Nick Cipolla, a social media consultant and graduate student at USC, recently came to us with a presentation titled “Beyond Search.” His main objective was to get our head out of our rear ends whenever we thought about social media. It might not generate the kind of  rankings we’d like, but in Nick’s opinion, that’s besides the point. SEOs should look at social media as a unique branding strategy to gain new leads and retain customers. And each  social media platform has unique characteristics that content should be tailored to. As such, Nick warned us against a shotgun approach, which is discussed more in his slideshare here.

Branding and creating a community around the brand

At CW, our market is largely independent auto shops, and we realize that few customers are coming into our clients’ shop because they want to spend their paycheck, but because they need to. It’s how they get to work, school, buy groceries, whatever. Social media can make the experience a little less painful by connecting customers to the people behind the counter and away from the ticket. It all starts with establishing a relationship in the shop, and reinforcing that connection with consistent and constant contact.

 Social media isn’t an all-in-one solution– Avoid the shotgun approach

Different social media platforms are good for different things and a social media strategy requires an understanding of this. Brief, time-sensitive shares are often released and re-shared through Twitter and Vine. Facebook is similar in that it has the same infinite scrolling news feed, but pages allow businesses to engage with feedback, polls, and present more lasting content. Pinterest and Foursquare have a strong correlation to gender, with women and men respectively. Google+ Nick said, was currently more fit for micro-blogging. In sum, understanding users and user behavior on these platforms means a more focused approach.

Where do I start?

Start by adding family and friends. Check for groups you’re already a member of or hope to be soon, professional or otherwise. Use and Google+ to reconnect with associates, co-workers and new prospects. You don’t even need to begin by amassing content. Simply participate by sharing, +1’ing and re-tweeting others’ posts. A handy rule of thumb Nick created is a (80/20 rule). You might ‘like’ eight posts, and then create two of your own. Bottom line: don’t be afraid of recycling information; it’s not spammy, it’s resourceful!

Specifically in regards to auto shops, Nick provided many suggestions. You might post a photo of a give-away to your Pinterest. Instagram a recent equipment purchase. Upcoming events, like birthdays, sporting events and fundraisers can be added to a Facebook events calendar. Blogging service on Google+ could even have a direct effect on your rankings. Cars are a very popular #hashtag, so be sure to share. Can’t get a customer to take a photo? Have them take one of you!

What’s the ROI

While there’s the ego boost of getting likes, shares and comments, it’s often difficult to understand how this contributes in any real way to your ROI. Click through rates are the greatest indicator of commitment, but can be misleading. Adworks campaigns can be expensive. That’s why Nick suggested setting something up that is more trackable. His suggestion: coupons.

You can track just by a simple question and answer, how the customer got the coupon when presented at the counter. Based on Nick’s research, it’s not a great way of getting a committed customer base but it’s free marketing to Groupon’s enormous audience and 36% of customers with a Groupon will take an upsell. Think of the opportunities.

Social media is in itself a great way to retain customers by responding to their suggestions and engaging with them in a way that is personal, while not oppressive. You can see Nick’s presentation in its entirety below: