Are you in the dark when it comes to optimizing your online presence?

Let’s say you’ve been delaying optimizing your online presence. It’s uncharted territory for you, so it’s natural to be weary and even doubt whether you’ll be successful there. Still, with a larger and larger percentage of your customer base being glued to mobile devices, you know you can’t afford to not be active online. So, what do you do when learning to navigate the social media landscape feels like a full-time job?

Sure, it’s tempting to hop on the bandwagon of the newest flashy trend, but putting all of your proverbial eggs in one basket can hurt your bottom line over the long haul. With so much competition, that’s not a risk you can afford.

The platforms might ebb and flow in popularity, but you’ll notice optimizing your online presence will revolve around two main functions: publishing content and managing your reputation.

Content Sites

Gone are the days when just having a Facebook page would put you ahead of your competition. Quality is now the name of the game, and it’s a do-or-die struggle. Remember, you’re not just competing with the repair shop around the corner. Your messaging is up against social media posts from your customers’ family members and friends, as well as from businesses of all sizes in other industries.

Optimizing your online presence, Facebook

Social media is about your audience. Content sites, especially Facebook, tailor home feeds in response to user behavior, so you need to cater to their preferences. Essentially, you’re playing in someone else’s sandbox. So, what’s a business owner to post?

Your foundational content should be entertaining or educational — or, better yet, both. Create and curate content your customers would thank you for. Then, get fans talking by asking questions and running contests with valuable prizes up for grabs. Keep the selling to a minimum.

With organic reach growing more difficult to earn, you also might want to consider investing in social ads, particularly on Facebook. You’ll increasingly need to pay to play in the social media world, but that investment also gives you options. By allotting some of your budget to ads, you can target your ideal customers where they’re already hanging out online.

The Other Players

Beyond the behemoth that is Facebook, you’ll also want to take a look at Twitter, Google+ and, perhaps, Instagram. As you expand your social presence, keep in mind that it’s better to do a few things well than a hundred things poorly. Take the time to get to know the platforms you’re adopting, so you can follow each one’s best practices to engage with your audience sincerely and successfully.

Optimizing your online presence, TwitterTwitter lends itself to casual conversation, customer service and news distribution. It’s not about what you ate for lunch (unless you’re really dying to share how much you enjoyed that tuna salad). If you’re always on the lookout for the latest trend or hot topic, you’ll find yourself in good company on Twitter. By networking here, you can position yourself as an industry expert and connect with your customers online in real time. As you acclimate, you’ll find your sweet spot for posting frequency, but you’ll want to tweet more than you post on any other network to remain in your followers’ constantly refreshing feeds.

Google+ is growing in importance to automotive repair shops, in particular, for localized search engine exposure. By posting content to your Google+ site (and taking care of reviews properly, as we’ll discuss later on), you’re building a robust history for yourself online to show Google you’re a trusted source and an active member of its community. Especially if you don’t have an active blog or intense SEO initiatives, Google+ is a must-have. You’ll find your posts might not receive as much interaction as on other networks, but your ultimate goal here is to create a body of high-quality, searchable content for Google to crawl.

Optimizing your online presence, InstagramWith about 300 million users, Instagram is an up-and-comer to keep an eye on. Instagram is all about sharing real-time moments and has, perhaps, the most simple engagement options: Hit the heart icon to “like” and the speech bubble icon to comment on the photo or video. Worried about your sub-par photography skills? Instagram offers filters and editing tools to help you make your photos stand out. Auto shops still are learning how to define their success here using business metrics, so, if forced to choose, prioritize other networks with a stronger tie to your bottom line.

Reputation Management Sites

Customers see Google+, Yelp and other review sites as a direct customer service line to you. You wouldn’t ignore feedback delivered in person or over the phone — and you no longer have the luxury of doing so online. Extend the personal touch you’re dedicated to in-store to your online reputation sites.

The first step is to claim your business pages. You’ll want to claim your Google+ and Yelp listings, as well as any other sites that are popular in your particular region. (Not sure which sites these are? Do a Google search for your business and take note of what shows up on the first page of results.) Most of these sites verify your ownership via an automated phone call to your main business line, so you’ll want be at your shop to streamline this process.

Once you claim your listings, update your business information. At best, they’ll likely be incomplete. The more complete your listings are, the more likely you are to show up in search, both internally and via search engines. A prospective customer might be looking for a shop that offers a shuttle service, so, if you neglect to include it in your profile, they might never find you.

At worst, your listing could be disseminating incorrect information about your business. (Never assume that the vetting processes for user-submitted information are thorough.) Many prospective customers look to these sites to find your hours, and arriving to a locked door on a Sunday morning when your Yelp listing says you’re open will put an end to that customer relationship before it can begin.

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Be sure to subscribe to email notifications for new reviews. (Check the “Account Settings” section of your account to subscribe to them.) Take the time to post thoughtful, individualized responses to all reviews you receive. By responding to positive reviews, you strengthen customer loyalty and show your appreciation for them putting in the time and effort to help your business. By responding to questions and concerns in negative reviews, you have the opportunity to salvage the relationship and assure the prospective customers who are researching you that they’ll be treated well at your shop. (If you find yourself with a major snafu on your hands, take the conversation offline as soon as possible and communicate with the reviewer privately.)

Measuring Success

The bottom line is that optimizing your online presence is an investment in your business — just like your other marketing and advertising initiatives. Treat it as such. It quickly can become just an expense if you don’t set clear, measurable goals. Set aside time each month to review your progress and tweak your strategy to help you reach your milestones.

[This article originally appeared on MotorAge.com]

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