Connecting with Twenty First Century Consumers Through Social Media
This month Dealer Marketing Magazine is focusing on Social Media—a topic that every dealership should be learning about. The term “social media” has no official definition, but I believe Wikipedia.org defines it well: “The term Social Media refers to the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue.”
That is a pretty broad definition, what you need to focus on, however, is that it is an “interactive dialogue.” The biggest difference between “social media” and “traditional media” is that social media, unlike previous forms of media, is a two way street. The old model of simply broadcasting your message out and hoping that it motivates consumers is over. This has both positive and negative implications. Dealers are now able to communicate directly with their potential customers and connect with them in a way that was impossible before, but those same communication channels are open to the consumer, whether they want to praise your dealership or bash it. These changes are not on the way; they have already happened.
There are several different types of social media and they can be used by dealers in different ways. Those types are:
Social Networks—Facebook, LinkedIn.com, and Google+ are examples of social networks. Social network websites allow users to create personal pages, create lists of their friends and interests, and share those interests and pages with their friends and other users.
Review Sites—Yelp.com, DealerRater.com, and of course Google Places are examples of review sites. These websites are designed to allow consumers to see what others have said about a retailer or product and contribute their own thoughts and opinions.
Content Sharing Sites—These are sites designed primarily for sharing content such as images or video. YouTube.com, digg.com, and flickr.com are examples of content sharing sites.
Forums—Forums are sites for exchanging information on a certain subject. There are forums for everything from Bearded Dragon owners to muscle car enthusiasts. www.Sportscarforums.com and www. vintage-mustang.com are just two examples of the forums out there.
Blogs and Microblogs—Blog is short for web log. These are online journals, usually kept by individuals, with regular commentary on a certain subject or other items of interest, such as video and images. A blog can be hosted on a blog site such as wordpress.com or blog.com or it can be on a personal website.
Content Aggregators—These are sites, such as www.google.com/ig and my.yahoo.com, which allow users to customize the news and online content they want to receive.
What all these types of websites have in common is that user supplied content and contributions are an essential aspect of how and why they exist. Auto dealers need to be aware of how these sites work and how they can be used to benefit or hurt the dealership.
Social networks are used by consumers to connect with their friends and share what they’re reading, watching, listening to, or even just what they’re up to at the moment. Facebook is the biggest of the social networks for now. Google, however, has recently released their own social network, called “Google+” that aims to challenge Facebook’s dominance in this sphere. No one can say how the competition will turn out, (remember myspace.com?) but since there is no cost for having a page on either site, your best bet is to be on both networks.
Social network sites offer dealers a chance to connect with their customers on a regular basis, to stay top of mind. The trick is convincing them to connect with your dealership and stay connected. In order to convince them to “friend” you, you need to give them a reason. And no, your latest inventory is not a reason; customers are only in the market until they have bought a car, if the only reason they connect with you online is your inventory, then they will quickly “un-friend” you once they have bought a vehicle.
In order to realize the benefits of these networks, you need to remain on your customers’ friends lists past the point of sale, so that their network of friends sees you too. Selling cars is about building trust and if a consumer sees that his or her friend trusts you enough to connect with you on Facebook, you are starting out on the right foot. Fill your pages with a mix of useful information that is pertinent to your area, such as how to winterize a vehicle or the best place to take a long cruise down the beach. You should also post information about who you and your employees are and what you’re interested in. If someone at your dealership has just had a baby for example, post congratulations of your Facebook page or let people know that your softball team won its game over the weekend. The idea is to both humanize yourself and provide information that consumers will find genuinely useful. Social networks don’t sell cars; they connect you with customers—making the sale is still up to you.
It should be no surprise that, according to a study by Deloitte and Touche, 62 percent of US consumers read consumer-generated online reviews and 80 of those consumers say that they have affected their purchasing. That study was from 2008 and the numbers have only increased since then. This isn’t really a new phenomenon. Customers have always asked their friends and acquaintances about businesses and products to get their opinions before they buy. Now, however, consumers have access to the opinions of not just their friends and acquaintances, but possibly thousands of people. And just as important, that information is archived, linked, and searchable online.
Fortunately, if consumers can easily find your reviews, so can you. If you’re not already, you should be regularly checking on the review sites, such as www.yelp.com, www.dealerrater.com, www.CitySearch.com, and Google Places. If you have a negative review, try to address the problem in a respectful way. Negative reviews that have been responded to and resolved show customers that you care after the sale—one of the top concerns of customers regarding auto dealers.
You should respond to the positive reviews as well. Thanks them for their kind words and let them know you appreciate their business. Saying “thank you” to customers is priceless and costs nothing. Repeat any positive words from the review in your reply and link to the review from your website to increase its ranking on web searches.
Google has recently thrown a wrench in the online review field. Prior to late July, their online reviews, which alwaysrank on top of their search results, used multiple review sites to determine your review count and star ranking. So before the change, if you had 5 reviews on Google Places, 250 on DealerRater.com, and 545 on Yelp.com, Google places would show that you had 800 reviews; with their new system, your review count would only be five.
A lot of businesses, from car dealers to corner delis, are grumbling about the changes Google has made. Congress even hauled Eric Schmidt, former CEO and current executive chairman of Google, in to explain the situation. Fair or not, it has certainly done damage to sales at dealerships that had the majority of their reviews on sites other than Google Places. Read Brian Pasch’s article on page eight for an example of a dealership suffering collateral damage from Google’s decision.
Like them or not, 65 percent of online searches occur on Google and Google Places now shows up on the top of the search page for almost every dealership in the country. If you want consumers to see the great reviews from your customers, you need to start encouraging those customers to post their reviews on Google Places. At least, Google Places no longer requires a Gmail address to add reviews.
Content Sharing Sites
Content sharing sites such as Flickr.com and YouTube.com can be used several different ways to help promote your dealership. The most obvious thing you can do with a site such as YouTube.com is upload the television ads you already have made. This is a great way to get feedback on your ads and brand your YouTube channel.
When you show an ad on TV, it goes out over the airwaves, consumers see it, and then follow the call to action from the ad, or they don’t, but either way, that is the end of the marketing communication. Compare that to an ad you post on YouTube, where viewers can comment on your ad, see other videos you’ve made, and connect with you online.
Another way to use your YouTube channel is with customer videos. The customer is never happier with their purchase than right after they take delivery. Take advantage of their excitement; take a short video, 30 seconds to a minute, of the customer as they take delivery and talk about how much they love their new vehicle and how they’re looking forward to driving it and using the new Bluetooth enabled stereo system. When you post the video online, send the customer the link so they can see themselves and link to the video on their Facebook page and email it to their friends.
There are many other ways to use your YouTube channel to promote your dealership. For example, you can post video test drives for your inventory—be sure to create your own videos, don’t use stock footage from your OEM. Having a video competition is another great option. Have your customers send in their favorite videos of them in their new vehicles and offer a year of free oil changes for the best video.
These are just a few ways you could take advantage of online video and we haven’t even touched on how it can boost your search rankings. Read AJ LeBlanc’s article on page 27 for more information about Video SEO and how it can bolster your search ranking.
Forums can be about anything. There are forums for new moms, lizard owners, classic VW owners, and amateur arborists. You name it and there is a forum for people to get together and talk about it. One thing that forums are not for, however, is posting promotional materials.
If you search for the makes you carry, you will find plenty of forums you can participate in. Be careful, though—do not disguise who you are. Be clear that you are a dealer in your communications and let them know you are there to help and not to promote your dealership. This is not the place to make sales pitches.
Blogs and Microblogs
A blog can be a great addition to your website. Update it regularly with information about what’s going on at your dealership. You can talk about anything you want in your blog, but make it interesting. Write a mix of promotional posts about things such as the new inventory you just received or the remodel you did in your service department and more individual posts that let browsers see the human side of your dealership, birthdays and anniversaries for example.
Microblogs, the best known of which is Twitter.com, are hosted on their own website and allow users to connect and read each other’s posts. Posts are also limited in length, 140 characters on Twitter for example. The trick with these sites is convincing users to “follow” you. Be interesting, informative, and helpful.
Try creating a hash tag that users can search when they go to Twitter. A hash tag is simply a search term, preceded by a hash (#) symbol. Pick something that you can update regularly and you think your customers would be interested in. We’ve been doing this on our Twitter page, twitter.com/DealerMarketing, with #ThisDayinAutomotiveHistory. Check it out on our Twitter page and let us know what you think!
Content aggregators are sites that online users create so that they can go directly to what interests them most online. Usually these are created through sites such as www.google.com/ig or my.yahoo.com and linked to user’s email addresses. You can use the same idea on your own website by having your website manager set up a page with appropriate RSS feeds. Draw browsers in with the kinds of information they look for when they’re searching for a new vehicle: automotive review sites, auto technology news, and any breaking news that might apply to your brand. The feeds should regularly update themselves automatically—unlike a blog, you should not have to update your RSS feeds yourself.
Dealerships across the country are confronting the challenges and opportunities that social media presents. The good news is that much of social media is free and gives you the ability to connect with customers in a way you never could before; the bad news is it requires a lot of time and rethinking previously held beliefs about how to sell vehicles. The reality is, however, no matter how we feel about it, social media is here to stay—take advantage of the opportunities it presents, because the challenges are coming no matter what you do.