Effective Social Media Strategies for Auto Dealers
Social media is a hot topic right now. The naysayers have given up trying to convince us that social media is just a fad and now everyone from elementary students to centenarians knows that the social web isn’t going anywhere. This doesn’t mean we won’t see social networks fall and new ones take their place, just ask the founders of Friendster.com, but like email, social networks are here to stay, it’s only the names that will change.
For businesses in general, and auto dealerships especially, the social web has created both pitfalls and opportunities. The number of ways to communicate with the customer has given dealers the opportunity to connect with customers at exactly the right moment when they’re ready to buy, but by the same token, dealers now need to be prepared to communicate with customers effectively on a variety of different platforms and convince them to buy from their dealership. Unfortunately, many of the best practices for social media are still being worked out and you will often hear conflicting advice.
Should your dealership be on every social network available or concentrate on just a few? How can dealers find sales on social media without alienating their “friends?” What tools are available to help dealers manage their social media efforts? Is advertising on social networks a good idea? These are all great questions, for which there is no short answer. The truth is, it depends on your market demographics, location, and marketing strategy. We can, however, examine some of the different social networks and tools available and take a look at how they work and how they can work (or not) for your dealership.
Let’s start with the 800 pound gorilla — Facebook. In December 2012, Facebook had 167 million users in the U.S. and 1 billion worldwide1, according to marketwatch.com. With that many people logging on, dealers simply cannot ignore this platform. Changes to the way Facebook displays posts, sponsored posts, ads, and a host of other changes have complicated how dealers can connect with their customers on this behemoth of a social network.
One of the most useful ways to use Facebook to connect with your customers is called “social care.” Social care is defined as customer service via social media. Customer service is essential to succeeding in any business, but it is paramount for an auto dealership, and those interactions are already moving online. In fact, a 2012 study by Nielsen found that 47 percent of social media users had engaged a company for social care and, what’s more, 30 percent of social media users prefer social care to traditional customer service over the phone, and for users aged 18-24 that number jumps to 37 percent!2
When it comes to social care, Facebook is clearly the preferred platform for customers. According to the same study from Nielsen, “Social media users are most likely to comment on or ask a question about a company’s product or service on Facebook, both on the company’s page (29 percent) and on their personal page (28 percent).”2 These customers contact businesses for the same varied reasons that customers have always contacted a business — both positive and negative. The difference is that now other customers both current and potential can see that interaction and make a judgment about that dealership and what they see can have a significant impact on what vehicle they purchase and where they buy it.
A study by Dealer.com revealed that, “Twenty-eight percent of the buying population feels that social media greatly influences the narrowing of their brand or model consideration. Twenty-seven percent said social media greatly influences their identification of a dealership from which to purchase.” 3 In addition to the influence of social media on purchases in general, the study also found that, “Approximately two-thirds of those who use Facebook in the automotive purchase process indicated that a friend’s favorable post about a brand or vehicle positively impacts their own opinion of that brand or vehicle, and 69 percent indicated that a friend’s favorable post about a dealership positively impacts their opinion of the dealership.”3 With statistics like that, you neglect Facebook at your dealership’s peril. The question is what are car buyers looking for on your Facebook page?
Another study from Digital Air Strike TM, released in November 2012, helped answer that question directly. Their survey asked what consumers wanted most on a dealership Facebook page. They found, “when visiting dealer Facebook sites, car buyers have clear ideas about what they want to see. The top five items cited as valuable on Facebook pages included, in priority order: dealership service promotions such as coupons or discounts, pictures of cars, sales promotions, reviews from consumers about the dealership, articles about cars and/or car care tips.”4
Take a look at your Facebook page and see how it compares to what car buyers are really looking for. If you have been posting too much about tire maintenance and not enough service promotions, try posting some specials for your Facebook fans and see the response. If this sounds like too much work, remember that “More than three quarters (77 percent) of dealers’ Facebook fans live within a 50-mile radius.”4
Online Review Sites
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) while the studies from Dealer.com and Digital Air Strike confirm the growing use and importance of Facebook to online consumers, those same studies found that traditional online review sites and ratings still carry the most weight when making their decisions.
The Dealer.com study outlined it this way, “the use of social media as a resource in the buying process is still in its infancy, and it trails traditionally used resources, including manufacturer, third-party or dealer websites, and expert and consumer ratings and reviews.”3
Dealerships have been on the front lines of consumer reviews for a long time now. That’s no surprise when you consider that “67 percent of consumers used a review site when selecting a dealer,” according to Digital Air Strike’s Fall 2012 Automotive Social Media and Reputation Trend Study from November 2012.
Which review sites are the most important to car buyers has changed somewhat over the years as some review sites have gone dark and others have sprung up, but the field has stabilized and as of November 2012, according to Digital Air Strike’s study, “The top five review sites used in dealership selection, as named by car buyers, are: Cars.com (55 percent), Edmunds (50 percent), Google+ Local (40 percent), Yelp (14 percent), and Yahoo! Local (11 percent).”4
As you can see, those percentages add up to more than 100 percent, so we can tell that consumers are not just looking at one review site and calling it a day, they are checking multiple review sites and comparing them to each other. If one of those sites gives your dealership an average five-star rating, but your reviews are in the basement on the other sites, consumers will believe (fairly or not) that you are packing that site with fake reviews to try and trick consumers. Make sure that you pay attention to these sites, and others such as DealerRater.com, consumers are checking all of them.
Managing all the review sites your dealership appears on can be a serious process, but if you cultivate your online reputation properly you can, in essence, grow the size of your market. Because, “Car buyers are willing to drive farther to reach dealerships with positive online reviews — 24 percent said they would drive 30 miles to a dealer with positive reviews, 15 percent said they would drive as far as 40 miles, while nearly one-third (31 percent) said they would drive 50 miles or more.”4If 70 percent of online car buyers are willing to drive 30 miles or more for a dealership with good online reviews, how many customers do you think you could gain from a positive online reputation? How many do you think you would lose with a bad one?
The Mobile Revolution
If you haven’t been living in a cave for the last few years, then you already know that the digital revolution has gone mobile. The growth in mobile apps and the mobile internet has been staggering; as of July 2012, 95,176,000 US consumers accessed the mobile internet and an additional 101,802,000 accessed the web through mobile apps2, an 82 and 85 percent increase respectively. And this kind of growth shows no signs of slowing down.
The first thing you should do to take advantage of the increasing mobile market is to make sure you have a mobile friendly version of your website. The easiest way to make your website is mobile ready is to create what is called a “responsive” website. Responsive websites adjust their size depending on the size of the screen they’re being displayed on. This works ok, but you need to make sure that your whole website is designed to resize; if just one image won’t adjust its dimensions, it can throw the whole site off for your mobile browsers. A better option is to create a mobile site from the ground up. That way you have a site designed to work on the small touch screens of mobile devices without worrying about whether the add-ons and extensions you have installed on your traditional site will work on a smartphone.
Dealers who are really looking to take their mobile efforts to the next level, however, should create their own branded apps. Companies such as DMEautomotive can create a variety of different branded apps for your dealership. Apps should be genuinely useful to consumers, otherwise they won’t use them and your dealership won’t get any benefit. According to DMEautomotive’s eBook, The Pocket Revolution, some of the most useful apps for connecting with consumers are:
- Find Local Parking — A location-aware tool that maps and highlights nearby parking lots.
- Find My Car — If they’ve forgotten where they parked, this GPS-based tool can help them locate it.
- “My Parking Meter” — Tool that helps them prevent parking tickets by alerting them when their parking meter is about to expire.
- Gas Station Locator — Map-based tool that pinpoints the nearest and the lowest-priced gas stations, wherever they are.
- A Flashlight — This app easily turns a smartphone into a powerful LED flashlight. One of the most popular apps ever, it consistently ranks at the top of the Apple/Android “app charts.” 5
These types of functions will make your apps consumer friendly, but they also need to benefit the dealership. Which options are right for you will depend on your dealership, but there are two things that no app can neglect if it’s going to truly benefit your dealership, “Your app must make it possible for a user to create an account…Too many dealer apps skip the account-creation step, and that means that every single time your customer wants to schedule service or a test drive — or fill out a lead — they have to re-enter all that info again. That’s a commerce killer!...[and] Your DMS MUST, MUST, MUST [sic] be integrated into your app…Because that alone ties your app functionality and communications to a user’s complete service and buying journey.”5
When you create the mobile app, there are also a host of functions that you should consider adding, which benefit both you and the customer:
- A direct link for instant coupons and discounts
- “My Cars” a platform to help customers manage their vehicles’ complete (and constantly updated) service history
- Insanely easy in-app appointment scheduling
- Real-time new & used car inventory
- Vehicle recall alerts
- A great store locator
- For dealer groups — one branded app strategy
- Make social media sharing visible/easy
- Contact button 5
Amongst the 2,000 car shoppers surveyed by Dealer.com, “Twitter has a 45 percent visitation rate, and 22 percent of respondents use it at least daily.” With that many eyeballs on Twitter, it is an essential part of any dealership’s social media efforts. Twitter is meant to be fun, informative, and immediate. If you want to succeed on Twitter, your posts need to have the same qualities.
Think about what a consumer would want to see on your page. Tweet about the sports teams in your area; post fun videos of your staff (Harlem Shake anyone?); search for and respond to tweets, both positive and negative; tweet useful maintenance tips; and don’t forget to throw some special promotions in the mix, just make sure it’s not the focus of your page.
One interesting phenomenon with Twitter is people tweeting about what they’re watching on TV. According to Nielsen, in “June 2012, a third of active Twitter users tweeted about TV-related content, an increase of 27 percent from the beginning of the year.”2 Why not get in on the act to help promote your dealership?
The next time one of the vehicles you stock appears on Top Gear, go on Twitter and tweet about it! Give your thoughts on the review, compare your experience; ask questions to elicit opinions, start a conversation, and let the “twitter-verse” know that you have the car available for test drives at your dealership, so they can find out for themselves.
Managing Social Media
Managing your social media profiles, posts, and everything else on all the different social networks can be a full-time job all to itself, and many dealerships find they need to hire a full-time social media manager. This can be a good option if you have a competent experienced employee who will be with your dealership for many years. If you’re new to social media or have tried to manage it in-house, but found the results less than satisfying, there are companies such as Digital Air Strike (www.DigitalAirStrike.com) and PCG Digital Marketing (www.PCGDigitalMarketing.com) that can help you get on the path to social media vehicle sales.
I could write another 10 pages on social media, but luckily for you I’m out of space in this issue. If you have any questions or ideas on social media or any other topic, visit our very own social network at www.DealerMarketing.com/forum and ask a questions, comment on what others had to say, and let us know what you’re thinking!
1 Fottrell, Quentin. "Facebook Loses 1.4 Million Active Users in U.S." MarketWatch.com. The Wall Street Journal, 15 Jan. 2013. Web. <http://articles.marketwatch.com/2013-01-15/finance/36346107_1_active-users-facebook-social-media>.
2 Nielson & NM Incite. State of the Media: The Social Media Report 2012. The Nielsen Company, 04 Dec. 2012. Web. <http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/reports/2012/state-of-the-media-the-social-media-report-2012.html>.
3 Dealer.com. The Rise of Loyalty Advocacy & Influence. DriveSide, Dealer.com, GfK Automotive, Jan. 2012. Web. <http://www.dealer.com/assets/APC-Study-21.pdf>.
4 "Digital Air Strike Study Finds Car Buyers Increasingly Rely on Social Networks and Review Sites during Dealership Selection Process." DigitalAirStrike.com. Digital Air Strike, 5 Nov. 2012. Web. <http://digitalairstrike.com/digital-air-strike-study-finds-car-buyers-increasingly-rely-on-social-networks-and-review-sites-during-dealership-selection-process-blog/>.
5 DMEautomotive. The Pocket Revolution. DMEautomotive.com. DMEautomotive, LLC, 2013. Web. <http://www.dmeautomotive.com/documents/The-Pocket-Revolution.pdf>.
6 Stelzner, Michael A. 2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report. Social Media Examiner, Apr. 2012. Web. <http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/SocialMediaMarketingIndustryReport2012.pdf>.