Dealership Marketing

Social Media and Blogging for Dealers

For the last three years, the auto industry, specifically the dealer community, has inched its way into blogging and social media. It is actually safe to talk about these things whereas fewer than two years ago I purposely avoided using such terms in my conversations with dealers and auto insiders because they were still a bit taboo. Now with the unveiling of such companies and services like DealerFeeder, I think we can say that the past is officially behind us.

Of course this day would come, it was only a matter of time. With the efforts of people like Jeff Kershner of DealerRefresh and Ralph Paglia of Automotive Digital Marketing, dealers and auto insiders are becoming increasingly more emerged in the idea and practice of blogging and social media. But what are these things really?

Let’s be clear about something. Setting up a Twitter account or a Facebook account takes 2 minutes, literally. Setting up a blog takes 5 and it is free. If you are paying someone to do this for you without a master plan and direct correlation to your marketing strategy then you are wasting everyone’s time and money. The set up of these things is the least of your concerns. Utilizing them and incorporating them effectively into your sales process is the real challenge.

Looking back to the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I recall the blitzkrieg of car dealers taking on the Web. In the first few years the big question was “should I or shouldn’t I have a website?” Then it was should I or shouldn’t I do pay-per-click advertising (PPC). Now it is “should I or shouldn’t I have a blog and do social networking?”. It’s easy to say yes to these questions but what is not easy to address is the HOW.

Successful business comes down to 3 things most of us know – People. Product. Process. Car dealers have the product and despite today’s economic situation there is no lack of people. There is an abundance of people at the consumer level and at the industry level. But it is the process that throws a wrench into all this.

Dealers have been able to follow a relatively consistent sales and marketing process for 50 or 60 years or so until the advent of the Web. Since then there has been a constant flux in their business processes. First came email, then came Automotive CRM, then Internet Departments, BDC, e-commerce directors, etc.  Now we have blogging and social media. Anyone who thinks that incorporating blogging and social media into their marketing strategy simply for the sake of doing it because they “should” is going to be sorely disappointed. So what if you get 500 people following you on Twitter. Are you selling more cars as a result? Is your service business increasing? Are you improving upon your brand equity?

If you are doing these things, what impact are these efforts having on your results? If you can not draw a clear distinction amongst these things then you may be at risk of treading water. Studying your customer behavior and correlating it directly to your efforts is the ugly side of this business which is no different from any other form or method of marketing, conventional or progressive. Obtaining the tools for the trade is as easy as going to the store and buying them, but that doesn’t mean you end up with a killer deck.

Questions…

  1. What impact does blogging having on your dealership and how do you know?
  2. How does Social Media affect your dealership?
B
Excellent points. It's easy to just jump right into whatever everyone's talking about. For some, it's also easy to add a splash of bigger and better to the mix as well, but if you don't actually understand *why* the people who you would like to be your customers are using it, then you're just wasting time and annoying people.

Consider car dealership radio spots!

Some overzealous marketing puppet works overtime trying to produce a radio spot that generates excitement and interest, but he forgets why people listen to the radio - because they want to hear music without buying the $15 CD.

So now we have the typical, over-the-top, dealership spot that promises the same tired, unbelievable BS they said during the last MEGA SUPER SALES EVENT, which happened to be last weekend. They're annoying, and the people who aren't making fun of the cheesy propaganda are changing the channel so they don't have to listen to that tripe.

Understanding that a blog or Twitter account represents a way for the REAL PEOPLE of your organization to engage in REAL CONVERSATIONS with other REAL PEOPLE is the key. If you're a dealership, the people who come to your website or follow you on Twitter will know you're a dealership.

Consider actually viewing the people who come to you as friends through these online channels in the original, pre-MySpace/Facebook sense of the word. This is community building 101.
S
"Understanding that a blog or Twitter account represents a way for the REAL PEOPLE of your organization to engage in REAL CONVERSATIONS with other REAL PEOPLE is the key."

doing so, however, is not so much a point of understanding, but labor.

btw, good article, ryan.

a few months ago i asked someone to show me a car deal happening on twitter. no one could.

i argue that the manpower you put into twitter as a car dealer is better spent on craigslist.

unless, of course, you're a franchise. then, i don't care so much : ) go build your brand wherever you like.
T
Great article Ryan. It seems you have some really great knowledge about steering individuals and dealers in the right direction when it comes to social media. Keep up the great work!
G
  • G
    Gerald
  • May 26, 2009
I agree with you completely about the master plan for your social networking, however, I would add it is important no matter WHO is doing your blogging etc., to ensure it fits in with the master plan and is consistent with the way the dealership drives business.

As with everything, you probably need to be asking what my strategy is, who is it aimed at and what do I want to get out of it. Use these as your guiding principles and you shouldn't lose your bearings in these trying times.

Good post Ryan. Thanks!
J
I run a Twitter account for the car dealership I work for. I have over 1000 followers. But you are right, that doesn't matter if no cars are being sold. How do I get to that point? I don't throw sales pitches into every tweet; I tweet about car maintenance, Ford Motor Company, and other things that I think my followers will find interesting and mix it up with a few links to the website. But how do I take that extra step to get sales or new customers out of it?
C
Great article. Taking on the Social Media in the Auto Industry is not an easy task.

Too often the dealers treat it like traditional advertising. "My competitor is doing it, so I have too". Forgetting to think about how to handle the customer interaction that is required with Social Media will defeat if not counteract the efforts being made. Trying to change the culture of a dealership takes time, patience and continued recommendations.

For all you individual dealers don’t give up. It is people that blog and follow this site (and others like it) that will change the Auto Industry. Pushing for continued improvement is a necessity.
K
It seems that everyone I know that "Twitters" is more interested in how many "followers" they have than in what "twits" they are receiving (and the majority of these folks are not car dealers). While I am a strong believer in the power of social networking, I don't see the significant value in Twitter outside of being a great tool for breaking news. With today's news that Twitter is looking at charging fees for using it, I think we might be seeing the peak of its popularity. And speaking of "popularity", Twitter was hot in the beginning because it was "cool" and not a lot of folks know about it. The "cool" factor is fading rapidly, and I believe Twitter will become a passing fad...
R
Yes I am curious to see where Twitter goes and how quickly. I have been using it since the early days saw a lot of potential but that potential faded quickly for me when I realized that everyone has his own idea about its utility.

I started using it more as a time line for my members but then one day Twitter lost 6 months worth of my tweets. That's when I realized I couldn't count on it as a truly viable business tool and set up my own time line on - www.autoconversion.net/discussions. Now I use Twitter for communicating directly with individuals where there is no risk of potentially lost tweets down the road.

At this point, Twitter is only as useful for me as it is for the people I might be tweeting with. And if this keeps up, the word "tweet" will end up in the dictionary before too long.
J
Has anyone received a significant amount of qualified leads from social networking sites?

Just curious if I should dive into this...

Jake
A
Nice article Ryan. You have to look at the social medias as Public Relations on speed. PR used to take a really long time and was extremely expensive. And PR for car dealers was typically a defensive tactic most of the time.

<b>Old model:</b> customer goes on news broadcast saying nasty things about you. Hire Public Relations agency. Through PR Agency press release are made to the local newspaper and news stations. Letters are sent out, etc. etc.

<b>Cost: Money, Brains, Luck, and Time</b>

<b>New model:</b> online media is free so we're proactive. Speaking to our customers before they're ever thinking about us. If someone is upset, you might catch it before it ever escalates. In the meantime you're learning more about your customers and they're enjoying talking to you because you're not trying to sell them something.

<b>Costs: Brains and Time</b>
R
That is sage input Alex and a good retort that addresses Jake's question above. Not to say you won't generate leads from these tools, quite the contrary you will generate leads and they will be higher in quality as you hone your process. But making leads your ultimate goal bypasses the spirit of the game. Thank you Alex.
S
Thanks, Ryan, for sharing your insights. As much as I hate the strategy vs. tactics debate (most people who invoke the debate couldn't tell you the difference between the two), it's very relevant for auto dealers.

Social media tools are easy enough to master. Knowing how to respond to a critic with a blog, whether it's okay to jump into a conversation about your brand, and whether it's okay to ask for someone's business on Twitter is the tough part.

The best dealers take the time to listen first, and to have a well thought out plan for engaging with customers, critics and enthusiasts.
S
Great article, I agree that determining the right process to partake in is very important to the increased success of the business.
R
If you are expecting to sell cars the "old fashion" way with social media, you will be sadly disappointed. When I say "old fashion", I'm talking Internet sales.

Whether you like it or not, your customers now discuss, review and share your brand with each other and it will continue to become more prevalant. Simply put, your brand is now in the hands of your customers, not you.

The goal with social media is to be part of the conversation. Having your dealership engaged in conversation that is open to the world provides alot of credibility and trust. Something that will ultimately result in more sales.

As Alex stated above, it's proactive and free PR. Those that take advantage of it today will see it pay dividends tomorrow.
R
Ryan, thank you for an insightful article, and of course, the honorable mention you shared referencing both Jeff and Myself, as well as our blogs (Jeff) and communities (Ralph). I have been blessed with getting some funding from a car company that was brave enough to support developing a strategy for dealers to get engaged with social media and social marketing. Sure, everyone has their favorites, with some people taking Twittering to a new level of stature for 140 characters per tweet... Still other dealers have done remarkable jobs with Facebook and YouTube... All worthy efforts. But the most long lasting, high impact approach I have helped progressive car dealers (with a little OEM funding for all that travel) and leveraged specially developed OEM social media assets to create a "network" for several dealers that is yielding various results, all of which the dealers seem quite excited and happy with. The idea is to have a hub and spoke strategy. For example, Twitter is a spoke, not a hub. We set up one, or more, Twitter accounts for certain dealer asset streams... For example, inventory deletions and additions. Each Tweet is a car that was sold, with description and selling price... Actual. Each new inbound new or used vehicle going into inventory is a tweet. Other Twitter accounts send Tweets out that describe the latest activity in the dealer's online community. The community is the hub for our system... Examples of community sites include:

http://www.MyJeepCommunity.com
http://www.FordCommunity.com

And, we have about a dozen more prototype installations. Basically, we use database mining to generate the invitations after we flush out the sites with content, most of which is automatically updated daily via OEM provided asset distribution widgets, RSS feeds and Photo Galleries and slide shows. We also have developed some great inside tracks to OEM supplied Video content that is hosted within the Hub Community and then fed out to the various "name brand" social media UGC sites using as much automation as possible, but often times requiring some level of human interaction... I guess that's why they call it "social"!
Y
I'm trying to figure out what is a good realistic goal for social media.... is it realistic to drive 500 uniques per month additional from social media? If so, how long should that goal take to achieve and how many man hours per week is probably needed?

Any insight would be apprciated.
M
Using twitter, myspace, facebook, etc... is not a magic bullet. On the internet, content is king. If you provide people with valuable information, they will patronize your business. A twitter account with tweets about an auto dealer's inventory will not accumulate many followers and will not result in customer loyalty. A twitter account that publishes honest tips about vehicle maintenance or how to purchase a car can help a company attract new customers.
R
One possible use for Twitter (and facebook for that matter) is to offer savings and incentives exclusive to followers/fans/members. This way, you give these sites utility experienced only by being engaged with your dealership on these sites.

In my experience, it takes much effort and persistence to truly engage your dealership audience in social media, but I think that is because it is so new not only to dealers but also to customers as well.
N
Very nice article, I think you touched on lots of great points.

What are the key areas you'd suggest they use? Which of course is my leading question into recommending the right resource (like Cuneo's team) for developing those KPI's, processes and goals as well as reporting and analytics to develop ongoing initiatives. Are there other vendors or consulting agencies you'd recommend?

I often find that dealers can be too focused on direct sales. Social is less a prospecting tool as it is a retention. Would you rather have a customer that knows and loves you, or have to spend the advertising to get a new one? Would you rather be an expert in the field, or a reactionary?

It's worthwhile to mention that dealers really don't need to be on MySpace anymore because it's changing from a social network to a media portal. Also, Facebook has made some updates to business profiles and pages to be more engaging.

I'm always curious how dealers remain socially savvy, ensure their efforts are maximizing their SEO potential, and considering the best practices and processes for encouraging their customers to submit positive reviews on the sites like Edmunds.com and DealerRater.com with everything else going on. Those will be increasingly important both as Gen-Y ages and as more maps/GPS begins to take reviews into account.

Social is definitely not something that turns around overnight. There are several components in my mind.

1) Social monitoring-- finding the advocates and haters and addressing them as appropriate.

2) Reputation management-- making sure your identity is positive: in search, reviews, and on the niche forums

3) Customer loyalty-- ensuring you keep top of mind with your current customers

Note that prospecting really isn't in there. You could certainly do service specials and hope to grab a few new customers but there are far more efficient ways of gaining new customers.
E
I was wondering how you get people to follow you on twitter. I have created a twitter site, but I cant spend too much time creating content before I get enough followers. But then again if its true that twitter is going to start charging fees, then I wont even consider it anymore. It s not that difficult to set up your own little twitter page on your <a href="http://www.eagleridgegm.com" rel="nofollow">dealer website</a>.
E