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The Biggest Problem with Partnered Social Media: One-Size-Fits-All Doesn't Work

There is a rise in niche-level outsourced social media that is refreshing on one hand and discouraging on the other. It's encouraging because when agencies take the stance of focusing on a single niche such as automotive or entertainment, they are able to build up several resources to make their jobs easier and the clients' social media presence more robust. On the other hand, it allows many to create an assembly-line, one-size-fits-all mentality of automation that can actually hurt the clients.

It's one of my biggest annoyances. When I sift through the hundreds of Facebook and other social media feeds that are attached to the car dealers I follow, I often see repetition. To some extent there's nothing wrong with this; a Ford dealer in Tuscaloosa sharing the same epic image of a 1967 Mustang that a Ford dealer in Boston shared is likely a safe practice, especially if they're not posted at the exact same time. However, when I start seeing feeds that are over half-duplicated with other similar dealers, I cringe.

Where's the personality? Where's the individuality that allows Facebook and other social media sites to pump up the good and dismiss the bad? Certainly the Ford dealer in Tuscaloosa has completely different goals with social media than the Boston dealer and a diverse personality through which their dealership's humanity can shine?

Unfortunately, this simply isn't the case. Many niche social media companies have adopted as much of an assembly-line mentality as possible. Knowing what I know about social media, if I were on the other side of the discussion looking for the right type of social media I would look for certain things out of my social media partner. This is easy for me to say since we do not currently offer a product that matches these criteria; I have the luxury of speaking without bias. This is exactlywhat I would want if I were a dealer...

 

Seven Criteria for a Social Media Partner

I understand the concepts of scalability, profitability, and building a product that can deliver on the goods without being too cost-prohibitive. I have eliminated those thoughts from this discussion for the sake of describing an ideal situation. No vendor today offers this level of advanced social media marketing in the automotive industry (including us) today. That's a shame because it would help reshape the industry and align goals with results.

  1. Constant Consultation for Both Parties' Sake - Running the various social media profiles that I do, I could not imagine being effective with them if I didn't have intimate knowledge of what was going on at the companies. This isn't something that can be accomplished by a monthly call. It doesn't necessarily require a daily call, either, as that would get annoying, but a weekly touch and an open phone line are absolutely required to make sure that we were taking full advantage of the best component of social media: real time.

  2. Diversity of Personalities - There is no "master plan" in social media that works universally. A Chevy store in Fond du Lac may have a personality that is deeply rooted in the community. They might be one of the centerpieces of the city that plays an important role in cultural growth, education, and bringing the community together. A Honda store in Shreveport might have a completely different approach with different goals for their social media. They might be best served posting 3 times a week instead of twice a day, posting only what is relevant to their fan base that has grown used to seeing service specials advertised to them regularly.

  3. A Budget for Facebook Advertising - Whether through Offers, Sponsored Stories, Events, or straight up Facebook ads, the idea that a page can be maximized without an advertising budget is like saying that a car can drive really fast without gas. I don't care if it's a Lotus - without fuel the only hope to go fast is to drop it out of plane. Facebook offers by far the most cost-effective form of advertising on the internet right now. The majority of vendors who deny this are either uninformed or simply don't want Facebook taking from their chunk of the pie.

  4. Understanding and Focus on the Right Networks - Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are non-negotiable and should never be automated. Dealers and vendors who plug their Twitter into Facebook and call it a day are missing out. Dealers and vendors who use Hootsuite or other tools to keep their Google+ updated have missed the point (this one topic could be a blog post of its own). Tumblr, Foursquare, Pinterest, and Instagram are important and may fall in line with a strong social media presence. YouTube, Slideshare, and Flickr work well for dealers who are positioned properly with the right content. Scoop.it and a handful of other startups that we're watching are moving up on the list. Pretty much every other social network is fluff at this point. Vendors that say, "Get your dealership on dozens of social networks" are either ignorant or they believe that their clients are ignorant. The concepts of "more is better" and "it can't hurt to try" are absolutely false in social media. I'd debate anyone on this point.

  5. Content that Starts at the Dealership - There is plenty of generic content out there that works pretty well. In the car business, there is no shortage of content. However, the only way to get real success out of posts is to localize them. A picture of a Hyundai concept car from the Geneva Auto Show is good, but a picture of a customer's tricked-out Hyundai that drives on the local streets is much better. Vendors who are not doing point #1 will never be able to accomplish this point.

  6. Search Integration - This is a huge one that nobody is doing properly right now. Nobody. Social signals are quickly becoming one of the most important aspects of search engine optimization. There are those who claim to be helping a dealership's search rankings through social media by getting additional inbound links, but this is a completely different strategy than social signal implementation. Again, this is another blog post waiting to happen, but if there is nothing in the strategy that includes getting high-quality organic social interaction on your website, you don't have a true social signals for search strategy in place.

  7. Reputation Reinforcement through Social Media - This is one that is a "must have" for dealers. Reputation is everything. There are a few vendors who do a great job at reputation management - getting reviews, monitoring them to get the dealership's responses, and redirecting potential negative reviews directly to the dealership to allow for one-on-one conversations. Kudos to them. However, a component that I've seen done well on only the occasional social media presence is reputation reinforcement. It's not just about putting a tab on your Facebook page with a reviews feed. It's about taking the extraordinary reviews and getting them exposed to potential customers proactively.


Social media done properly can be tremendously beneficial to dealerships and just about any business out there that works with consumers. It takes a personal touch from the business that can only be achieved by doing it themselves with strong strategies and proper guidance or through true social media partners that put in the efforts, that stay on top of the trends, and that are willing to get personal and understand the personality of the business instead of blasting out generic content and hoping for the best.

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Nataliya Hora / Shutterstock.com

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Tags: Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Google+, Instagram, Marketing, Pinterest, Slideshare, Social Media, Strategy, More…Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, management

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Influencer
Comment by Jeff Glackin on November 20, 2012 at 2:53pm

Tim, its really hard to read that and determine if your goal was discussion or promotion. JD's points were: Ideal situation, it doesn't exist today, its "partnered" social, and it would be exactly what HE wanted if he were a dealer. 

Comment by Timothy Martell on November 20, 2012 at 1:35pm

JD, I agree with the idealism of the post, but in practice, I have found few dealerships that want all of what you preach. Particularly point #1. Now I think there is certainly value in offering a "Cadillac" level plan for the dealer that is really plugged in, but in my experience, commonly dealers have consistently insisted that they do not want another social media company that is going to cost money and not save them time. In fact, many of our clients switched to us from other social media companies because they were spending as much time on social media with a vendor as when they were trying to do it on their own.

Personally, I like talking to my clients on at least a monthly basis. We make every attempt to insist on it. It is good for the client and it is good for the vendor in terms of customer retention. 

2, 3 4, 6 and 7  - you've got me standing up and applauding. #6 is something we are working on right now with great success. The concept of #5 is right, but like #1 it just isn't for everyone. Do we preach it and teach it? Sure! But you're just not ever going to convince every dealer out there that they need to dedicate time and staff resources for this. And in the interest of transparency, like dealers, as vendors, we too are in this to make money -- to offer a service of value that someone will be willing to pay for. That is an important component to acknowledge.

I have been pretty harsh on some vendors over the years when I have caught them taking short cuts. But we also have to live in the real world. And in the real world there are certain things most clients just aren't going to get behind. My hat's off to the few that do, but it is an important distinction to recognize the fact that it is very few who do. And as a business model, that doesn't hunt.

At Wikimotive, our #1 action item is to provide a level of service no competitor can possibly match and we've committed to provide a level of customization to clients that our competition will also not match. We can back this claim up because of the level of competency of the people we employ and because of our employee retention as much as our customer retention. Do I think this will scale when we have 500 clients instead of 50? Absolutely! But only because we've made the conscious decision to limit our clientele to 500 clients. I don't think it can scale very much beyond that number because the vendor loses the competency and retention of exceptional employees.

So, we'd love to provide JD's wish list to a client that was truly willing to commit to it -- if they can also afford the cost of such service and find that the ROI is there. But aside from the few who comment here on ADM and other forums, I submit there are very few dealers out there that would commit the time, personnel and financial resources to really do it all right as JD suggests.

And to be clear, I think thats ok too. For those who want to "set it and forget it", there is a solution out there for them too. Agreeably it would not compete well against those few who commit to it all, but against the much larger majority of those who do nothing, an invaluable social resource can be obtained for reasonable cost that will provide an edge over the competition and accomplish 5 out of 7 of the things on JD's wish list.


Influencer
Comment by Roosevelt Gist on November 19, 2012 at 2:58pm

All of these new customer touch points are really taking the dealer and salesperson away from what they do best - sell cars. If you try an focus on all the social media sites you get to be good at none. Customers with a Facebook page has Twitter and so on. Go where you feel the most people are and become the expert for that social media site for your product line.

Make your buyer testimonial section the social media site for your business. How many of you have Skype? This is a no cost feature that should replace text Chat pop-up which I find annoying and very disrupting to what I'm looking for.

Comment by Tom Gorham on November 19, 2012 at 2:03pm

JD, I gratly appreciate what you do for the industry.  AND I agree with the gist of this argument.  But I, like Roosevelt Gist feel that an outside company has a very difficult time expressing the character of a dealership.  I feel Social Media and Reputation Management must "come from the heart".  In other words, those who feel it.

I DO believe an outside company can assist with these things but should not usurp the dealer's responsibilities.  I am currently in a quandary about the new GM mandate that all GM dealers must hire an outside company for reputation management.  My opinion is that if a dealer has an excellent reputation, "Why mess with that?"

Comment by Alexander Lau on November 19, 2012 at 10:22am

JD, an example of the tool that I use to measure Social Signals / Activity within our SEO CRM (I'm with you, this is going to go far about 10%, that's a low estimate on my part). I've suggested to them to also include a mechanism that tracks the social traction of our client's competitors.

 

Comment by J.D. Rucker on November 19, 2012 at 10:14am

Agreed. Tom.

Roosevelt, it's definitely not easy but it can be done. The key is being a partner, not trying to do all of it remotely. In a true social media partnership, the dealership helps supply the localized content while the vendor helps to position it properly. It can get very involved getting to understand  what resonates, making decisions such as when to post as a gallery versus dropping the images individually, plugging in offers and running them through custom lists, handling advertising budgets properly, etc. Facebook's Power Editor Guide is 16 pages and barely covers the basics. I'm not trying to make it sound hard - it's not. It's just time consuming. Dealers can easily run their own PPC campaigns on search and not pay the vendor charges, but many who have tried came to realize that the money they save is eaten up by the time spent plus the lack of efficiency that often comes with manual campaigns.

Alexander, you're absolutely right. I've been playing with social signals for some time and I can say with a near certainty that we're over the 10% level now.

Jeff, it's way too important to ignore. I can show you some graphs and stats that will blow your mind.


Influencer
Comment by Jeff Glackin on November 19, 2012 at 7:43am

Love this post. Point three is going to take some work to get buy in from the dealers in my opinion but its probably also going to be the most important part of any social strategy going forward. That constant consultation is probably the key to breaking down any apprehension to setting a budget. 

Comment by Alexander Lau on November 19, 2012 at 6:22am

Most dealers need advice and a strategy, not only wrapped around social and reputation management, but for their digital marketing, in general. Absolutely, content is everything these days and agreeing on what type of content to publish is import. I've seen some nasty mistakes out there, dealerships providing free reign to partner publishing. Social Signals are nearly 10% of SEO. With the implementation of Google+ (let's face it, Google controls the search world, it's obvious groups should be publishing through it), I can only see that % going up, with back / inbound links decreasing in magnitude. Using an SEO CRM, such as SEOMoz or gShift will help you maintain the SEO value of Social Signals. SocialDealer does a very good job, giving dealers a good bit of OEM content (generic content, pulled in via RSS) to choose from to push out to their social accounts, as well as reputation management (alerts for reviews in real-time).

 

"Again, this is another blog post waiting to happen, but if there is nothing in the strategy that includes getting high-quality organic social interaction on your website, you don't have a true social signals for search strategy in place." - Absolutely, would be happy to see it. It's being highly ignored.

:-)


Influencer
Comment by Roosevelt Gist on November 19, 2012 at 3:41am

I find it hard to believe that a social media partner can effectively display and/or express the personality, so to speak, of a dealership.

Comment by Big Tom LaPointe on November 18, 2012 at 10:27pm

good stuff. sadly, i doubt most dealers will even scratch the surface of this.

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