Monday, 15 November 2010 23:02

Kristen Felder Talks About Social Media and its Impact on the Collision Repair Industry

“Social Media”– Personal networking technology (and its application) is more than just the chatter mechanism that teens use to communicate with other teens. It has made its presence unavoidable in the business world in recent years. Is it profitable? Worthwhile? Here to stay? Autobody News sat down with Kristen Felder, founder and CEO of CollisionHub.com—a new social media website for the collision repair industry—to find out what all the buzz is about.

ABN: What sparked your idea to create Collision Hub?
KF: Well, five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit, I was working with State Farm Insurance Company. Most everybody’s cell phones were down after the storm, but a lot of people still had access to their social media accounts, which allowed the insurance companies a way to get a hold of customers. So I started to see social media as a very helpful tool thanks to that.     Then, at NACE two years ago, I was talking to some colleagues and I thought it would be great if we could recreate that dialogue and debate within the industry more than just at expos once or twice a year. I wanted to create a place where people in the industry could talk openly and have a place to really get to know each other. I decided I wanted to build something to really connect the different segments of the industry.

ABN: What did it take to get Collision Hub off the ground?
KF: I spent 3–4 months programming and building the site. I didn’t have any formal web or HTML training so I sort of learned on the fly.     The site itself looks completely different now then it did when I first started it. I was fortunate enough to have phenomenal mentors to call and ask for advice when I was creating the site and even to eventually call and ask to join and create a page once it was done. It would not have launched so successfully without my mentors in the collision and insurance sides of the industry joining the site. It definitely grew by word of mouth after that. When it first got started, I remember thinking, ‘if people from both sides [of the industry] were willing to join, I had done something right in my career.’

ABN: You have a family background in collision repair, don’t you ?
KF: I was born into this industry. My Dad owned a collision repair shop when I was growing up and I really spent my life in it. I worshipped my Dad, so I was in the shop every day watching him work. I did a little bit of everything to help once I got older; frame, body and paint, to name a few. Looking back I wasn’t that great of a technician, so I went to college and got a job working with State Farm Insurance in their marketing department. While working there my perspective on the insurance industry changed a lot, but I missed the people in the body shops. Car people will do anything for anybody—they’re really good people. That’s one thing I really enjoy about Collision Hub, it lets people see both sides of the industry.

ABN: Where do you see the relationship between social media and the collision repair industry in 5 to 10 years? Do you think it’s a long-lasting, valuable tool?
KF: I think in 5 years we will see everything involved in the social media environment. Facebook, youtube, and twitter will become complete news sources and information sharing mediums. These sites promote friendship and respect and open up some channels for users. I think we will also see a lot more people plugged in this industry specifically.

ABN: What are CollisionHub.com’s numbers when it comes to number of  pages and traffic?
KF: CollisionHub.com currently has about 3,000 personal pages in 22 countries. The pages break down to 54% body shops, 14% insurance and the rest are vendors and educators. As far as views, Collision Hub gets about 50,000 page views a month from about 13,000 individual IP addresses. Most of our traffic is organic; not a lot of people are coming to the site from a link on another site.

ABN: The last two years have been especially tough in the industry. What have your first two years been like for CollisionHub? Have there been any major problems or challenges?
KF: It’s been hard. There have been some hard months. There are highs and lows with every business, but for Collision Hub the lows haven’t been so low recently.

ABN: What are Collision Hub’s goals business-wise 5 to 10 years down the road?
KF: Overall we want to develop a community that is accepting and respectful of everyone in the industry, no matter if they’ve been a top-level CEO of a major body shop for 30 years or are just starting out as a technician. We want everyone to have an equal voice and equal footing and really create a community for this industry online. We want newcomers to the industry to have a place to share ideas and have them be heard, as well as a place for them to learn and gain industry mentors.

ABN: Tell us about your plans for Collision Hub TV.
KF: I think that the size and scope of this industry isn’t really appreciated; what all we are involved with isn’t appreciated. Collision Hub TV just provides another way for people to see what goes on, to be there without having to buy a plane ticket. CH TV will give more stories a face. For example, one thing I’m hoping CH TV will be able to do is to help SkillsUSA winner Kayla Toncik be able to get enough exposure to get some more financial sponsorships for her WorldSkills event in 2011. Participants from the USA have to earn their own way to WorldSkills, unlike some participant from other countries whose ways are paid. Through CH TV people can see her, see her train and connect to her story. CH TV provides people with a way to see it, feel it and hear it; to be more involved and plugged in. Collision Hub TV is the site’s number one driver right now.

ABN: What are some new features in the works at CollisionHub.com?
KF: Well, there are quite a few things in the works, some more complete than others. First, there’s Collision Hub University, which will probably be launched in Q1 of 2011. Everyone right now is training driven and the industry wants more training, but it is expensive and time consuming for businesses to send their staff to training events and classes. So CH university would allow technicians to watch 5 to 10 minute videos to gain more technical knowledge. We’re working with some of the training organizations to set that up. We’re also working on a classifieds/auctioning section of Collision Hub, which will hopefully go live also in Q1 of 2011. This would be a marketplace where people could post job openings, for-sale items and jobs wanted posts. Also the Girl Scouts project Collision Hub did at NACE this year was very successful, so we will be expanding on that in the coming months. We’re thinking of doing a Gear Heads Kids Car opportunity where the Girl Scouts can attend some classes and work regularly on projects to gain better knowledge about this industry. After the last Girl Scouts project we also have tossed around the idea of creating an 18 and under section of Collision Hub where people under 18-years-old can have a Collision Hub page and use it as a venue to learn more about this industry, but only be able to view certain, age appropriate content. We have also been experimenting with the idea of creating virtual trade shows. Collision Hub would provide a program where people can create avatars and visit virtual booths at any participating trade show. Then users can click on a booth and it will video call the physical booth where someone there will be able to answer questions and talk to them as if they were physically at the show. We’re thinking of trying this out at next year’s ASA Vision show.

ABN: I know a lot of social media sites have had issues generating much income from usage, how has Collision Hub done and how do you pay the bills?
KF: Collision Hub runs on a sponsorship model. I went to companies I had existing relationships with from my insurance background when I first had this idea and asked them if they would like to participate.

Those companies make yearly donations to Collision Hub and in turn Collision Hub does advertising and product videos on our site for them. I picked products I believe in for these positions. It meant a lot that these companies had faith in my idea so early on, it was a big vote of confidence. Our founding sponsors were 3M, PPG and Enterprise and we recently landed Chief as a sponsor just before the SEMA show.

ABN: What is your sense of the value of social media for collision repairers?
KF: People don’t want to choose a product anymore that they don’t have a connection to. Social media allows customers to have more of this connection easily. Social media allows a business to be there before, during, and after the customer’s need is met. I really think social media is the best business and marketing tool we’ve ever had. If you’re not on social media now, get there and get there now.

Thanks, Kristen. Sign up for free at www.collisonhub.com.

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