If you consider yourself part of the crowd that doubts the power of social media, as I did just a week ago, you haven’t seen Tom White Junior’s capabilities with social media. As general manager of Suzuki of Wichita, Tom’s integration of social networking into the company has turned the business around entirely. Just years ago, the company was not incredibly well known and by 2009, they were ranked the #1 best Suzuki dealership in the country. It seems like Suzuki of Wichita has a little something to brag about, no?
But more than a boasting jamboree, Tom’s success is a genius example of how combining creative strategy, social media tools and a vision for possibilities can send a business “riding home happy”. Using a plethora of social media platforms including Twitter, WordPress, Google Alerts, YouTube, Squidoo, Facebook and Google Analytics, Tom has created a virtual traffic sign that leads online consumers to his brand. A “super genius and mastermind of possibilities,” as he describes himself on the company website, Tom exudes enthusiasm and pure creativity. I’ve drawn out a few major points that stood out from his presentation last week. They are general tips for other businesses interested in using social media at work.
1: Be Transparent
To be successful with social media, you need to be a genius storyteller. Your online platforms shouldn’t be a place where you try to sell your product. The online sphere is a place to use these “shiny toys,” as Tom calls social media, to extend the atmosphere of your physical location. People driven to your website want to get to know you. You are given the chance to let them know who you are, not who you want them to think you are. Truth is key here. “Tell the truth, be incredibly transparent,” advises Tom. You don’t want potential customers coming to your location and receiving an entirely different story than they received through your website. This only makes them doubt you, and you quickly lose their trust. At Suzuki of Wichita, the main building mostly consists of large windows, and the interior rooms are completely wall-less. All the walls are glass, there is no privacy, no secret areas. This design, Tom explains, allows visitors to see that they are as transparent on location as they are on the website.
2: Become Friends with Google
Google has 60% to 70% of the U.S. search market. Internationally, the domination is clearer. In the UK alone, Google has “nearly 90% of the search market.” If this is where your customers are going, you want to make sure you’re on those search results. Given that searchers only view the first or second page of Google’s search results, it’s also equally important to land within the first page of results. You need this to bring awareness to your business. “If you don’t show up in Google,” says Tom, “you don’t exist.” But for Tom, having one website or one result on the first page is not enough. Tom advises to create numerous websites geared toward your brand. Doing so will give searchers multiple results leading to your business within the first couple of pages of Google. Squidoo.com, created by Seth Godin, is an excellent tool to increase traffic to your site. It lets you create a lens (a page), giving you exposure on the Internet. Plus, Google values Squidoo, which means most lenses will appear at the top of search results within 48 hours. And, it’s free. You can’t do better than that. Other platforms can also help with exposure, but the key is to find those that are valuable search engine-wise.
3: Be a Good Communicator
Just as people think that communicating only consists of talking, many also fall into thinking that social media is only about talking to your customers. But as Tom likes to say, “the Lord gave us two ears and one mouth and we should use them in proportion.” He carries this concept straight into social media by providing customers the online means of both informing and listening to them. On their website, Suzuki of Wichita includes a “pick your own salesperson” feature that allows potential customers to read through each salesperson’s personal posts to decide which suits them best. Tom has also created SuzukiGossip.com, a web page featuring testimonials of everyone who buys a car. These are just a couple of ways the company speaks to their customers. They also do their share of listening through websites like Facebook. Tom uses their Facebook page, SuzukiofWichitaFans, to stay in touch with people and address feedback, even negative feedback. Tom loves negative feedback. He says it’s the best way to acknowledge people’s comments and show them their opinions matter. These tools, Tom believes, don’t sell. They’re not a selling piece, they’re a communication piece.
No Such Thing as a Social Media Expert
Tom White obviously knows how to make social media work to advertise his business. He doesn’t call himself a “super genius” for nothing. He is, indeed, a genius with social media. There’s no doubt about that. But there’s no such thing as perfect, and even Tom acknowledges this. While he didn’t give his personal thoughts on room for improvement, a couple of things stood out to me.
The first of these concerns Suzuki of Wichita’s Facebook and Twitter pages. As a graphic designer, I’ve been trained to see the importance of visual clarity, flow and consistency between the different elements of a marketing and design campaign. Tom has made sure that WordPress blogs and other platforms used for the business maintain the same look as their website. But this look doesn’t carry into the Facebook and Twitter pages. While the main website includes their logo ( the stylized “S” on the top left) and their website name to help enforce the visual brand, their Facebook page steers away from this look by using their Shark illustration (reminding customers that the business is non-commission). The Twitter page furthers even more from the website’s look, with a background choice that seems more characteristic of a 10-year-old Hello Kitty fan than one of a car dealership. Visual consistency is important, even after you have a car buyer following your tweets.
The other area of improvement, also design-related, focuses on the website. Tom made a point to say that the layout and look of any website is not the focus, that it’s the message that matters. I come from a different background. Again, the visual message plays just as vital a role as the conceptual idea. If one doesn’t support the other, it weakens the campaign. With Suzuki’s website, the first thing that came to mind as I perused it was that it looked cluttered and somewhat “car-sales-like”. Tom cleverly stated that part of their strategy is to observe what other car dealerships are doing and go the exact opposite. But if you compare their website with those of other local car dealerships, it’s equally cluttered and, honestly, not much different. Although I say this with some regret, we are a world of image-focused consumers, and we demand visually desirable brands and visually appealing concepts.
Tom may not be a graphic designer, but one thing is clear. He is a genius of social media. He understands its purpose, its possibilities. This not only sets him apart from his competitors, it makes him #1, and that says book loads.