In late 2007 I was asked by several Ford Motor Company marketing executives to assist in the development of a “Tier 3 Social Media Strategy” for Ford dealers. I distinctly remember expressing as much confidence as possible in my team’s ability to handle the consulting assignment. But, when I was walking out of the Regents Court Ford Division headquarters I couldn’t help but think to myself “How am I going to do this…” The project began with recommending 10 dealers as pilot program development stores from within a list of Ford selected Sales and Marketing Regions.
One of the dealerships I visited as part of this project was Jim and Amy Walen’s Ford of Kirkland dealership near Seattle, WA. I have to tip my hat to Jim and Amy because despite knowing how experimental a lot of what I was recommending, they put a ton of time, effort, and resources into finding ways to boost their business using dealer generated content and consumer generated content (CGC) combined with social media marketing. Despite our stumbling about trying to find the strategic planning components that would work, much of what we did was effective and within a 30 day period the dealership’s management team was describing both new and used car deals that were walking into their dealership, because of what we had planned and executed…
The single greatest source of walk-in traffic was the dealership’s customer reviews. We had used DealerRater.com (www.dealerrater.com/dealer/Ford-Hyundai-of-Kirkland-review-5314/) for our reviews collection point. Then, we redistributed those reviews across the social web to sites like Facebook, Twitter and www.Ford-Community.com as well as blogs and any network we could find that would allow us to syndicate the customer review content using the RSS feed or HTML widget that DealerRater provided.
I knew our “Tier 3 Social Media Strategy” was working the way we wanted when Amy Walen greeted me on my third visit to the dealership with a polite hug and a dinner invitation…She described how the dealership was selling four to six cars a week to people from all over the State of Washington who were driving past many competing dealerships to get to Ford of Kirkland, because of the store’s reputation as shared by customers who had posted reviews and descriptions of their sales and service experiences.
By then we were well into 2008 and for the next two years I spent countless hours in dealerships all over the country working on developing various social media marketing strategies and tactics designed to more effectively deliver dealership marketing communications, connect with customers using social media, and sell more cars…Along the way and to this day there has been one consistently reoccurring truth: customer generated content, in the form of reviews, ratings, videos, photos, and statements, has more impact on driving business into a dealership than anything else we have done on the social web.
Today, car dealers continue to get a lot more sophisticated in their approach to reputation management and both the creation and distribution of customer reviews. Because these are the essential tactical elements of a social media based reputation management strategy:
- Collecting consumer generated content (in all media formats)
- Distributing and publishing consumer generated content (reviews and ratings)
- Responding to dealership customer generated content
- Incorporating process and work flow changes based on CGC
The most commonly used and lowest cost entry into this type of social media marketing that relies on CGC is via the web. There are many examples of “Customer Review” collection sites and portals, but here are a couple of examples I have recently worked with directly:
How important are Customer Reviews when it comes to people actually selecting your dealership and the new and used vehicles you sell? Check out the following chart from www.marketingprofs.com:
As much as I have always been a fan of using data, metrics analysis, and market research, the simple fact remains that I have personally seen more new and used vehicles sold as a result of dealership rating and reviews that were then redistributed and published than any other type of social media marketing activity.
Over the past 24 months, the dealers who have done the best job of reputation management optimization have put their own dealership controlled review sites into place. This allows these dealers to own their reviews and distribute the content free from the risk of reviews disappearing at the whim of Google’s latest algorithm updates, or suppliers for various reasons, including new fee schedules. Although dealers can create their own review sites, the technology involved is far more specialized than, for example, a WordPress microsite or a Facebook Page. Some examples of suppliers providing dealers with their own review sites are BusinessRater.com and PrestoReviews.com. Although both of these suppliers provide tools for dealers to manage their reputation and publish/distribute their customer generated content, the primary burden of making it all work is on the dealer’s management, sales and service teams to get the reviews in the first place! Here are a couple of dealer-owned review site examples to check out:
Key actionable items for dealers who want to take advantage of social media based reputation management include an in-dealership process for generating customer reviews and ratings combined with an out of dealership process with the same goal. Email and phone calls work well for customers not currently at the dealership. This was clearly demonstrated during a series of reputation management training sessions I conducted in early March at the Lou Fusz Auto Group in St. Louis. During five 90 minute workshops for sales reps and service advisors, we were able to get participants in the classes to use their cell phones to call and email their best customers. We jump started the launch of the Lou Fusz “You Have A Voice” program for the group with over 130 genuine customer reviews obtained as a result of the workshop exercise in calling, texting, and emailing customers.
If you don’t have a reputation management strategy with clearly defined tasks and executables assigned to your dealership’s employees, with supervision to ensure the work gets done, then you need to get started. If you do, then take a look at what so many other dealers are doing and ask yourself if your current plan will keep you competitive in your marketplace in the future.
Ralph Paglia is the vice president of digital for Tier10 Marketing and the founder and editor-in-chief of AutomotiveDigitalMarketing.com.
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