure out how to make use of this new networking tool. Until recently, that is.

I got a request from an old CCC Information Services contact to be on his LinkedIn network. Then I went to a local autobody association meeting and another old friend that I once worked with at CCC told me the company was opening a new office nearby and some of the original crew were rejoining the company. I worked with CCC back in the 1990s, and really have no interest in going back, but I discovered that I now had access to what could be a lot of valuable information. Gradually I found still more old contacts inviting me to join their networks on Plaxo and LinkedIn, and I realized I had questions that only these people could answer.

WHAT GOOD’S A NETWORK?

The autobody association meeting I attended was covering the subject of refinish materials calculators. The panel consisted of two people from Mitchell, Bob Klem from Paint-Ex, and CEO Richard Palmer from Computer Logic. They made an excellent case for using any one of their calculators to create more complete repair orders and collect a proper price for materials. But when all of the shop owners in the room were asked to raise their hand if they were using a materials calculator, only five or six hands went up. It looked to me like a no-brainer for someone using UltraMate to add the PMC module for $69 a month, but most Mitchell users were not using it and seemed reluctant to try it. The CCC guy at the meeting said they would soon be releasing a materials calculator to integrate with Pathways.

“...social networking groups now make it possible to connect across the nation and even across the world to get user information.”

The next day I was communicating with a Pathways user and mentioned the many benefits it seemed could come from integrating a materials calculator. The Paint Logic system would integrate with Pathways, but he wanted to wait and see what CCC would come up with. He also didn’t want to be the first to try it out.
It was at this point that I realized what a social network could do for someone like this. He doesn’t go to the autobody association meetings and isn’t in touch with other local CCC users, many of whom would be competitors. So how would he find out who was using a materials calculator, how they liked it, whether insurance companies were accepting it, and was it really profitable?

This would have been a perfect use of a social networking group. In the early days of computers, there were Apple user groups, IBM user groups and more. This is where real deficiencies in the products were revealed, discussed and often presented to the manufacturers to demand corrections. It seems that most user groups have disappeared, but social networking groups now make it possible to connect across the nation and even across the world to get user information. By joining a group and indicating an interest in connecting with other users of a product, it would be possible to get user opinions on products from Mitchell, CCC, Computer Logic, Paint Logic, Paint-Ex and others. Companies provide one viewpoint of how a product should be used, but users often deal in a more real world.

GROW YOUR NETWORK

Once you enter a network like LinkedIn, you will begin to get invitations to connect. When you create your profile, if you specify Mitchell, CCC, Computer Logic, etc., you will begin to get invitations from like-minded shop owner users, but not just down the street. The answer you’re looking for may come from a shop owner all the way across the country. The broader your reach into each user world, the more viewpoints you can collect and the more answers to questions and concerns you will get.

I have found that many shop owners are reluctant to participate in association groups because of competitive concerns, because they think it’s just a social activity and a waste of time, or because they somehow can’t make the time. Checking social network connections can be done any time of the day and don’t require any particular attention until there is a specific question or issue a user wants addressed.

Like my confusing digital watch, it does take a bit of time to get set up and learn the ropes, but these networks are here to stay and growing daily. Just like learning computers, eventually you’ll have to find out how they work and make use of them. But I guarantee you, you can benefit from getting involved right now.

Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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