Go west, young man” is a phrase attributed to Horace Greely concerning America’s westward expansion in the mid-1800s. At the time, the idea of the American West embodied opportunity, and was viewed as an exciting new territory where hard work, determination, and a bit of adventurous spirit could bring abundant success.
A truly new frontier is rare nowadays in our global society, but after spending time listening to car wash owners and operators at the recent International Carwash Show in Las Vegas, it was clear that, within our industry, social media remains something of an uncharted territory. There is an air of enthusiasm about it conceptually — a new, technology-driven method of communication that has the power to build relationships with customers. Okay, so it isn’t really “new” in 2015 — but it is still massively under-utilized within our particular industry. Enthusiasm for the concept of social media, however, is generally accompanied by trepidation (and in more extreme cases outright fear) about how to use it and how to prevent it from being an initiative that is launched with initial zeal only to be tossed by the wayside after the sheen of novelty wears off.
Our purpose in this article will be to address the why and how of social media. We’ll talk about Facebook, and save additional platforms (like Twitter, Google+, and Instagram) for a subsequent article.
WHY GO SOCIAL?
According to the 2014 ICA Consumer Study, a whopping 79 percent of professional car wash users patronize only one or two washes. Certainly, there is an element of convenience involved — people tend to wash near their homes or workplaces. That said, anytime anyone chooses to do anything with only one or two businesses, the relationships they have with those destinations matter. There has never been a better forum for building relationships outside of the business itself than Facebook.
Facebook is a place where a business can talk to a customer (or potential customer) in a social forum; where they can have a conversation, and begin to form and solidify a lasting relationship. Imagine the impact it would have on your wash if you could get customers to visit you only slightly more frequently — and, what if you could do that simply by making them think about you more often, and thinking of you extremely positively when they do? That is the power of social media.
Social media enables you to drive a conversation where you can tell people who are engaged in a leisure activity about your business and promote yourself in a subtle, yet powerful, high-quality way. With every post for your wash, you will quietly weave yourself into the background of people’s lives with a quality mix of social content. As people view pictures of their friends and family, your car wash becomes their friend and a part of their family. You build and nurture a relationship with them, and that relationship becomes a conscious or unconscious reason that they choose to visit you (and hopefully, visit you frequently).
KEEP IT SOCIAL
It’s called social media for a reason. One of the biggest mistakes a business can make is failing to recognize and respect what social media is. It
is, at base, a social forum. That means that you as a business must approach it from a social perspective and develop content that is inherently social in nature. Think of it from a user experience perspective. If you, as a Facebook user, are engaged in a leisure activity where you are looking at pictures of your friends, family, your neighbor’s dog, your co-worker’s new kayak, and cupcakes for sale at a school bake sale, do you really want to be bombarded with shrill, aggressive ad messages? The answer is, of course, a resounding no.
Now, there are plenty of businesses that do just that. Car dealers are among the worst offenders — filling their fans’ newsfeeds with incessant product and sales information, all of which is rooted in the core message of “Do you want to buy a car?” “Is today the day you want to buy a car?” “How about now?” Businesses that employ these strategies miss the key opportunity social media affords to build a relationship with their customers. In short, you can either shout at them as potential buyers, or you can talk to them as people. You know what you’d prefer — and your business’ social media should be in line with that preference.
So what does that mean? Keeping it social all comes down to content and creating posts that are creative, interesting, and fun. If you create fun in your posts, your content is in line with the medium on the whole, and maximizes the opportunity and experience presented for users when your posts are side by side with the pictures of their friends, family, and animals that are the reason they are looking at Facebook in the first place. In its simplest form, content can be broken down into three general categories:
Purely Social Content
These are your “Happy Friday” posts, inspirational/motivational memes, and pictures of silly things like dogs in Halloween costumes. They really have nothing to do with your car wash, but will likely be the posts that generate your best customer engagement and response simply because they are the most in line with the social nature of the medium itself.
Purely Car Wash Content
These are posts about your car wash — but, you should try to add a social “flair” to the posts. Show a super shiny luxury car with a message that says “Yes, you actually are better looking in a shiny car. Stop down to Joe’s Express Wash and mention this post for $2 off your wash.” The post is about your car wash and it drives traffic with a discount, but it still has a humorous, slightly social twist that offers users a social experience. These should really be your smallest total volume
of posts. Resist the urge to over-post with purely car wash content. Remember, you don’t want to be the car dealer screaming, “Is today the day you want to buy a car?”
Hybrid Social-Car Wash Content
These are posts that are at least loosely car wash related, but they are not specific to your wash. Examples might include “Throwback Thursday” posts showing cool old car wash pictures, or images of a kid’s big wheel car wash, or a picture of a car wash themed birthday cake (yes, you can have a car wash themed birthday. We’ve seen it)
BLAZE A TRAIL WITHIN YOUR WASH
As you begin to plan your Facebook content, get creative. Your phone probably has a great camera that you can use to create your own great Facebook images, which you can tie in withpromotional messaging if you so choose. Here are few actionable ideas you could apply today:
• Is there a car full of dogs going through the wash? Take a picture and post it with a message that says: “It might be the dog days of summer, but at least these buddies are rolling in a clean ride! $1 off your wash this week if you bring man’s best friend and mention this post!”
• Is there a nice looking family coming through the wash? Take a fun “thumbs-up” snapshot of them with their clean car at the vacuums with a message that says: “Everyone rides happy in a clean car from Joe’s Express Wash! Drive down and see us today!”
• Don’t forget your own team members. Is it someone’s anniversary of employment? Take a snapshot. Do you allow your employees to wear team colors the Friday before a big game? Take a silly picture of the group in team apparel with a message that says, “Team Joe’s Express Wash LOVES the Green & Gold! Stop in wearing team colors and get a free 12-oz fountain soda with any wash!”
Regardless of the creative being used for any given post, there are some consistent elements you should try to integrate into every post:
High Quality Images
Images selected need to be clear, not blurry, fuzzy, or distorted. Remember, the quality you put out on Facebook is a reflection of your business. Choose wisely.
Images Sized Appropriately for Mobile Viewing
The overwhelming majority of Facebook posts are viewed on mobile devices. Make sure that your images are optimized for mobile viewing. Horizontal images work best, with the ideal size being 472 x 394 px (6.29 x 5.25 inches). Images are never cropped by Facebook, they are scaled, which is why larger vertical images, once scaled down, can become challenging to read on mobile devices.
Your Website Both in a Graphic and in an Active Link
The inclusion of a website address in a graphic is a smart choice, but ensuring that you include an active link to your website in every post that people can simply click on is key. Think of it logically: why wouldn’t you give people an immediate way to click through to your website rather than having to open a browser separately and either hunt around for you or type in a URL? Always make it easy for people.
Even if it is a 100 percent social post, the ongoing presence of your logo is great from a general branding perspective. Remember, you are building a relationship. Having that person see your logo over and over again creates a high level of recognition, familiarity, and comfort. You are becoming their car wash, and they will identify it consistently with your logo.
Once you begin to “get social,” you’ll enjoy the process (and the results), but it does require a genuine commitment. Creating high-quality content takes time, thought, and a bit of creativity. Decide who in your organization is going to champion Facebook and will be responsible for day-to-day content creation. This person will need enough technical skill to choose quality images they find online, add logos and website address, and write quality, engaging post text. It will need to be someone who understands the need for fun social content, and it will need to be someone you trust to make creative decisions that are a good reflection of your business. This person will likely end up responding to customer comments (including complaints), so if you are less than 100 percent certain of their ability to respond professionally and appropriately, you should reevaluate your choice.
While one person will likely become your in-house social media “guru,” try to engage your whole team. Encourage team members to get involved with snapping great pictures around the wash, and get your team members to “like” your page personally. If positioned well, Facebook can be a great team-building endeavor where everyone can feel that they can contribute to the business’ marketing and success.
While social media may be a largely uncharted territory within our industry, the opportunity it offers is enormous. There are few other advertising mediums that enable you to have a quality conversation with customers, to build and nurture relationships with them, and facilitate your ongoing presence in their day-to-day lives in a social forum. Oh, yeah, and there are few advertising options out there that are free — other than the time associated with content creation. Given the opportunity presented, coupled with the obvious affordability of the medium, social media represents an immense opportunity for car wash owners and operators to grow their businesses and maximize their performance through rock-solid strategy and innovative execution. Go Social!
Mercedes Mannino has over 18 years of applied marketing leadership and brand management experience. She has spent the past nine years in the automotive industry, having served inter alia as vice president of a digital marketing company servicing the automotive industry nationally. Mercedes currently serves as director of marketing of Cleaning Systems Inc. You can contact Mercedes with questions or for advice at email@example.com.