Dealership Created Social Networks and Community Websites
There are multiple purposes and various reasons why dealerships create their own versions of a social network or online community. In many cases, the objectives dealers have for creating a website that functions like a social network could fill a page with bullet points... In almost all situations the underlying technology or web site platform selected is going to be one of the decisions made that will impact whether the dealer is successful as far as the objectives they have for these social networking sites.
Here's a list of just a few reasons why dealers I have worked with want to create social network-like websites:
1. Attract and engage customers
--- Finance and Insurance questions, answers and sales
--- Showcase vehicle accessories and engage lifestyle users of those types of products
--- Create an online social community for enthusiasts and owner clubs
--- Serve as an online community for customers to interact with each other
--- Become an online community where employees and customers build relationships
--- Online Community for a specific group of corporate employees of a company/fleet buyer
--- Publicly accessible and indexed by search engines
--- Customer generated content
--- Content syndication to other social media sites
--- Content inclusion from other web based sources (RSS inbound)
2. To serve dealership management and staff
--- Training and information
--- New and existing model information
--- Photo and video sharing
--- Best practices and success stories
--- New Employee introduction and orientation
--- Intraweb or Password protected web based access
3. Wholesale customers and suppliers
--- List and display wholesale vehicles available for sale/bid
--- Display accessories to internal employees and have suppliers post pricing, specials, etc.
--- Wholesale parts/accessories customer access for specials, pricing, ordering, etc.
--- User accounts for each wholesale account and/or supplier
I am sure there are many other reasons and uses for dealership created websites that function as either open or closed social networks or online communities.
Social Networking for Car Dealers
According to the Specialty Equipment Market Association, the automotive aftermarket parts industry had over $35 billion in retail sales in 2007 and has grown by over 30 percent since 2001. This rapid growth is driving an explosion of automotive enthusiast websites. CarDomain.com was joined in this realm by Yahoo Custom Autos, as well as a number of smaller sites that give automotive enthusiasts a place to get together online. Even Edmunds.com joined the fray in 2006 with CarSpace.com, an automotive-themed social networking site.
What is an Automotive Community Site?
An automotive community site enables this audience to do what they love most -- show off their cars and connect with like-minded car nuts. These sites allow members to set up pages to post pictures of their vehicles, along with descriptions of modifications and improvements they have made. Most sites also offer a system for rating and commenting on vehicles to foster interactivity and are rapidly adding social networking tools, including profile and photo tagging, blogs, instant messaging and forums. Some of the larger sites have thousands of pages featuring cars of all types. It's a terrific research tool for both vehicle and parts shopping. Fancy merchandising applications and intricate store displays pale in comparison to seeing actual installs on dozens of real-life vehicles with detailed notes on how the install went.
Why Not Just Target Automotive Themed Pages on other Social Networking Sites?
Facebook is THE hot social media marketing these days. The sheer size of Facebook ensures that it can represent just about every group of automotive consumers. Why wouldn't dealers use Facebook or one of the other popular social networking sites and leverage their internal apps, such as Facebook's Fan pages and Groups to target their local audience?
Relevance is a Key Driver for Dealer Sponsored Social Networks and Community Sites
Talk to any of the self acclaimed automotive SEO gurus out there and ask them about relevance... Even if an audience can be reached in a social networking site, the relevance of a message is eroded because people are social networking, not browsing pages and content with a strictly automotive theme. It is easier to engage an auto enthusiast with an automotive related message when he or she is browsing vehicle profiles than it is to engage the same auto enthusiast while he or she looks for a date, party or checks up on friends. In order to have the biggest impact, a campaign should target relevant behavior and strike when the iron is hot.
Why should marketers care?
Automotive consumers love User Generated Content (UGC) sites because they get an opportunity to see vehicles, parts and accessories applied in a variety of ways. They can see photos and descriptions of the activity or work involved in the project, and the resulting aesthetic or performance benefits. Automotive enthusiast sites give consumers a great place to plan and research projects for their own vehicles, and can inspire them to do something new.
For marketers, this provides a great opportunity to place a product or brand in front of consumers at a point in their purchasing process when they are very receptive to input. In contrast to at other user-created content sites, enthusiasts are more likely to treat their pages as a place to showcase their vehicles and their projects.
While there are inherent risks in launching any user generated content (UGC) website, the dealer community pages that get the most traffic tend to be those that do the best job of showcasing vehicles, accessories and various lifestyle images, videos and blog posts containing good stories, videos and photos. Many people visit and join these communities to see cool people and hot cars, and they are attracted to pages that flatter the vehicles they either own or aspire to own. For Sales departments and Accessory shops, their cars and products will be shown by people who have a passion for their brand;s vehicles and are proud of everything about them.
What resonates with this audience?
As with any audience, the key to having an impact with auto enthusiasts is relevance and engagement. By targeting sites with a self-selected audience of car fanatics, marketers can take some of the guesswork out of making their campaign matter.
Dealers must always stay focused on the fact that social media is more lifestyle than media... Do not wear out your welcome by coming on too strong, too soon! The most effective automotive social marketing campaigns rely heavily on connecting with local consumer lifestyles using high rez imagery and content rich original copy to increase the relevance of their messaging, whether it is focused on driving dealership top of mind awareness (branding) or even if it is so crass as to attempt to generate urgency and a relevant call to action.
Dealers who are aggressive enough to see value in taking advantage of the momentum that social media sites have are already reaping early adopter benefits from relative lack of competition. When a dealer's message appears alongside testimonials from that dealership's best customers, it is like having additional sales resources who are relatively little to no cost doing much of your work the dealership's sales team never seems to have time for. Leverage those positive reviews about your dealership's sales and service departments by aligning your marketing messages, features and benefits with the comments and descriptions from customer blogs, DealerRater reviews, forums and hand written content that is scanned and turned into digital images for distribution across UGC networks.
Dealers that want to be bold and sieze an unfair competitive advantage will connect their campaigns to customer reviews and ratings along with a "genuine customer's voice" theme of their social network "Community" sites. Spotlight and feature the same vehicles that testimonial customers describe within your Community and eCommerce sites, build social media profile pages with embedded consumer testimonial clips, then link to them in your online display advertising... How about sponsoring a contest that rewards Community members who can do the best job recruiting new members? The most effective social marketing campaigns leverage the Community's connections to other social networks and current members to increase the campaign's impact as measured by traffic and conversion to members, fans, friends, subscribers and such that provides the dealer with direct and unfiltered access to communicate with consumers..
Social Networking for Auto Enthusiasts
By Jason McDonald