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Business Operations

Marketing your carwash for free

June 06, 2011
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Words such as “Facebook,” “Twitter,” “tweet,” “twitpic,” “app,” “text,” “blog,” “spam,” or even “smartphone,” gently made their way into today’s everyday lexicon over the past decade, and it looks like they are here to stay. And, faster than you can say “Mark Zuckerburg,” more words and modern ways will soon seep into existence. The days of phonebooks with yellow pages and word-of-mouth marketing are now replaced by word-via-Internet posts, status updates and online reviews. It’s a cyberspace world, and while good ol’ fashioned advertising and marketing methods are certainly still viable options, it’s important to at least look to the Internet for some broad-based, modern and even free ways to promote your business.

The following article not only lets you in on the various trendy ways to promote your business via the Internet, but also gives you how-to information to make sure you’re using the mediums correctly and effectively. After all, the times have changed, and will continue to change, so make sure you, and your business, aren’t left behind in the provincial and outmoded proverbial dust.

Defining social media

Some of the most widespread and popular Internet forums fall under the social media umbrella. Social Media Project Coordinator Erin Sullivan Capellman, who works for Thomson CompuMark, said that a car care company (or any small business) should care about using social media because, at its core, social media is a conversation among real people using online tools like Facebook and Twitter. And, she added, it’s a conversation that’s already happening, whether you choose to get involved or not.

“Car care businesses, in particular, are one of those services (much like plumbers, electricians, painters, etc.) that people want to be able to trust, and know that they’re not going to get ripped off, and know that they’re getting a reliable service,” Capellman said. “So what do you do when looking for a service like this? You ask people you trust for recommendations. More and more often now, those recommendations are happening online, and most often on Facebook (with more than 600 million users and counting) or Twitter (with more than 200 millions users and counting).”

Capellman said similar to placing flyers around the neighborhood to attract customers, business owners need to do the same thing via the Internet. “And,” she said, “customers as well as potential customers are all using some form of social media. Facebook in particular gives you the opportunity to put real personalities behind your business and become part of that circle of trust. Simply posting some pictures of the real human beings working at your business can easily make you more appealing to customers. Engaging with a customer on Facebook through wall posts can go a long way towards establishing that you are a knowledgeable and responsive company.”

Even negative feedback, when handled properly, can become a powerful tool, Capellman said. “Often times, customers simply want to be heard, and when you can respond and comment in a public forum, like through Facebook or Twitter, it shows that you’re willing to handle all kinds of feedback. And then you have the chance to build even more loyal customers.”

In addition to Facebook and Twitter, which offers a more public arena for interaction, Capellman advises car care companies to consider using the location-based social networking tool Foursquare and coupon sites such as LivingSocial and Groupon. The two types of services could be used separately (and promoted through other social networking sites) or combined to award prizes, from something as simple as a special online badge to a store discount. These can all drive in customers to the business and reward them for loyalty and repeat visits.

How to use Twitter

According the homepage, Twitter is a “real-time information network” that gives users 140 characters to say anything they’d like for free. Businesses, people, charities, cities, characters, schools and even inanimate objects all have Twitter accounts. They “tweet” about where they are, what they’re doing, or to announce discounts and specials being offered at their business, or to promote events. A Twitter user sets up an account and then follows others and then their tweets are posted to a live feed. This can all be done via computer or mobile phone. Twitter can also be used to search for certain words or phrases to see what others are saying about a particular topic. A hashtag is a keyword or words with a # sign before it. It creates an automatic link and users can see what others saying along with the same hashtag. For instance, if you typed: #carwash on a Tweet, that Tweet would then be listed along with others that also contain #carwash.

A car care business could use Twitter to broadcast specials, respond to customers who commented on a recent visit on their Twitter page, or to see what their competition is doing and offering their customers. For more information, visit http://Twitter.com.

To successfully use Twitter, you need to follow these steps:

• Choose a user name that makes sense. Try and use the exact name of your business so that it’s easy for other users to find.

• Don’t give in to or elicit any negative comments or banter. Remember, unless your account is private, everyone and anyone can view your Twitter page.

• Don’t overly tweet, but also, don’t be completely MIA. Anyone who tweets too much will start to annoy their followers. But, at the same time, if you don’t tweet at least four times twice a week, a follower might think you’re gone for good and will unfollow you.

• Be careful with your grammar. A misspelled word or two is okay, but a messy speller can make one wonder how careful you are with other details when it comes to running your business.

• Search for your business name on a regular basis to see what others are saying and to see if someone has checked into your business using Foursquare. If they give a positive review, be sure to thank them on their Twitter page.

• To gain Twitter followers, follow others. A follow from you will show up in their email and then they’ll be more than likely to follow you back.

How to use Facebook

Facebook is a free service that allows users to make a page complete with photos, videos and contact information. Businesses can make special “pages” that other Facebook users can “like.” Similar to Twitter, users can access their pages using a computer or mobile phone. People can also post messages on another Facebook wall and add pictures.

Founded by Mark Zuckerburg in 2004 as a way to interact with fellow students, this service is rumored to have upended Myspace and is now the most popular social media networking forum in existence. It does not take a computer-savvy person to set up and maintain a Facebook account, and each page can hold countless photos and videos. It’s basically an instant website service that connects you automatically to people who have decided to “like” your business. You can also create and broadcast ads, but this comes at a cost.

To successfully use Facebook, you need to follow these steps:

1. Obtain a Facebook URL (i.e. Facebook/carwashname) so that people can find you easily. Try and use your exact company name to not confuse or mislead people trying to find your account.

2. Monitor your Facebook regularly and read each wall posting. Respond to them, too, and leave comments. This will establish a rapport with that commenter.

3. Keep all posts, photos and comments positive.

4. Broadcast your Facebook URL on your business cards, in ads and on your website.

5. Post polls and questions using the Questions tab at the top of the News Feed page. This encourages interaction and also shows fans of your page that you’re interested in their opinion.

6. Use your company logo as your profile picture.

7. Be sure to engage other Facebook users and to politely promote your business. People visit Facebook to socialize, so do not try any kind of hard sells, or it will come across as pushy.

How to use Groupon

There seems to be some confusion over what Groupon is and how it works. In order to clear up any puzzlement, we went straight to the source and talked to Chad Nason, a Groupon spokesperson.

Professional Carwashing & Detailing: Please describe how Groupon works.

Chad Nason: Founded in Chicago in November 2008, Groupon is a shopping website that features a daily deal on the top goods, services and cultural events in more than 500 markets spanning across more than 45 countries worldwide.

Groupon is a win-win for local shoppers and business owners. For the consumer, Groupon brings unbeatable deals on top local experiences — everything from restaurants and salons to skydiving, hotels, carwashes and more. For local businesses, Groupon has changed the way they are able to market themselves and drives a guaranteed number of new customers through their door. For some brick and mortar establishments, Groupon creates an unprecedented online marketing platform that drives results unlike any other forms of local advertising (print, broadcast, etc.). Businesses pay nothing up front (as with traditional methods of marketing) but instead receive checks from Groupon as part of the revenue-share model the Groupon concept is based on. Deals, which are anywhere from 50-90 percent off, are typically available for purchase for 24 hours and then buyers have a specific amount of time to redeem their purchase.

PC&D: Why should a carwash or detail shop consider using this Internet-based forum?

CN: Carwashes and detail shops are perfect examples of local businesses that can benefit from working with Groupon. Many local businesses are struggling to find new customers and are confident that if they could get new people through the door, they could turn them into repeat customers. Groupon is a proven marketing tool that guarantees customers for businesses. After Groupon provides the customers, it’s up to the local businesses to provide a great experience.

PC&D: What advice can you give a business that decides to use Groupon?

CN: The most successful Groupon merchants are those who know their business inside and out and are honest with themselves and Groupon. Businesses should know how many new customers they can handle on a daily basis and be honest about that number. Groupon will definitely bring a new rush of new customers to a local business, but if the business is not properly prepared, then they lose that incredible opportunity which may never come again. Another piece of advice is to place a cap on the Groupon deal. Groupon has and always will allow merchants to place a cap on their deal, limiting the number of Groupons that can be sold.

Businesses also should take full advantage of the arsenal of support which Groupon provides. From the Groupon sales team who works with merchants from beginning to end as well as the plethora of tools on Grouponworks.com, Groupon will do everything possible to try and ensure a great experience for both merchants and subscribers.

PC&D: What are some of the mistakes a business owner should avoid making when using Groupon?

CN: Groupon’s sales reps have worked with many different types of businesses, and therefore have a good grasp on what will work when running a Groupon deal and what won’t. Groupon checks and double checks every aspect of a business to ensure that they can handle a large rush of new customers, how many customers they can service in a day, if they’ve had good reviews, have proper licensing where needed, and more. Groupon will do everything possible to ensure that mistakes are not made before a deal is agreed upon.

One mistake that can easily be avoided is not taking full advantage of when Groupon customers redeem their Groupon. If it’s possible, get the customer’s contact information for future marketing efforts or offer an additional discount for a future visit. Another mistake merchants make is simply trying to get through the “rush” of Groupon users. Making sure your staff realizes the benefits of running a Groupon deal, not only for them in the short-term, but also for the long-term health of the business.

PC&D: Do you think a person has to be Internet-savvy in order to use Groupon?

CN: For subscribers and merchants, Groupon tries to make everything as simple and as user-friendly as possible. When redeeming Groupons, merchants have multiple options in terms of tracking. Merchants can upload Groupon numbers online, scan Groupons with a smartphone and track overspending or they can simply use a printed out list and check them off one by one. Groupon’s sales reps will work with each merchant to help him or her use Groupon’s online tools if they would like to learn how. The bottom line is that there’s nothing that Groupon offers for which we wouldn’t help merchants learn to use when offering a deal.

How to use Foursquare

Foursquare is a free way of letting acquaintances know where someone is by “checking in” to places and then posting that location on their Twitter or Facebook feed. It awards points, prize badges and sometimes coupons.

Right now there are more than 8 million people using Foursquare, and now businesses can use it too, at no cost. Businesses can find out who their most frequent visitors are and then reward them and even attract others hoping to “out-visit” other Foursquare users. For more information on how to use Foursquare, visit https://foursquare.com/business/.

How to use LivingSocial

LivingSocial offers registered users a deeply discounted deal every day with discounts and coupons to an area business. After subscribing to one of the more than 250 business markets, each user gets an email per day offering a 50 to 90 percent discount on a product, or service. The user then purchases that deal and is given a redemption voucher to be used the next day. They are then given the chance to send the same deal to their friends and if three others also purchase the deal, then the original user gets the same deal for free.

A service such as LivingSocial could be used for carwash or detailing packages. However, LivingSocial does take a cut of the profit, but it is free to start up. For more information, visit http://livingsocial.com.

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