The social media craze has definitely hit the auto dealer industry in a major way. While the automotive internet (over these last 15 years) has constantly evolved and presented new frontiers, ‘social media’ has the big buzz today.
When most dealers think of ‘social media’ it’s almost instantly equated in their minds with Facebook and Twitter. So, let’s think for a moment about the ‘friend’ and ‘fan-based’ communities of Facebook and Twitter and the very interesting dilemmas they pose for auto dealers: How do you use them, in the spirit intended, to gather new customers?
My discussions with dealers across the nation concur with all the major marketing research out there: people do not want to be “sold” on Facebook/Twitter. That direct, loud “selling” mentality, i.e. posting endless inventory listings on Twitter or loud sales pitches for “blowout specials” on Facebook, simply doesn’t work. The many dealers I’ve talked to who are getting successful results from these sites know that every communication and campaign needs to be focused on relationship building, developing a meaningful presence in your local online community, and finding artful ways to show the value and spirit of your dealership. In other words, they’re not the place to sell a car as much as they’re the place to create some buzz and goodwill, for example, by giving one away to a local charity.
Interesting…So now the task at hand is to launch into a new arena that’s pretty baffling; you need to have the intention to not sell! This is definitely a thought-provoking new way of doing business. With the advent of social media, it’s become all about developing relationships and selling is only a soft, occasional byproduct of developing a positive online relationship. Remember, with Facebook and Twitter, only a small percentage of the people you’re spending time and money to reach are in the market for a car at any given time.
Reaching customers at the moment of truth
If social media isn’t just Facebook and Twitter, what else does it involve? It involves review sites and directories and, when dealers consider the facts, it becomes clear that review sites are social media at its very best. First, having a positive presence at Yelp, Citysearch, and the other review sites, is exponentially more likely to sell your cars than any other social media option. Why? Because when a consumer is researching local dealers at the review sites they are precisely at that “moment of truth.” There is no more powerful way to target a car or service shopper ready to pull the trigger; they’re looking to do business now and they want to know what other consumers say. No online activity more clearly shouts, “Hey! I want to buy a car and I’m going to see what people who have purchased from you experienced.” And consider the exploding usage rates: three in four car shoppers now consult online dealer reviews and one in five change their mind based on what they find. Car shoppers now rate online dealer reviews as more important than either dealer location or past dealer loyalty in their decision!
So that’s why, while social media often becomes narrowly synonymous with Twitter and Facebook, more dealers are realizing that to achieve the highest ROI using social media, they’ve got to tackle the review sites. Our company pioneered Online Reputation Management for dealers, and we’ve got a really great reporting tool as part of our solution; it notifies you the same day any new review is posted. I think it’s important for dealers to hear true stories about the impact a disciplined review strategy can have. Just one example—one of our clients received notification about a negative review the same day it was posted. They were able to immediately reach out to the customer (who had published a horrifying review that thousands could see) and make things right with them. The very next day the consumer posted a new, very positive review, sharing their story and explaining that they were going to give the dealer another chance. This type of online interaction is powerful for two reasons: not only was the dealership instantly made aware of an upset customer, they were able to publicly resolve the issue. For most consumers, negative reviews are to be expected, but how a dealership reacts to negative reviews speaks volumes about the true character of the dealership.
Of course, Online Reputation Management is much more than managing bad reviews, it’s about setting in place the processes and technology that can generate a high volume of positive reviews across all the major review sites. No social media is more worth investing in. We have clients that have generated hundreds of positive reviews, and it really keeps their phones ringing. Each day their dealerships are living proof that consumers will drive past three other same-brand dealerships to buy from the business with the best online reputation.
Facebook…Twitter…review sites…it’s all social media, and dealers need to jump into all three. For progressive dealers the opportunities these new frontiers offer are tremendous. It is critically important to make sure you reach all consumers, the way they want to be reached, and that you realize that these platforms function very differently and reach different consumers. The relationship building you accomplish on Facebook and Twitter can be likened to seeds being watered—you are nurturing potential future customers.
A customer review strategy targets ready-to-buy customers at that moment of truth, when they’re deciding if it’s you or the guy down the street that gets their business. No wonder a recent survey of companies revealed that customer reviews are the number one social media tactic for driving sales, trumping both Facebook and Twitter pretty handily (2009 Community & Social Media Study).
Kim Orr is VP at eXtéresAUTO, a provider of advanced SEO and online reputation management. She has 12 years of experience in the auto industry, and has been with eXtéresAUTO since their inception, in 2007.
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