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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:
#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.
#4 Email marketing is essential.
In IMN’s study, email marketing ranked second in importance for auto dealers, in large part, because it was a well-known medium with clear metrics and the ability to provide value that they can understand. The study also indicated that while many dealers do not yet see the value in tying email marketing with social marketing, they understood the value of integrating the two and ensuring consistency.
#5 Search Engine Optimization—a marketing puzzle
Like many other businesses struggling with the complexities of the algorithms and inner workings of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the vast majority of dealers understood SEO’s value, but were unclear about how to best take advantage of this powerful lead generator. This demonstrates the need for greater education about the role of SEO in the marketing mix and how to make more informed decisions about its use.
#6 Social content—still a mystery
With the greatest cost of social media marketing being time, content generation was another factor with which dealers struggle. Most found it a challenge to create current, relevant and unique content on a consistent basis, and the content they were creating was relatively unsophisticated and not strategic in nature. Most would welcome the ability to create truly effective content across types and formats without spending a lot of time doing it.
All respondents indicated that getting help from a third party in making their social media and email marketing efforts profitable would be something on which they would be happy to spend a portion of their marketing budgets. The social marketing goal for many of the dealers is simply to create engaging content that will create interest (direct and via sharing) so consumers will come into the dealership. For many, measuring the effect of social marketing often comes down to anecdotal feedback during phone calls or in-store visits. A social solution that could provide measurable results on a consistent basis has the potential to change a dealer’s entire perception of the value of social media.
As one of the dealers surveyed said, “time is the new expense.” Dealers want to use social media effectively, generating positive ROI in the process, but seek a way to do so that enables them to maintain customer relationships without major time investments. Accomplishing this requires strategies that address content, distribution and analytics to enable them to use social media to become more competitive and more connected with their customers.