Chris Matthews, creator of the Specialized Riders Club, has produced a beginner's guide to social media for bike shops.
He recommends joining the Specialized Riders Club, naturally, but his 45-page guide also has walk-throughs on how to join - and link together - social media sites Facebook, Twitter and the sports specific Plus3 Network.
"Social media websites allow conversations to occur between you and your local cycling community. These conversations are often composed of informal posts of text, images, and videos that can be publicly commented on by the community," said Matthews.
Unlike posting comments to forums, posting content on social media websites is more dynamic as the sites are often integrated and data shared. Matthews shows how to integrate Twitter on to Facebook.
"Social media will open up a very clear, very open, and often extremely candid channel for feedback. A great deal of it will be positive, and reinforcing. You'll find yourself
being offered ideas, accolades, and perhaps even find yourself with friends you didn't know you had.
"Sometimes people think more highly of you than you might expect: everyone you've ever sold a bike to, even if it was years ago, might still carry around very positive memories of the experience."
What about negative reviews?
"In the rare instance that you have a negative review, social media makes it easy to reply directly to the person and address the issue - which certainly beats the option of them
only voicing their problem to their friends. Think of social media as a way to earn a chance to make it right for customers who, right or wrong, felt disappointed with something," said Matthews.
He gives the example of bike shop in Kansas which created a profile on Facebook and within two weeks had added 93 fans, advertised an upcoming event, uploaded a customer appreciation photo album, and hosted a fan-created discussion.
Matthews doesn't think adding data to social media sites is a time-sink, it's another form of customer interaction.
Most IBD websites are relatively static and don't have forums or social media linkages other than perhaps shop blogs. By adding links to more dynamic social media websites, an IBD's website can be spiced up, for free. In line with the ethos of social media, Matthews advises shop owners to delegate and share the task of updating to social media sites:
"Ask your employees for ideas about how to make the shop page better, and encourage them use Facebook at work to create stronger ties with customers. You can assign ‘officer’ rankings for your shop page to employees, so you can let one or more of them contribute to the management of your Facebook page."
With the economic downturn biting, Matthews believes IBD involvement in social media is well worth the effort:
"There are very few bike shops that are taking advantage of free social media marketing. This is stuff that ant bike shop can and should do, and in times of scaled back marketing budgets, the practicality of it makes it extra sensible. Social media can make bike shops easier to find, can improve tribal connections with a shop’s communities, and can help shops build their online reputations.
"In tough economic times, it’s your tribe of dedicated friends and followers that will get you through it. And you need them just as they need you to be there for them when their bike needs service, or when they need new tyres. If the guide can help even one bike shop weather the downturn, then I figure I’ve done something good."