Industry News & Trends

Rapleaf – Improving Your Dealers Social Media Strategy

An Interview with Nathan Scripps of Rapleaf


2009 is starting to close, two years after talking about social media for car dealers, and I would like to talk about a new way to look at and leverage social media. No, I am not going to say build a Facebook fan page, nor am I going to talk about the value of Twitter. In fact, this is not about you or your dealership actively participating in social media at all… this post is about learning from your customers that are using social media every day.

I spoke with Nathan Scripps, the automotive industry lead at Rapleaf, a social media research company based in San Francisco. I first met Nathan several years ago while he was working at Jumpstart (now Jumpstart Auto Group after merging w/ Car and Driver, Road & Track). The following is a summary of a conversation we had recently:

Jeff: What is the elevator pitch of how you became the auto lead at Rapleaf?Nathan: I grew up around a dealership, tried to escape by becoming an engineer with GE, and then realized how much I enjoyed the auto industry. I traded coast and career for Jumpstart in 2005, traveling the country over working with dealers and OEMs on the migration from offline to online marketing. Having racked up a few too many frequent flyer miles, I stepped back, caught up with family and friends, and found the next exciting startup… which, for me, was Rapleaf.

Jeff: So what is Rapleaf and how does it apply to the auto world?

Nathan: Rapleaf is a social media research company that ties an email address to the information associated with it across the social web. By looking at more than 40 sites, we are able to deliver a robust profile that is helping companies understand their audiences in unique and valuable ways.

For the auto industry in particular, I am really looking at two main applications: improving social media strategy and enhancing the customer experience.

Jeff: What types of information can you guys deliver from the ‘social web’?

Nathan: We see normal stuff like demographics, name, age, gender, location, job title, etc., but the exciting part comes from the online footprint. What sites are they on? How many friends do they have? Who of their friends are also customers? When you tie all that together, you see a snapshot of the person, which should change how you communicate with them.

Jeff: So looking at your audience as a whole could guide social media strategy. Are more of my customers on Facebook or MySpace? How many are on Twitter? Should I be on Bebo or Hi5 or some other social site? Basically a road map of where to invest your time or money in social media – “online social behavioral targeting”.

Nathan: Exactly. Not only can we say MySpace reaches more of your customers than LinkedIn, but we can help you understand the demographic breakdown of each audience to further tailor your ads. We can run reports against your customer database to deliver this information no problem.

But if you take it one step further, and think about your customers one at a time, then it gets really interesting to me. When a lead comes in, how is it handled? By and large, just like the last one was. What if you knew just a little more, like that this was a 34-year-old woman living two neighborhoods away. Would a different ISM take it? Would you change your opening lines? What if you also knew that this person was on 6 social sites and had over 1,000 friends online? Would you be more likely to email a few extra times instead of call? Would you mention a current referral reward and pass over a custom link?

Jeff: I think that there has been a longstanding struggle of creating a uniform process balanced by personal attention. With turnover in our industry a constant worry, we have to be able to train a new sales person quickly, hence consistent process. But, as everyone knows, buying a car is a big decision and that customer needs personal attention. So, if I were to apply your information, would you see it replacing a lead score and removing some of the lead handling process in stores today?

Nathan: I think you are spot on to call out the balance between process and customization. I think our data can layer on top of any scoring already in place. I don’t want to change the process; I just hope to improve the end result, basically a better customer experience.

Jeff: Got it. So who are your typical customers at Rapleaf?

Nathan: Well, the company serves many different industries, serving a variety of needs. We may help a major retailer better understand their Twitter using customers one day and help a loan company prevent fraudulent activity the next. I am working with several OEMs and am currently in talks with a few megadealers as well.

Jeff: So smaller one off dealerships are out of the picture?

Nathan: Not at all. Anyone with a customer database of 10,000- 50,000 emails or more could really benefit from our services. I am just getting the auto segment under way here, so I haven’t really had time to call into every store just yet…

Jeff: As with all sales calls, there is the lingering question of cost. Is that something you would like to address?

Nathan: Sure, nothing to hide there. We offer a standard Audit Report that looks at your audience and delivers the 20,000 foot view: how many are using social media, which sites, how many friends, demographic breakdowns, etc. It is basically a road map for social media implementation. That is $4,750. All other services, reports or real time API streams for lead processing, are based on a per email researched basis, with prices starting at $0.05 an email and going down to less than a penny if you are looking at several million emails a month, remember, I work with OEMs too…

Jeff: Thanks for taking the time to catch up Nathan. This concept of  “online social behavioral targeting” might take some time for our industry or dealers to absorb, but I can see where this information/data could could be put to some really good use. Also…congratulations your resent write up on Fast Company How Rapleaf is Data-mining…

Nathan: Happy to catch up again, and I look forward to seeing you at the next convention we have in common…


What do you think…is this something you would find of value?

If anyone has any questions, please comment. I’m sure Nathan would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

FREE WEBINAR – Rapleaf will be hosting a free 30 minute webinar next Thursday, November 19th, at 2 pm ET (11 am PT) to go over ‘best practices’ and the latest ideas for social media marketing within the automotive industry. Manufacturers, dealers, ad agencies, and everyone else interested in the automotive industry is welcome to attend. Fill out the form on their blog for a private invite.

Founder of DealerRefresh - 20+ Years of dealership Sales, Management, Training, Marketing and Leadership.
Definitely something I'd like to take advantage of down the road!
Thanks for writing up our chat! Always good to reconnect with great folks and I am looking forward to continued conversations.

Have fun!
Great topic as usual! There is definitely a fine line between "Treating everyone the same" and "Tailoring your communication" to your audience.

I clearly see an advantage in tailoring your communication, the issue is some people do a better job of understanding their prospect and fine tuning their communication and some botch the whole thing and don't build the right rapport.

I think using demographic and behavioral data to better understand your prospect/customer is huge!!! Especially if the software will give you a "profile" of that person. This will take away the guess work by giving you a suggested approach.

This is even more important with Online customers whom you can't "See" like a walk-in customer.

I try to customize based on what I think their age is, what they do for a living, which car they're inquiring about, what they chose for an email address, their writing style etc.... And that's all from an inquiry or email correspondance!

Onward and Upward!

The BEST keep getting BETTER! Indeed, that's the only way to stay the BEST, right...

As I begin my next plunge into the retail automotive space, I would be remiss if I did not stop by the online convenience center for ISM's - Dealer Refresh.

RapLeaf has a pretty decent angle, but you know I have been saying since 2003 that "the future of the (auto) industry is an amusement park..." and Hyundai/Kia was paying attention.

Recently, Hyundai/Kia opened its US manufacturing headquarters in a fertile corridor of neighboring states Alabama and Georgia. As a salute to the occasion (and to the vision I imparted to the industry way back when), they invited the cities surrounding the plant to visit and tour the premises. Hyundai/Kia through marketing on radio, television, and online encouraged Alabamians and Georgians alike to visit and learn about the manufacturing processes at its multi-million dollar plant - and, to drive the All-New for 2010 Kia Sorento before it goes on sale to the public at dealerships in January.

This is the REAL future for automotive retail. Consumers are way more dynamic now than most auto manufacturers' marketing models. And, the competitive landscape of auto buying in a digital age has taken almost all leverage away from the traditional model of dealering. It's just not good business anymore to market a car at a time to an audience in a 40-mile radius of the dealership. Customers buy in a more dynamic manner. The brands (manufacturers and mega-dealers) that survive the retail automotive zeitgeist shift will be as dynamic. Hence the blazing-balls-of-fire rate of success Hyundai/Kia has experienced since its meager entrance into the US automotive marketplace with the Excel. Today wielding a sales increase of over 34%, it is the hottest automotive brand in the US.

While online demographic modeling like what RapLeaf is doing has its place in the future of this industry, the value of such a service is difficult to define for OEM's and dealers lacking fresh vision and direction for how to capitalize on the INFORMATION. Think about it... haven't the heads of US auto manufacturers been ignoring the INFORMATION AGE altogether - and, as a result, plummeted Chrysler, Ford, and GM from icons of the American Dream to filthy murmurings about the debt of our nation? Wouldn't it have been delightful to see a GM or a Chrysler (or, hell, even Ford) launch an Automotive World Fair to redirect attention of the masses to the QUALITY of their brands and conscientiousness of their leadership during a time when the citizenry needs barely an excuse to support any industry that is ours?

Imagine this day - which is soon coming...

“Mr. Kershner, we at GM are excited to announce the launch of Camaro Coaster 2010 at GM World Atlanta! Your family and you have been added to our special guest list to come experience GM World Atlanta's newest roller-coaster, featuring demonstrations of our Emergency Air-Braking and Blind Spot Crash Avoidance technologies. Be our guest for three nights at our five-star concept hotel, and enjoy free meals, movies, and excursions on us! All this while learning about why GM is your family's trusted automotive partner and the...bla bla bla....”

This stuff will work! Attractions are true to their name! An unattractive perspective of the American retail automotive trade has come to fruition. And, the way to combat it and recover is not to run the ball for four quarters and hope your opponent who is kicking your ass with spread and wild-cat offensive attacks won’t throw downfield anymore. Domestics must revamp, restaff, and get fresh talent wielding fresh vision and follow a plan of implementation that gets their brands back into the game.

So, while RapLeaf is a single play call that might bode well for the future of online prospecting, Hyundai/Kia exemplifies the winning game-plan for retail automotive supremacy.

And, must I say it again..."the future is an amusement park..."

Great to be back!

Your able professional,

D. Rawls
Auto Buyer Consultants
(Brand new website coming soon!)
404.661.7767 Direct