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Social Media Marketing for Car Dealers; 8 Do's and 8 Don'ts from the Experts

Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media Marketing for Car Dealers

Okay, I admit that at first light, social media marketing (SMM) may appear like child’s play, so easy that a typical Internet Sales Manager should be able to handle it... After all, what is there to it? Create a bunch of social network and blog website accounts and profiles, Post a few blogs, then Digg a little, Stumble upon a bit and you are set, right? Wrong! That is the exact attitude that can kill your automotive social media campaigns (and dreams) before you even begin to take action or create your first few social media profiles.

I don’t mean to suggest that it is beyond a social media novice to successfully carry out a social media based marketing campaign for a car dealership. Armed with enough knowledge, I am fairly certain, even a novice will be able to pull it off. Nor am I making it out to be more complex than rocket science. However, approaching social media marketing and the social web in general with a complacent or lackadaisical attitude definitely won’t help your dealership get anything useful out of it. Social media, as much ‘fun’ as it is, is not without general principles, guidelines and rules.

Successful social media marketing for car dealers is possible only if the resources assigned to execute, pro or novice, are willing to do the work and invest the necessary TIME... Again, invest the TIME REQUIRED TO DO IT RIGHT... And your people need to follow the following rules. So, read on and make sure you and your people Do the "Do's" and avoid the "Don'ts".

Automotive Social Do’s!

1. Build a strong social network for your Dealership -

So, you have a profile on Twitter, so, it has over thousands followers. You pat yourself on your back for building such a strong social network. Did you know that you are ever so wrong? Have you taken care to ascertain how many of these thousands of followers are legit? And how often do you interact with your followers, respond to the tweets you receive? Less than positive answers to either of these questions mean that despite the impressive number of followers, your social network is as weak as it can get. Interact with your network, only that can ensure your network is as true to you as you want it to be and that your message is conveyed successfully. If you are a franchised dealership with a make that evokes a strong emotional response from the people who drive it, or is an aspirational brand that people want to own someday... Or, if the people who drive your brand of pickup trucks are exceptionally loyal... If your make is more than an automotive appliance, then create a local community for your brand, be the dealer to sponsor it, then invite your customers and use this social network (aka community) to cultivate and develop a true social network for your dealership. Use this sponsored social network as a place for your team to post, write blogs and engage in forum discussions among themselves and with their customers and suppliers. Connect your dealership community to the most popular global social networks so that you are living the concept of local marketing with global reach and impact... Social Media provides a better venue for the Local/Global dichotomy than most other forms of marketing communication channels

2. Expend your effort building the trust quotient of your site -

If yours is not a trusted site, set about working on improving the areas it is found lacking in. When you engage in SMM, you are inviting the entire world to scrutinize your site, if you think it won’t be able to stand up it, wait until you are ready to launch you campaign. You can start by ensuring your site is clean of harmful viruses and spammy links.

3. It’s simple, it may sound a little hackneyed, but it is also true –

It is pretty much impossible to drive a social media campaign without a blog. Bloggers pioneered and now sustain social media, without them, there would be nothing to Digg, or Like or Stumble. Social media would be reduced to a couple of social networks and unending streams of status updates. (All right, maybe a little more than that, but you get the picture). Integrate a blog (pretty easy to do with Wordpress) into your site, or better yet into your dealership sponsored "Community" (social network) and update it regularly with ‘good’ content!

4. This is a classic tip, works every time -

You may remember a time when ‘List’ posts were all the rage (as a matter of fact, they are still very popular), how they could draw traffic to a blog like nothing else could. Well, now with the immense popularity that video sharing sites seem to enjoy, creating a video in the vein of a List post (for example, a ‘How To’ or an ‘x Best Tips’ video) and uploading it on sites like YouTube and Tubemogul is something that can really benefit your SMM efforts. Sure, you wouldn’t say no to instant exposure and the possibility of reaching millions of viewers. Apart from YouTube, you can promote the links to the videos on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and effortlessly double the exposure your brand stands to receive. Having a dealership sponsored social network site is a great way to take this content and use as a basis of syndicating to the appropriate outside social media sites.

5. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open, and your finger on the pulse -

Bad anatomical idioms aside, being aware of all the changes happening around you on the web is important not just in social media marketing, but any kind of marketing on line. Subscribe to feeds from relevant sites, use an RSS reader (like, Zune or Feedreader) and be among the first to comment on posts you like or find particularly relevant. Commenting on posts is great way to get in to the thick of the social activity on a site, but being the first commenter will give you the opportunity to initiate a discussion and channel it in the direction you wish to.

6. Social media marketing can hardly be possible unless you are willing to be social -

It’s a given that you should make your presence felt on all the major social sites, but what is equally important, but is often overlooked is being part of micro-communities, or even building your own automotive community that is relevant and directly related to your dealership and the makes of vehicles you sell and service. While your message may get lost in the irrelevant ‘noise’ on established social sites, it has more probability of reaching the intended audience in a smaller, but niche, micro-community that is focused on the cars you sell and service, or even on specific models, such as Corvette Owner Clubs for Chevy dealerships, or web based Mustang Communities for Ford dealers. If you have a site about your Honda dealership which displays your inventory and various products and services, joining a niche community for Honda Civic lovers like Club Civic makes sense and will probably help your dealership and your social media marketing efforts in a variety of ways, including some basic credibility. Of course, creating and sponsoring your own local Honda community may take a lot more work, but in the end can really pay off by showcasing your dealership as a leader in social media marketing. Here are a few examples; Boston Honda Community, Ancira Auto Group, Automotive Avenues, Kelly Auto Group, Sunset Chevrolet, Ford of Kirkland, Sanderson Ford, Rich Ford and there are many more dealers who have also supplemented their social media marketing strategy with their own dealership sponsored social networks that become a hub for their employees, suppliers and customers. In some ways, you could look at the big social networks like Facebook and Twitter as being like and or even the OEM websites, and the dealer sponsored social networks are the social media marketing equivalent of the conventional dealer website that most dealers have today... The main difference being that these dealer sponsored communities have social media applications, content and focus instead of transactional business as their primary focus.

7. Stick to your brand philosophy!

Just because you are depending on a (relatively) modern approach to marketing doesn’t mean you have to abandon your dealership’s basic ideology, or the branding philosophy that is associated with the franchise you represent, which has guided you for many years in your offline marketing strategies and tactics. Let your dealership's brand philosophy guide your SMM strategy. It will stop you from over-promising and help sustain both your dealership's identity, and the franchised brands your dealership represents.

8. Be familiar with the social culture of the communities you frequent –

very important, lest you commit a social faux pas and the other members banish you from the community. If you have ever participated in a forum discussion, you know what I mean. Like forums, social communities have a certain culture – certain jargons they favor, certain topics that are preferred. If you wish to be accepted as part of a community, be sure you are well-versed with its ways and are prepared to adapt. Though essentially they do the same thing, Digg and Reddit has different and distinct cultures; if you are found to be pro-Reddit on Digg, you’ll be buried even before you can say social! This is why many car dealerships have elected to supplement their presence in dozens of social media communities with creating a social media community of their own for their employees, customers and suppliers. These dealer sponsored "Automotive Communities" can adopt and reflect the social culture of your dealership and the people who buy and service cars and trucks from your business. Add in the element of inviting, or even gently insisting that all your dealership suppliers join and participate in your store's community, and you have a nice component to supplement your overall social media marketing strategy.

Automotive Social DON’Ts!

9. Don’t ‘spam’ on social sites -

A no-brainer, really. Everyone on the Internet knows that Spam = Evil, so if you are engaging in social spamming, you are clearly prepared to see your SMM campaign die an extremely quick death. But to those of you, who are yet to commit this cardinal of sins, let me say this: DON’T DO IT! Not only you lose your credibility, social or otherwise, but all your efforts will go to naught as well. Social spamming isn’t limited to offering unsolicited irrelevant links on social sites; posting promotional comments (with or without links), Digging or Stumbling posts on popular topics that are in no way related to your site, even sending automated Direct Messages on twitter are considered spammy practices. There are enough new vendors to the automotive social media marketing space to make the spamming mistake inevitable for far too many dealers... But if you are reading this article, then you have a chance to avoid these types of schemes where your inventory is tweeted, one vehicle at a time! Or ridiculous schemes like creating a social media account and profile for each car you have in stock... If it does not look like it should be used in a particular way, then don't do it! There are some automotive social media marketing suppliers coming into the market who have taken the time and made the investment of hiring professional writers who will stay in touch with you and your people, interview them weekly and write interesting, useful and even helpful articles loaded with photos, videos, links and how to information that your network of customers on the social web will naturally and inherently want to follow your dealership's accounts and profiles which provide all this regularly updated goodness... THIS is the type of supplier you want if you are going to outsource... somebody or a company who will create original content with value to your local customer base, and then make sure that content is posted to the right social media sites, including your dealership's own automotive community.

10. Avoid blatant marketing tactics -

Have you forgotten how to be subtle? Do you really think that giant blow up gorilla is the way to engage customers of your dealership using the social web? I know what you are thinking, “what’s the point of having a ‘subtle’ marketing campaign?” I am afraid that’s the way things work in social media, and if you want your dealership to have experience positive results, then you will need to adapt. The ‘social’ element (a.k.a user/follower/fan/subscriber/member) in social media apparently has little patience for overtly promotional and gimmicky marketing tactics... Shoving low-ball prices on your over-aged used vehicle inventory at people is a sure fired way to lose their attention, and your ability to communicate with them through social media channels. Give them fun contests, quizzes, games, apps and high value content like video, high rez images and advance information on future models... the kind of goodies that don’t ‘corrupt’ the social space too much, and they’ll love you!

11. Don’t forget to keep your social profiles live and updated -

One would think, this goes without saying, but there are enough ‘dead’ profiles out there that were originally created by people working in dealerships, who then left the dealership as a place of employment and these outdated profiles are like taking a turn down the wrong dead end street when you are trying to develop a social media marketing presence. There are enough of these abandoned profiles created by former or present dealership employees to change one’s thinking about this issue. I don’t like following, friending or even ‘fanning’ inactive profiles, I can only imagine it is true of other social media users too. Freshness is of the essence in social media, if all a profile can provide is stale information, it is of little use to anyone. I recommend that the first step in any car dealer's approach to social media marketing be to engage in a thorough search for profiles and accounts that have been set up which reference your dealership.

12. Don’t forget about Online Reputation Management -

A significant amount of signals monitored in ORM come from social sites. So, while you are engaged in SMM, it is of vital importance to gauge user reaction to your product and to take appropriate measures to counter any less-than favorable signal, comments, blog posts or dealership reviews on your store. If these negative signals point to an actual problem with your products, sales processes or customer service, take them to heart and address the issue by responding immediately by using the LAER method... Listen, Acknowledge, Explore and then Respond. If they aren’t, work to rectify the wrong perception by posting information about how you resolved the issue with the customer or simply providing the facts without getting on the defensive.

13. Don’t drop search in favor of social -

Your SMM efforts should complement your SEO efforts. Choosing one over the other will turn out to be nothing so much as a mistake. Continue building links and optimizing your site while you build your presence in social media.

14. Don’t try to do too much too fast -

Let your SMM take a natural course. Natural being the keyword here; just because you figured you got into the game a little too late, don’t try to make up for it by working over time. So, tweeting updates every half an hour – bad idea. Your followers want to receive useful tweets from you, even one tweet a day will very likely keep them happy. Try not to flood their streams with less-then-useful, overtly promotional tweets, this holds true for your activity on other social sites as well.

15. You social media activities should be primed to bring exposure to your websites -

They certainly should not be used to go on the offence and slander your competition... Battling it out with the competition can do more harm than good to your SMM efforts and your dealership's reputation. Consider the concept referred to by Ralph Paglia as "Separation of Church and State" by identifying and referring to your dealership's eCommerce site for what it is focused on; which should be making it easy for people to do business with your dealership. Then, use your dealership sponsored "Community" as the social network of choice for your dealership's employees, suppliers and customers... As the place where you and your dealership "get social" on the web, while being connected to the most popular social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

16. Do Not Become a Social Climber -

You can’t have a successful SMM campaign if you have only people with big, established profiles on your network. While seeking to climb the social ladder, arguably in an effort to boost the importance of your profile, you may lose out on many a potential customer. Anybody that has done business with your dealership, either as a customer or as a supplier, should be invited to join your network of social friends, fans, followers and subscribers, as well as being invited to join your dealership's community site.

Consider these 16 "Do's" and "Don'ts" as the rules to guide your strategy while you are chalking out your SMM marketing plan and you can stop worrying about your efforts backfiring on you or your dealership.

About the Primary Author:

Bhavya George represents Social Maximizer, a social bookmarking service that assists webmasters in promoting their blog posts & articles in various social bookmarking sites.

SOURCE: Search Engine Journal with automotive specific content added by Ralph Paglia

Views: 128

Tags: 8 Do's, 8 Don'ts, Car Dealers, SMM Experts, Social Media Marketing


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Comment by Andy Shambarger on March 30, 2010 at 8:49am
Once again thanks Ralph. I am more than certain that not only I but many many others as well simply started out by just opening an account. The next question is usually, What Now and what is done is usually not correct or at least off tilt.

#11 hit me between the eyes. I have found at least one dead profile on Facebook that actually has followers listed. We have no idea if or how to end or delete the profile.

And if I may ask everyone something that I am very unsure of. We have befriended several OEM profiles and receive thier posts on our profiles. At times we have had up to half a dozen posts per day. A good idea or should we be sticking to content of our own.

Comment by Jim Jensen on March 29, 2010 at 7:22am
Good word Ralph!
Comment by Jomar P. Rabello on March 29, 2010 at 1:03am
Great post Ralph, I agree is much more strategic than tactical and for sure will help us structure our to do list.
Comment by David Johnson on March 28, 2010 at 7:16pm
I agree, it's articles like these that help define your strategy. I plan on creating a video in the next few days about how to create a successful strategy.
Comment by Ralph Paglia on March 28, 2010 at 7:11pm
David - I could not agree with you more! This was based on an article I found and some of these seem a lot more like strategy components than tactical best practices. But most of all, this is meant to be sort of a check point to review after you have your strategy defines and before you start on an action plan.
Comment by David Johnson on March 28, 2010 at 6:28pm
Nice post Ralph! I would love to add a "Do," if you don't mind.

Do start with a strategy. Too many auto dealers put the cart before the horse and jump on a social network without properly defining a strategy and assigning metrics. If you begin with a platform-centric approach instead of a community-centric approach you limit your creativity to a specific platform, seriously limiting your growth potential. Of course it all depends on how far a dealership wants to go with social media but still a strategy is a definite "Do."

Thank you again Ralph for the Post!

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