Take Amanda Manchett, group marketing manager at Manchetts Budgens/Jet site at Burwell in Cambridgeshire, who uses Facebook and Twitter to promote the business.
"The site was refurbished four years ago, when we transformed the shop into a Budgens. We felt Facebook would be a great medium to communicate the changes to the community," she explains.
Today Amanda has 885 'likes' on the Facebook page. When asked whether those 'likes' translate into sales, she says being on Facebook is not really about selling. "We try hard not to sell on it because it's all about brand image and supporting the community. Once you show that you support the community, you are trusted and will gain sales because people trust you. Social media definitely gives us a friendly feel, so much so that when people who have followed us on Facebook come in to the shop they feel welcome and that they already know us."
There's a company near to Manchetts that refurbishes VW Campers and when one of them is on the forecourt, Amanda takes a pic and uploads it to Facebook. "I'll say 'Look at this stunner on our forecourt' people love that sort of thing and they do interact with us.
"Recently Jet put up pictures of old forecourt sites on its Facebook page and we were featured. I put our pic on our page and 350 people 'liked' it. That doesn't sound a lot but it's a lot in our community and we had some great feedback including 'Don't know what's cooler, the cars or the price of the fuel'."
Manchetts has 1,500 followers on Twitter too. "I follow local account holders and that's how we've built up our followers," Amanda explains.
She has an automatic feed linking Facebook with Twitter. She uses a Smartphone and has wifi on the forecourt so everything can be accessed immediately. "I probably spend four hours a week on social media but you can do as much or as little as you like. There are a lot of companies out there who say they can do it for you but it is really easy to do it yourself."
Amanda's advice is to keep posts interesting and 'light' and talk about anything that will spark some interest and get a response. And she says you shouldn't be scared about negative feedback because the way you respond can determine the outcome.
"We've rarely had bad feedback and when we do it's usually unreasonable but we don't delete it immediately as it makes us look better if we leave it up. Bad feedback doesn't frighten me; I use it to improve our business."
Next for Amanda is Instagram. "My 19- and 23-year old children are not on Facebook so much any more it's more Instagram so I'm trying that with our rescue and recovery part of the business."
The morning Forecourt Trader spoke to Adam Hogwood at Morrison's Budgens of Broadstairs, he'd already tweeted three photos. "Social media gives us a bit more personality so we are not just another supermarket," he explains.
"We're viewed as real people so it makes us more approachable.
"It's so instant and so easy. It only takes a second to take a photo. You tweet it and in moments it's re-tweeted. I did three tweets in five minutes just think how long it would take to make a flyer and send that out."
Like Amanda, Adam says social media is not all about selling: "You can only measure sales if you are directly selling on it, but it's not about selling it's about networking and strengthening your foothold in the community."
Adam's been doing a lot of in-store tastings so he takes photos of those and puts them out on Twitter.
But it is a two-way communication and it can lead to sales. Adam explains: "If we see someone has a celebration coming up, we'll say pop in and we can do you a deal on wine or snacks. These types of bulk deals are popular."
Again, like Amanda, Adams says there have been very few occasions where they've had negative comments. "When we have had them, we encourage people to come in and chat with us or telephone or email us as it can be difficult sometimes to answer a query in 145 characters or less."
But even retailers who are not big social media fans admit it has its uses. Rachael Hockmeyer of Hockmeyer Motors in Sleaford is one such person. The site's outdoor launderette was publicised via postings on Facebook from Sleaford locals while Rachael says a 'pop-up shop' at Heckington Show received some fantastic feedback through Facebook for the products available and, most importantly, the prices.
But it has other uses too: "We recently had an unidentified shoplifter and careful posting of a CCTV pic on the town community site soon identified the thief and he was arrested. This sort of thing can be useful but it is incredibly difficult to do this and remain inside the laws and data protection rules."
Rachael also uses social media to source info on new staff. "I check out the Facebook pages of prospective employees before I offer them a position and if I don't like what I see they don't get the job." She also has a strict clause in staff contracts that prohibits them from mentioning work at all on their pages she has dismissed a member of staff for posts they made.
Final word goes to ACS chairman Jonathan James, who has nearly 1,200 followers on Twitter. He says: "Social media needs careful nurturing but managed well it can be an extremely good tool. I find it quite useful. I do a lot of store visits and then Tweet photos of best practice and from that I've had a lot of very positive comments. When I posted pics of David Charman's site they got 1,000 views which wasn't bad at all."
Forecourt Trader has used Facebook to great effect by running the Forecourt Loo of the Year competition on the site. The winner is the loo with the most 'likes' and this year's accolade went to Chartman Group's Bodmin Moor Services in Cornwall. The firm's director Clive Sheppard said at the time of the win: "The social media format [of the competition] has encouraged us to embrace this area more closely, and has been great for team building. It's been fun watching the number of 'likes' click up, and also seeing the other entrants."
The magazine also has a strong presence on Twitter and LinkedIn where regular updates on the latest industry news are posted and readers can leave comments.
use social media to Promote your wash
Leighton Ricketts, managing director of Washwell Forecourt Services, says social media can be an invaluable tool in promoting your car wash business but adds that it can also be your worst enemy.
"Negative comments about your wash can circulate quickly and lose you business," he says. "Therefore it is really important that you get the wash running well and producing clean, shiny cars. When this is done and your wash is as good as it can be, get people talking about your business in a positive light. We have been promoting all our special offers via our Facebook site, which now has quite a following.
"Another thing we have done is theme one of our car wash centres and called it the King Kong car wash. We have a 6ft 6" robotic gorilla waving at passers by and have large animal statues around the car wash. The response has been fantastic. People wave back at the gorilla and beep (thinking it's a man in a gorilla suit) and customers hop out of their vehicles to take pictures and post them on social media sites. All of this attention has led to an immediate revenue increase of about 30% and it's still climbing, so it's a great way to use social media and actually see your revenues increase!"