Everyone knows that the automotive industry runs on loyalty. Faced with an ever-competitive landscape, dealers strive to cultivate long-term relationships with customers to drive auto sales and increase service and parts revenue. Dealers have relied upon direct mail and email to keep up communications with customers and prospects, but the emergence of social media has added another avenue for dealers to leverage in order to interface with customers.
This new channel looks promising for dealers. A recent study conducted by Facebook found that car owners who are fans of their manufacturer are stronger advocates than those who aren’t, and are able to share their recommendations with three times more people than the average Facebook user. That’s a powerful finding indicating a valuable avenue for dealers and manufacturers to attract potential customers and engage with existing ones. Additionally, since the fan bases of 10 leading automotive brands in the U.S. represent less than five percent of their owners on Facebook, according to the same study, there continues to be a real opportunity for automotive brands to take advantage of today in terms of customer engagement.
To better understand the social media marketing needs of the automotive industry, IMN recently conducted an extensive study comprised of 600 phone interviews and 21 extensive in-person interviews with representatives from most of the major U.S. automotive brands. The goal was to benchmark marketing priorities and identify common trends associated with emerging social media requirements.
Seven trends clearly emerged. Here are the first three:
#1 Social is still a new frontier for dealers.
Although dealers are testing many tactics to increase their social presence, average confidence in their overall social media strategy was relatively low. Growing their social media audience was high in importance; social lead generation rated much lower. Many expressed doubt that social channels could be used as lead/ business drivers. The dealers in the study were, for the most part, pragmatic about what is feasible to measure. Most would be very interested if their tools could go beyond basic data and provide reliable ROI metrics.
#2 Dealer presence across social media has room for growth.
Among those surveyed, a good number were on Twitter as well as Facebook, but not using it regularly or, in their minds, effectively. Very few had profiles for their business on YouTube, Google+ or other platforms. Many had not even “claimed” their business page on Yelp, foursquare, or other social media platforms that enable customer feedback and rewards.
#3 Reputation management is important—but dealers want to control customer interactions.
Of most concern to the survey respondents was reputation management. However, almost without exception, they were extremely concerned that an automated solution would not allow them to maintain control of their customer and prospect relationships. They expressed interest in gaining a better understanding of what is being said about them online, but wanted ultimate control over the conversations and relationships with both current and potential customers.
These three trends support what Facebook’s survey found—that there is still a tremendous opportunity for the automotive industry to capitalize on social media with regard to building greater connections with customers. However, careful consideration around reputation management is critical for dealers, the majority of whom want to maintain control over customer relationships and interactions.
Nancy Liberman is the vice president of marketing for IMN. Read part 2 here.0