Dealership Marketing

Increase Sales by Putting Web 2.0 in the Dealer Employee Handbook

Guest Posting by Audrey Knoth

Should we revisit the Dealership Handbook?

It’s time to turn the auto dealer employee handbook into a marketing tool – one of the most effective that dealerships could have.

How could a weighty tome on such subjects as paid-time-off and the dress code heat up sales?  By adding a section on how the dealership would like to work with each new employee to incorporate dealer information into his or her MySpace or Facebook page.

Of course, this idea is fighting uphill against prevailing auto dealer attitudes about Web 2.0. Most dealers don’t understand the value of embracing Web 2.0 as part of their companies’ web presences and they’re downright scared when it comes to their employees’ personal profiles on social media sites. It’s that nagging fear that an employee may be chronicling his after-work bar crawl on the same page where he’s posted his dealership logo.

And in a land that treasures the First Amendment, management is uncertain about what’s appropriate to say to employees regarding their social media presences.

As a result of all this, dealers say nothing. In the process, they’re missing an important business opportunity.

Recently, a colleague and I scoured the social media for these allegedly hair-raising personal employee sites. We found that these personal social media profiles tend to be tame – surprisingly so, given the anxiety management has felt about them.

On the majority of the sites, employees identify themselves as working for car dealers, but they don’t name the dealerships. I believe that many auto dealer staff are unsure whether their companies allow them to mention their name on their personal profiles and whether it’s permissible to use the dealership logo, and so they’re erring on the side of caution.

What these personal pages actually represent is unplowed and fertile territory for dealerships to build business and it starts with the dealership employee handbook.

Why the handbook? Because that’s where all employees gain the same base of knowledge of company practices. By including the dealership’s policies and philosophies on Web 2.0 in the handbook, the company ensures that each staff member thoroughly understands its view of and approach to social media.

In the handbook, the dealer should explain that if employees would like to talk about their positions at the dealership on their personal social media profiles, the company is happy to support their doing so. By “support”, I mean the dealership would continually produce and provide to employees content to post. This content would go way beyond logos:  a stream of video, photos, short news on product, and more should be provided to employees on a regular basis so they can constantly be freshening their sites.

And the company can assist with the dialogue, too. For example, if an employee is unsure of how to respond to a posted comment that relates to the dealership, management can help him or her develop a response.

We all know that the first place that inexperienced new dealership employees are supposed to look for business (besides waiting for the public to amble onto the lot) is among their friends and family. Employees with active social media profiles by definition have a great amount of contact with a network of people, and this kind of dynamic content will say more than a phone call or business card ever could.

Additionally, when dealerships recruit experienced auto salespeople who have loyal customers, they often run ads showcasing these new hires. The purpose, of course, is to make sure that those customers bring their business to the salespeople’s new place of employment. Working with employees on relationship-building and promotion through social media is in many ways an extension of what has long been common practice.

Of course, traditional advertising is a totally controlled environment. Social media is not and the lack of control is what scares dealers. But the upside of this venture far outweighs the possible downside, because each employee who is active in social media is a potential public advocate for the dealership – a visible and connected advocate. Using this approach, the dealership can build an army of advocates, with new business resulting, in very short order.

About the Author: Audrey Knoth is the Executive Vice President
for Goldman & Associates Public Relations

Audrey, thanks for writing this and injecting your spin on it. When we first talked about this article, I was merely thinking about how dealers should look into revamping or appending their Handbook to include the dealers Do's and Do Not when mentioning the dealership on social website profiles for online reputation management purposes. You took it to another step and turned it into a possible way of leveraging the employees social profiles for increasing sales and branding.

As a sales person, this is exactly what I would do (did). I made sure everyone knew where I worked and that I was able to help them with their next car purchase while building relationship with each and every person.

Getting the dealers to provide this information would be an interesting task but beneficial if executed upon effectively.

Has anyone else given this any thought?

Anyone read through your dealers handbook lately to see if it includes the rules for posting your employment status and mentioning the dealers name on your social profile pages?
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    Gerald
  • February 9, 2009
Talk about a Pandora's box! I noticed an article the other day on Drudgereport.com about a teacher who was fired for posting a photo of herself with a rifle pointed toward the camera. This was called in "poor taste". How? If we, as employees are judged on someone elses' criteria, and the dealership has the right to hire/fire based on what is on (or isn't?) on my personal page, how is that fair?

I understand COMPLETELY if I try to use my online presence to drive business to my dealer, he does have some responsibility and potenital liability for my page's content.

This is a particularly poignant article, one appropos for the time, and frankly, one I have not considered much at all. One thing is certain, adoption of Web 2.0 will be much like the adoption of Internet sales- someone will resist to the very end, proclaiming how Web 2.0 will NEVER amount to anything, and before they know it, they will have gone the way of the Gooney bird.
R
Wow! Congrats Audrey (for the article) and Jeff (for posting it)! Yes, we have also given this subject much thought - very much.

With about 100 million U.S. visitors each month to Facebook and MySpace alone, the potential for additional sales is huge.

And like 1998, when dealers were first introduced to websites, now they have to get acquainted with social networks.

This is exactly why we built and launched a new website that does EXACTLY this for dealerships.

Through a customized widget that a dealer can subscribe to, not only can the dealerships employees grab the widget to place it on the social network page, but potential customers can grab it to.

For the dealership's sales staff, this is a no-brainer. Nowadays, sales people everywhere have to be creative and innovative to keep there numbers up, and staying on top of the the board at the dealership is no exception.

Employees place the widget on their page, and anybody can send a lead directly to the dealership without every leaving that person's profile.

I have read this blog for a long time now and no the community allows for conversation and not site-pimping, but guys, I just have to tell you that there is a tool that does exactly this!

It's almost inconceivable to think that many dealerships will maintain several (or even a couple) of social network pages. After all, blogging never really caught on (we thought of this too.)

The bottom line is, Audrey is right on the button. Social networks represent a goldmine of opportunity for dealerships.

Anyone can drop me an email (networking is ok, Jeff?) or just check the website and I'll be happy to see if what we do can help you guys tap into this treasure trove of sales opportunities.

Great subject!
R
I was obviously excited when I wrote my comment. Please forgive the 2 grammatical errors!!!! hahah
A
Audrey,

You and I have discussed this on numerous occasions...let me just say that your article is now on the way to everyone in the black glass building ;)

Thanks!
D
An anecdote from the consumer's perspective:
I'm a Subaru fanatic, and a member of the local "Subaru Impreza Owner's Club". We have an online forum for all club communications, and a local dealership has a sales person and their parts manager both on the forum, with active user accounts.

We just bought a brand-new Forester from the sales guy without giving it a second thought.

The dealership and sales-person relationship was so strong because of the online social network that we 1. didn't even give it a second thought to shop at another Subaru dealership, and 2. didn't haggle on price with the sales guy. He gave us a "club member" discount which was basically the invoice + dealer options (and I know he made money on that), but we didn't mind because the social relationship was strong.

If it weren't for the online social network and the events the dealership has and continues to organize for the club, I wouldn't have known that guy from Adam, and we probably would have gone shopping for a used car and haggled and been a pain on the price.

So this is just to say that I've seen these tools leveraged to build a dealership's business and it does work. And used correctly, it makes the experience much nicer for everyone involved!
B
Love the idea but I don't see how this would ever get past the corporate lawyers. If it was posted in the employee handbook seems that the Dealer would be liable if one of those worst case scenarios resulted...stalking or something along those lines.
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  • D
  • February 10, 2009
I absolutly agree with this article. I have around a 1000 contacts on my own page and would say I probally generate at least 1 direct sale a month form it. I have friends whom pass on my information in the form of used and new car specials. The best part of it all is it's FREE! What better type of advertising could you have when it costs nothing and generates something! Thanks Jeff, great insite!
F
A great article and for those who look towards the future the future shall be yours. I encourage the younger people at our dealership to include the dealership as someone may always say " I know someone" There you thats all you need. Like they say always advertise.
S
WOW. CLAP CLAP CLAP. You have my praise!!! This is amazing. I use social networking sites to connect with everyone and anyone that I have ever met as well as people that can help me succeed in my industry. I have over 900 friends in my facebook account (ok some of you probably think that is nuts, how could someone know that many people?). Well guess what, I was very popular in high school and people always knew me for being a nice guy, a great guitar player, and a varsity wrestler so most of those people are high school alumni. The rest of my friends are anyone that I have ever worked with or communicated (yes I know every single person on my friends list). On myspace I network the same way plus with musicians that I respect. On Automotive Digital Marketing, I am always meeting new people and making new friends. I met most of the people at NADA and somehow created a relationship with these people. At the end of the day, the more people that know me the more successful I will be as long as I keep a positive reputation management system going. By the way, sites like linkedin.com and naymz.com are great social networking sites that help keep positive reputation management for individuals just like carfolks.com and dealerrater.com maintains reputation management for dealers. Now, I must say that I used to just act any other way on myspace and facebook until I started adding business contacts as friends. I was never extreme and never a crazy party animal, however this trained me to be more discrete and act accordingly not only as a social net worker but also as a human being in my daily life. After all, you need to always keep a certain image so that people respect you and see you in a certain way. I know that in my young age I needed to start doing things differently and I am proud to have matured this way. I believe that if employers trained employees to be on social networking sites and be discrete it can help improve business. I want everyone that I know to know what I do and where I work. I want them to buy cars from me and only me. I want them to send me referrals. It used to be that I would have to join a club of society to network with people so everyone knows that I am the "go to" person to buy a car. Now I can do it from the comfort of my home from my computer or anywhere as long as I have a computer and/or my iphone. The time to raise awareness of the positive business aspects of social networking is now. I am not one to brag and I am going to make this as humble as possible but my friend, Joe Webb wrote an amazing blog about social networking and myself (http://adpadm.ning.com/profiles/blogs/is-stan-sher-the-greatest). This explains how I leveraged social networking in order to be a part of this great family which includes all of you readers. It is funny too when you look at the comments.
P
Social networking only works if it is not commercialized; real or perceived. Helping your staff to draw the "fine line" of building relationships rather than sales is not as easy as posting this month's creative for the dealership but it has a far superior R.O.I. for all involved parties so your staff needs and deserves your support. For that reason alone a dealership must establish a support system to leverage this valued human networking resource - not only in sales and service but in all departments - to extend the dealership's marketing messages to their staff's personal spheres of influence.

That said, the best place to pass on consistent policies and procedures while considering "risk management" for the dealership is in the employee handbook. Just ask your attorney and he will explain that "no policy" actually is a policy by "ommission." When an employee mis-represents your dealership to a customer - with or without your knowledge and/or permission - you are liable; even if it is only based on the "deep pocket" theory applied by most attorneys seeking damages for their client.

The first issue that has to be addressed is the "buy in" from the dealer that the internet has matured into a "pull/push" media rather than a "push/pull media as far as customers are concerned. As a result, the website of today is already different than yesterday's and they will be drastically different than tomorrow's. Transparency and simplicity is already a practiced wisdom in dealer's sites which have learned to prioritize relationship selling over simply posting price and product. Since it is difficult to have a relationship with a building or a corporation the people factor has to take precedence. Step one is to integrtate a dealer's blogging site for customer generated content including their staff's postings and comments.

The problem is that many customer assume that a dealer's site is self serving and they challenge the source. The only solution is independently develped "relationships" in other sgared verticals like face book, twitter and other communal sites where you are able to kmake friends who are happy to find out that - coincidentally - you also sell and or service vehicles. After all, everyone would like to have a friend in the car business!

As far as the posted point - yes, include instructions, policies and procedures for social networking ploicies and procedures in your employee handbook and enforce it the same way as the other issues that it includes.
R
Getting this into the handbook is certainly a first step and to do this there has to a lasting perspective of the idea at the dealer principal level and all his or her managers. But I don't think it is practical to account for all scenarios and situations that social networking actually presents. These concepts must ultimately become part of the culture.

This will come in time, I believe. It's already happening. Look what has evolved in the auto industry just through the last year.

But there is an element to social networking that I see imposing change in the employee-dealership relationship. It's the branding element. I see sales in the auto industry evolving to a state comparable to the Real Estate industry where automotive sales professionals are building their own brand equity under the roof of a dealership rather than just trying to use social media to sell cars.

Good topic Audrey.
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    Jim
  • February 12, 2009
Great!! We have a Facebook page for the dealership. The sales personnel have attached to it as well. This is about 3 weeks old for us but it is rapidly gaining strength. Customers love it and love the participation. Stay tuned as we experiment.
T
I think this article really gets people thinking about how social marketing is changing and impacting how dealerships use there staff for extended marketing outside the usual channels. One thought that comes to mind is creating a standard format "Template" for employees of the dealerships to use that would be in line with the dealerships handbook for each of the social media platforms. This might take a little of the personalization away from the individual but it could help to corral bad content that could harm the dealership yet still give the employee a platform to build a prospect and customer network.

I am sure every dealer would agree that leveraging your staff to become advocates is one of the best ideas but it takes time and patience, which a lot of dealerships just don't have the dedication needed to see it to fruition.

For the dealerships that do embrace social media I think they will be able to gain local market share by being seen repeatedly where the customers are looking and browsing socially. The average Myspace user checks there page something like 35 times per day and I am sure Facebook is similar. So marketing impressions from a dealership on Myspace or Facebook page could help solidify the brand in the browsers mind. Remember brand impressions count and studies have shown it takes from 7-27 positive brand impressions for a shoppers to take action.

This article has been a great idea starter for me thanks for posting it.
R
Audrey,

That is a great article. I have started using my Twitter, Facebook and yes even My Space accounts to get the message out about Jim Glover Chevrolet. The problem is there isn't enough hours in a day to keep those social places up-to-date - lol. One of the things I have just started doing is an Internet Based Radio program on Blog Talk Radio and IT'S FREE. I do a weekly show that started out being about 45 minutes but will be expanding to a one hour show. This week's show is a 2 hour special in honor of the return of the Camaro. I had been doing a podcast and happened to be introduced to BTR by Philip Zelinger. Thanks Phil. Now while it hasn't stirred up any business, I do enjoy doing the shows, reviewing Chevrolet products as well as other Car related subjects. We even try to have some fun with Trivia and some audio from past Chevrolet TV commercials. But I guess my point is that anything new should be explored. But who knows, maybe one day, someone will call and say I was listening to your show and I want to know more about.... One can only hope. So your article was great. Relationship building is one of the best tools one can use, especially in these tough economic times.
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    Court
  • June 1, 2009
What about possible backlash when an employee/dealer relationship goes sour? These incidents occur frequently in the business and should not be ignored when blending your brand into your employees personal social media profiles. Your employees automatically become your brand ambassador which can generate great things but what about the flip side. How does a dealer monitor and prevent an ex-employee from engaging in negative branding? Obviously this is a gray area but it certainly needs to be discussed before incorporating into something as definite as an employee handbook. Feedback?
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