If your customers are there, shouldn’t your dealership be there, too?

If you’re like those of us who pay more attention to commercials for products to take the gray out of our hair than we ever expected, you’ve also probably associated MySpace, Twitter and Facebook with the kids who dye their hair the colors of things we sell equipment to cut, bag and traverse.

But if you want to optimize your equipment dealership’s business, it may be time to face up to Facebook.

Texas-based Hendershot Equipment is one dealer that is finding success reaching out to its customers through social media. With locations in Stephenville and Decatur, Texas, Hendershot is talking to customers online on Facebook. The dealership’s efforts have won the business 223 online fans who submit photos, post comments or otherwise interact with the dealership.

Make a Commitment

Becoming involved in social media is like starting a fitness program: It may seem daunting at first,and it’s easy to give up when that first burst of enthusiasm wanes.

You have to keep at it or your online social network — which you have to build every bit as much as you build your local customer base — will disappear. Think of it as a conversation instead of an advertisement. Social networks not only allow you to get your message out — and to do so cost effectively — but they allow your customers to respond to you in real time.

That makes monitoring your sites even more important, so you can respond to customer concerns.

Facebook, Twitter & MySpace

Over the past 5 years, hundreds of social networking sites have launched with varying degrees of success. By far the most important are Facebook, which has about half a billion users, Twitter and MySpace, which each have about 80 million, according to Paul Kiser, CEO of Enterprise Technologies.

As you dive into social networking, it’s important to choose the correct sites. While many cling to the notion that the agricultural industry isn’t joining the social media revolution, nothing could be further from the truth.

Major OEMs, including AGCO Corp., New Holland and Husqvarna have Facebook sites, and increasing numbers of dealers are following in the footsteps of Hendershot Equipment. But it’s important to know your audience and know how to use these sites.

Facebook’s users are the oldest, says Kiser, with 46% being in the 35- to 54-year-old age range, a key audience for many dealerships. MySpace skews much younger and is the only one of the major social networking sites to be consistently losing users.

Adding a Twitter account needs careful consideration. Twitter revolves around short posts of 140 characters. A lot of people have signed up, but plenty of people don’t actually use it. If you don’t intend to update your status routinely, you might be better off relying on Facebook’s status updates.

Network Maintenance

Sound confusing? It can be, particularly if you create separate sites for business and personal use. But there are ways to manage multiple accounts across multiple platforms. TweetDeck and HootSuite are just two of these.

These sites allow you to create “dashboards” that manage sites on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and other networks simultaneously. If you’re serious about jumping into the social networking scene, these dashboards can make expanding your networks much easier.

So what’s the big deal about social networking, and what does it mean for business?

Hendershot Equipment uses Facebook to thank its customers for each sale, posting pictures of new owners and their equipment. And customers respond with compliments in the comment section.

Other companies use Facebook to post sales or showcase new equipment lines. But above all, successful companies are using social networking sites to start and maintain conversations with customers and potential customers — many of whom they might not have reached using traditional methods.

Originally published in the Fall 2010 issue of Rural Lifestyle Dealer, a sister publication to Farm Equipment. See more at www.rurallifestyledealer.com.