Here at Dealer Marketing Magazine, we strive to bring you expert opinions on a range of marketing related subjects. One subject that has been appearing more and more often lately is social media marketing. It has become such a major topic that we have decided to create a dedicated section to bring you expert opinions and advice on how you can use social media to benefit your dealership and grow your business.
This month we had the opportunity to speak with Alexi Venneri. Alexi is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Digital Air Strike, one of the fastest growing automotive social media and reputation management companies specializing in full service programs that give dealers an unfair online advantage. In addition, Alexi was most recently president of Auto Media/Blue Flame 6, one of the largest automotive advertising agencies, owned by The Van Tuyl Group. Her prior positions also include vice president of marketing, pr, and investor relations at DealerTrack, chief marketing officer at Who's Calling and director of marketing for the Major League Baseball team The Seattle Mariners. Here is what she had to say:
How is social media changing how consumers relate to auto dealers?
It’s changing not only how they relate to dealers but the entire way consumers now shop for cars and locations for service. Consumers don’t trust advertisements anymore, they trust the opinions of other consumers and they want a nonthreatening way to engage with retailers. Social media, including review sites, gives them a way to do this. There are now so many sources of information and the search engines are now making it much easier to find peer reviews of dealerships. Many, many consumers will now research and read consumer generated information on your store before they will even go to your dealership website.
Consumers are also using social media sites to contact the dealers. We’ve seen consumers engage through Twitter as the only method of communication with a store to book an appointment and then tell the dealer how the appointment went after the fact.
This space is growing quickly and evolving on a daily basis. Dealers that work with a proven partner to help manage this space will be able to respond to consumers faster and generate more positive online content to help decrease the impact of any negative.
What are the latest trends in social media besides Facebook and Twitter?
Some of the biggest trends are the importance of reviews and how they can either really help or hurt traffic to a dealer’s website. Social media is broad and includes any content written by consumers on any site…and this is not just limited to review sites. Dealers need a way to monitor what is being said about them and then have a plan to take action on both the good and the bad. They need to be consistent and competent in their approach, as well as extremely professional because what is said online lives on line…usually for a very, very long time.
What are the most effective ways for an auto dealership to grow their sales with social media and which are the least effective?
The most effective strategy is to have a comprehensive plan. Piecemealing together different tools will not get dealers the results they are looking for. Social media ROI works like a domino effect—it is the sum of the whole that will really get the dealers more traffic to their main website and in turn more appointments and sales.
The big picture return is by securing more online real estate, setting up all of the sites, and then keeping them “active” in the eyes of the search engines by posting regularly and engaging with customers will not only get you return on a one-to-one basis with individual consumers but it will help to increase the likelihood of your main dealership website and your social media sites coming up more highly ranked on the search engines. The more you can control the real estate on the organic listings the more traffic you will get to your website. More and more relevant social media sites are emerging and you can populate your content on them as well as link back to your main website. Some are growing in size at a rate of more than 1000 percent each month.
What should dealers be posting to their social media pages?
We see that variety and consistency in terms of posting to the sites on a regular basis works well. Everyone has heard that the “hard sale” doesn’t work but we have seen great results by helping our dealers add coupons and specials on a regular basis. These offers are always professionally presented and include a call to action or link back to the dealer’s main website to help drive traffic.
Whenever you can add photos of your staff and customers that is always a big draw and making post personal and engaging, such as asking about their favorite feature on a car or trivia questions, show that your dealership is approachable and in touch with the essence of social media. Asking for feedback and content from your likers and followers is also a great way to get new content and build rapport with your customers.
The Digital Air Strike team creates a schedule and provides a calendar to our dealers each month, with the different types of content to ensure we have variety. We also track engagement to ensure that the content is being well received. Each dealership gets an account manager to work closely with their internal team, their own digital specialist and access to our technical team of social media experts so they benefit from our knowledge across hundreds of dealerships to “know what works” so they don’t have to spend time guessing. It really takes a highly knowledgeable team to keep up with the changing landscape. We are seeing that outsourcing is the best solution for many dealerships.
What is the best way for a dealer with little or no experience in social media to get started?
We’ve found that the best way to not only get started but to not be left behind is to partner with an experienced vendor that has a proven track record of working with successful dealerships. Partners that specialize in this space and offer full-service solutions, versus those that are offering a scaled down “social media product”, are the best because they will stay on top of all of the trends and give you the biggest advantage.
It is no different than hiring the best ad agency with the best media relationships and top creative for traditional media instead of a vendor that does media buys part-time. Most dealers would not try to handle their other media buys themselves and use their own cameras to film commercials, so the same applies to this space.
It is even more important to work with a professional team that understands social media, because not doing it is not only a missed opportunity but negative online content can negatively impact the leads you might have received from your traditional media. If someone that would have called you because of a great TV commercial doesn’t, simply due to finding negative comments about your dealership when they searched for your store name online, then not fully managing your social media advertising can cost you more than you may even realize.
What is the biggest mistake dealers make when they first get started with social media?
It’s hard to say what the biggest mistake is because we see a number of problems that we help our dealers avoid on a daily basis. Some of the challenges just appear when the social media and review sites make changes to how they work. We help our dealers navigate these issues and look for ways to give them an advantage on every site.
One of the most common problems we do see is when a dealership assigns social media to someone internally and they set up the sites incorrectly or lose logins/passwords or leave the dealership and take their knowledge with them or all of the above. This happens very frequently and many times the general manager thought they had an in-house solution when they really just created another management issue they now have to deal with.
Another common problem we see is that dealers may not factor in the full cost of what it takes an internal staff member to fully manage social media properly…it’s not only the cost of their time but the cost of the missed opportunities in terms of the leads and sales they miss while spending time “trying to figure out” how to become a digital marketing expert overnight.
Finally, a common mistake is that dealers tend to just focus on only the traffic that may be coming in from the websites when they calculate social media ROI…what they may never be able to measure is the value of the missed opportunities and how much traffic they may be driving away from the dealership if they are not properly managing all of the top social media sites and their online reputation.
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