Social media is a important and controversial topic right now. Everyone from Wendy’s and Audi to the Presidential candidates and the corner bar are using it to connect with people online. The question is no longer whether or not your dealership needs to be involved in social media, but how and where you should be involved.
Social media holds many opportunities for dealerships to connect with their current and potential customers, but it also carries some risks if you don’t do it properly. In order to help you determine what will work in your dealership and avoid some of the pitfalls that other businesses have encountered, we spoke with Brent Albrecht, marketing director for SOCIALDEALER, Heather MacKinnon, vice president of sales for DealerRater, Michael Sos, product manager, interactive media at Dominion Dealer Solutions, and Nicole Case, who oversees the web, search and social, digital reputation, and mobile products and services at Naked Lime.
These experts are out there with dealerships, on the front lines of social media marketing. Their approaches may be different, but so is every dealership, so we’ve tried to bring you, our readers, a broad swath of opinions so you can decide for yourselves.
Every dealership out there knows that they need to be on facebook, so the first thing we asked our experts was what else dealers should be doing with social media besides facebook. There were three main sites they popped up when we asked this: Google+, Twitter, and YouTube.
Brent Albrecht points out the benefits of YouTube this way, “YouTube videos are a great way to bring all the media dimensions to your potential customers and can greatly expand the reach of a dealer’s TV commercials. YouTube also allows the dealer to showcase their dealership in a different light and highlight what makes them unique. Videos provide more information than photos, when used for walk-arounds and demonstrations.” He also add that, “Twitter is a powerful tool for promoting live events and activities as they happen, as well as a great prospecting and conversation tool.”
Nicole Case agrees that YouTube is an important for dealerships, because “in addition to the SEO value video can bring, YouTube has a viewer engagement level that’s hard to match. Out of all the content created by social marketers and posted online, videos are shared the most.” Nicole, however, also emphasizes the importance of Google+. “While Google+ is still a relatively new player, Google’s introduction of ‘Search Plus Your World’ has made it imperative for dealers to have a Google+ presence to help them stay top in search results and top of mind with consumers,” she explains.
Michael Sos also emphasizes that dealers should be involved with Google+, because as he tells us, “Soon we will see even a tighter [search] integration and I believe it will benefit dealerships to recognize that Google owns the eyeballs of most car buyers and for this we all need to embrace Google+ for the future search benefit.”
Before you start to expand your social media efforts beyond facebook, however, Heather MacKinnon cautions, “dealers have to pay attention to social media, but they also need to really question how effectively is this [social media channel] really selling more cars for them. And how much effort do they have to put in there?”
Posting Content to Social Media
Once you’ve decided which social media platforms you are going to use, the next question is: What content should you be posting and how much of it? This is not an easy question, because as a dealer you want encourage your social media followers to buy a vehicle from you, but too much will make them un-follow you and then you’ve lost them entirely.
Nicole Case believes that, “for the best competitive advantage, dealers need to find an area where they can stand out and demonstrate their expertise online. For example, a Toyota dealer, whose vehicle fleet is the most fuel-efficient in the industry, may become the source of best gas prices in the area. Another dealer may find a niche in regularly featuring tips or features out of the owner’s manuals of vehicles they sell and service…It’s also important to remember that topical content comes in more forms than just the text in posts, tweets, and articles—it’s images, video, and pod-casts, too.”
It is without a doubt essential to social media marketing that dealers post information that their followers want. Michael Sos, however, reminds dealers that they must be aware of the kind of customer that is most likely to follow them. “Dealers need to recognize that the majority of folks that will receive their posts in news feeds are probably already customers. This is important, because this isn’t like direct mail where we send out a marketing message and look to get a one percent return and burn the rest of the list to the ground. We need to be loyalty minded. Considering that most dealers are new to posting on social sites like facebook, followers will mostly be new buyers. New customers are enthusiastic and quick to reach out and become a fan but are unlikely to be in market to purchase another car immediately. So don’t make your social posts all about the inventory you need to move, focus on parts, service specials and growing your brand. Customers want to see a small business that is connected to the community and cares about the things they care about.”
Heather MacKinnon also stresses the importance of recognizing that most of your social media followers will be your customers. “When you’ve got a facebook page, it’s obviously a lot of customers on that page who’ve done business with you before. And ideally you want to put up your promotions, I think that third-party content that you want to display on a facebook page should really be a basic testimonial feed…The idea behind that is that with third-party content, I think it’s very important for it to be timely, especially with automotive. Dealers that post a review every six months are kind of missing the boat, because consumers, when they read third-party [review] content, they’re concerned with mostly positive, but also they want to see timely content. Consumers are aware that [in six months] a lot of things can change in the dealership and in the culture of the dealership.”
Brent Albrecht reminds us that social media analytics has been evolving along with the rest of the social media landscape. “The ideas of what to post, when to post and where to post can be seen through more advanced analytics that become available, and we’ll begin to see what is valuable to consumers. A good plan is to keep your sites fun and engaging, but the days of video games and posting photos of polar bears will begin to go away as we see a breakthrough of people really posting valuable automotive content. Dealers should turn their social media sites into a live stream of content that is relevant to their dealership and the brands they sell, such as: sales and service promotions, F&I, body shop, and accessory sales.”
We all make mistakes and dealers are no exception, especially when it comes to social media. When we asked Heather MacKinnon what she thought the biggest mistakes were, she reminds us that with social media, as with anything in business, it's important not to cut corners. “The biggest mistake, I’ve seen, is dealers trying to cut corners. You need the whole process and I think part of the problem is that dealers have become really overwhelmed by this whole process. Dealers have become scared, because there’s been a lot of companies and vendors popping up over the last year, year and a half and their purpose is really to scare the dealership into thinking that they’re under attack online and they need to hire this service or that service to help you manage your reputation or build your reputation. So I think unfortunately, the biggest mistake we’ve seen, is dealers will hand over the controls to third party marketing companies and allow third party marketing companies to build the reviews, even fraudulent reviews, on behalf of the dealership or letting third party marketing companies respond publicly to either positive or negative reviews. They lose face, these are the dealership’s customers…there’s no better person to be responding to reviews than upper management and it should be authentic employees, that are requesting the reviews from happy customers, not third parties. That’s really the biggest mistake we’re seeing,”
Michael Sos also believes that dealers need to focus more attention on their social media. “One of the biggest mistakes dealers make is starting to use social media without a clear time or investment strategy. The absolute first priority needs to be content that is influencing customers to buy tomorrow. I always suggest car dealerships focus on a strong reputation strategy first as a review published today will impact a potential buyer tomorrow. Often times, dealers are being led in the wrong direction by SEO companies that look at everything through the spectrum of content and linking. While these strategies have value, they disregard the foundation of social networking as inherently loyalty focused function,” he explains.
Focusing on quantity instead of quality is also something that dealers must avoid. “One of the biggest mistakes is a misunderstanding of how to build an audience and how to interact with these people,” explains Albrecht. “A good example is the overused iPad promotion to build Likes on facebook. These contests and games add fans, most of who have no interest in ever doing business with a dealer, or evenlive within their market, they just want to win a prize. Dealers need to understand that 100 local fans interested in their dealership is worth more than 10,000 worldwide fans that will never buy from them. This also happens because of a misunderstanding of the viral potential of social media. The goal is to build enthusiastic fans who share your content. 1,000 fans can reach over 15 million people through friends of fans—if content gets shared. So the way to maximize a dealer’s exposure is not maximizing their fans or likes, but to maximize sharing,”
Nicole Case brings it back to the basics, “The biggest mistake that we see dealers making with social media is that it is not in concert with all aspects of their marketing, traditional and digital. Yes, there now are many, many more channels in which you can reach customers, but to be effective, you still need to be reaching customers with the right message at the right time.” Marketing advice that never gets old.
If you want to read more about social media or add your comments, visit www.DealerMarketing.com or check is out on Twitter, @DealerMarketing.
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