Professional Community for Car Dealers, Marketing, Advertising and Sales Leaders
Navigating Social Media in the Automotive Industry
Prepared by Missy Jensen
Social Media Manager
It has been said that cars are one of the few personal possessions that arouse extreme consumer passion and fanaticism. People talk about their cars frequently, whether they are bragging or complaining, to their friends, coworkers and family members. And in today’s technologically advanced world, they are conveying their opinions, thoughts and feelings (both positive and negative) to an infinite number of strangers online – through blogs, forums, review sites, and social media communities. While a certain percentage of individuals actively voice their opinions online, an even larger number of individuals use the Internet to research products, services, and companies as part of their buying process. A 2009 study by Razorfish found that 73% of consumers have posted a product review online, while another 97% of consumers search a brand online.
Conversations are taking place...everywhere, 24/7/365! The conversations that are occurring online, through sites such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, review sites and so on – are about your dealership, your cars, your services as well as your competitors. More and more in today’s world, customers are consuming and reacting to user-driven content and ignoring corporate advertising and PR.
Therefore it is vital for your dealership to understand social media, where these conversations are occurring, what is being said, how to handle the comments being made and, last but not least, how to become part of the conversation.
This whitepaper will provide a brief description of social media, its importance and insights on how dealerships can integrate social media into their marketing strategies.
Social media is defined by Wikipedia as “media designed to be disseminated through social interaction, created using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques.”
In plain English, social media is people having conversations online.
According to “What Is Social Media” by Antony Mayfield, “a good way to think about social media is that all of this is actually just about being human beings.” People are using social media to connect, share, discuss, vent and join…with family…with close friends… with neighbors…with classmates…with coworkers and with complete strangers.
Their conversations are powered by hundreds of web and mobile applications. The most widely recognizable “channels” for social media are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace.
Social media has fundamentally changed the way we communicate and, perhaps most importantly for you, the relationship between companies and consumers. Monologues have given way to dialogues! According to Heather Angus-Lee’s “Time Is Of The Essence: Gaining and Maintaining a Competitive Advantage With Social Media,” traditional media had a “top-down” or “one-way” delivery, where companies told consumers what to buy, as well as when and how to buy products through the use of newspapers, magazines, television and radio. Today, social media boosts a “ground up” (as termed by Angus-Lee) or multi-directional delivery in which companies and consumers have ongoing interactions through self-published or user-generated content. Unlike in traditional media, companies cannot continually push products and go for the “hard sell” online…because if they do, their message will fall upon deaf ears. That is the beauty of social media: people quickly decide what they want to listen to and talk about.
The one rule in social media:
The Consumer Rules!
The somewhat harsh reality is that consumers are increasingly resistant to cold, impersonal marketing messages. This is especially true in the automotive industry, as most people
don’t believe that a dealer has their best interest at heart. A J.D. Power and Associates 2009 Sales Satisfaction Index Study found that 1 in 5 shoppers left a dealership without purchasing a vehicle due to poor treatment or dealer performance issues regarding pricing games, sales pressure tactics or discourteous treatment. It is not too surprising then that consumers are being heavily influenced by the experiences and opinions of other consumers, including those shared online. Here are some interesting facts about consumer behavior:
• According to Nielsen’s “Trust in Advertising,” 78% of consumers trust advice
received from other consumers
• Survey found consumer recommendations are the most credible form of advertising
• Other reports have stated that 94% of consumers say that a word of mouth recommendation from a friend or trusted source that has actually owned the product is the number one influencer of their purchase (Forrester Research, published by Zuberance)
• A 2009 study by Razorfish found that 65% of consumers report having a digital experience that positively or negatively changed their opinion about a brand. Of that group, 97% indicated that their digital experience influenced whether or not they eventually purchased the product from that brand.
These conversations are taking place, with or without your participation. Do you want to know what people really think about your dealership, your cars and your service? Do you want to learn from your customers’ experiences? Do you want to encourage a positive perception of your dealership and improve customer loyalty to increase revenue? Do you want to know what is being said about your competitors, good or bad?
Do you want to join the conversation?
Many OEMs and dealerships around the nation have already begun to embrace social media. According to BusinessWeek (2009), Ford Motor Company will spend 25% of its marketing budget on digital and social media marketing, which is two times the amount spent by the industry. Ford has experienced a tremendous amount of success with their Fiesta Movement, a platform designed to generate excitement about the highly anticipated Ford Fiesta, Ford’s new fuel-efficient small car.
As part of the initiative, 100 young trendsetters test drive and “live” with a Ford Fiesta for six months, traveling as “agents” on special “missions”. The “agents” then relate their experiences through a variety of social media sites. The results of the Fiesta Movement and test drive program in 2009 were astounding:
• 4.3 million YouTube views
• 540,000 Flickr views
• 3 million Twitter impressions
• 50,000 interested potential customers; 97% of who didn’t currently drive a Ford
• More than 162,000 customers interacted with the Fiesta through walk-arounds
and social interactions
• 35,000 have taken a test drive
Other OEM examples include various Facebook Fan Pages, Twitter accounts, Chevy’s Voltage Forum, “Scion Speak”, ImSaturn, and Hyundai Aftermarket Forum. The pervasive theme of these social media initiatives is providing an environment for their brand’s loyal and enthusiastic customers to gather to talk, share stories, post pictures, load videos, coordinate get-togethers, and even voice their concerns / complaints.
Knowing that most of the OEMs are utilizing social media marketing, this begs the question: How can your dealership employ social media as part of your marketing strategy?
It is glaringly obvious that avid car enthusiasts, your current customers, actively interested shoppers and those that peruse the Internet as part of the buying process are ALL over the Internet! To capture their attention, it would be wise for your dealership to use social media. That being said, you do not want to jump in without looking first!
With a vast array of online social media sites to choose from and, given the rocky economic times and shrinking marketing budgets, less time and fewer people to handle the tasks associated with a social media campaign, it’s very important to have a sound strategy (as with any other marketing effort). Here are some steps to get you started on the right foot:
1. Research First! – Find out where your customers and prospects are on social media by listening to and researching the current conversations. And don’t forget about your competitors…where are they and what are they doing?! There are several listening tools available online, such as Google Alerts, Social Mention, Twitter Search, and even a search function within Facebook. However, one simple suggestion is to ask your in-dealership customers what social networks they are using.
2. Plan! – Just as you would other marketing campaigns, create a social media strategy based on what you learned above. Ask and answer the following questions:
Where are you going to participate?
Given that Facebook has over 350 million users, with the fastest growing demographic
of 35-54 year olds, it’s probably a safe bet to begin there. With regard to your competitors’
participation, Facebook is a pretty good place to start, as more than 700,000 companies have a Fan Page. However, word of caution: don’t dismiss the other big sites such as Twitter and YouTube, as millions of people visit them daily!
Who is your target audience?
It’s common sense to identify your audience as those that live within your “target” location(s). Though your followers/fans may expand beyond that area, focus your attention on those who logistically are able to visit your dealership. You don’t need to have a following of tens of thousands, just for the sake of numbers…but you do need to have a solid, active following. Remember: Quality…not quantity.
Will your dealership employee be responsible for maintaining your profiles? How much time will they devote to it? Or will you outsource your social media?
How much time will they devote to it? Though social media is free in concept, it would be dishonest of us if we didn’t tell you it does require time and attention. You will need someone (or multiple people) who has the time, ability and interest to manage your social media accounts.
As Ralph Paglia states in “Dealers Ready To Play”, “many dealerships have up to 100 employees…get your employees engaged and involved.” Your staff likely has years of experience in the industry under their belt so take full advantage of their knowledge.
You’re probably wondering, “Just how much time will this take?”
Good question! In his whitepaper titled “Becoming a Social Media Butterfly: Practical Social Media Strategies for Business”, Gregg Holtsclaw identified three distinct involvement categories:
• Reacting to social media – For those that wish to simply monitor forums and comments, update an occasional photo, send a few random tweets and deal with any negative customer service or brand issues, the time requirement is 10-12 hours per week.
• Participating in social media – The more active participants who post videos, blogs, update statuses, engage in conversations will spend approximately 20-25
hours per week in social media settings.
• Influencing social media – Those that put out fires, respond, engage in conversation, spread your information as well as others, and create original content weekly (if not daily) spend 40 hours a week, if not more, on social media-related tasks.
If you decide that the requirements to engage in social media campaign are too cumbersome there is the option to outsource some, if not all, of the work. Companies (such as Gateway Business Development Group at http://www.gatewaybizdev.com or Deming Hill at http://www.deminghill.com) or professional social media consultants (such as Mari Smith at http://www.marismith.com) can assist in the set-up, design, and content creation; as well provide support for any ongoing technical issues. Outsourcing can be a great alternative because you will lean on a more experienced individual or group to devise a strong strategy, to get you up and running more quickly, to provide training so your staff is competent (even if involvement is minimal, it’s a good idea they know what they’re doing!), and to take you step-by-step through the process – from, as mentioned above, strategizing to building your profiles, to engaging with your audience.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this white paper was first published, ADP Dealer Services has launched a suite of Social Media Marketing and Reputation Management solutions for car dealers. Reader's can learn more about the comprehensive and award winning ADP Social Solutions at the following sites:
(original whitepaper continues below)
Regardless of whether your social media initiative is run by an employee or an outsourced company, it is imperative that they have a strong understanding of your dealership, your
your mission, your company culture, your customers, and the automotive industry
in order to accurately
and effectively participate.
What is your objective? What type of content will be posted?
With many hours of research under our belt, we can confidently suggest that your social media objective not be to outwardly try to sell cars! That’s right…throw your old thinking out the window because a hard sell will turn people off. Social media should be used for other reasons, such as improving brand recognition, highlighting customer experiences and success stories and to humanize your company.
• Stefani Lydon of Prime Motor Group said that their main goal in using social media was to “get their name out there” and they “don’t make it about selling cars”. Rather, Prime Motor Group uses their Facebook Fan Page to do fun stuff like post pictures of customers with their newly purchased car, dealership events and parties, share relevant industry and product news, run contests and promotions, as well as ask questions of fans. Other uses of social media include positioning your dealership as an industry expert, acting as a real-time customer service forum, and educating your customers and general public. Instead of the hard sell, think of ways you can help your customers and general public better understand the car buying process, the reasons behind various service requirements, how to improve or better maintain their car and other types of insightful and useful tips.
• Lori Vajda, Social Media Coordinator for AutoNation stated that their social media “objective is to become a trusted resource in the automotive industry” and all actions online by the company must match that intent. Their Fan Page, YouTube channel and blog are chalk full of interesting tidbits about car care, maintenance, and driving tips. They are “teaching people about their cars” through social media. Additionally, they run contests and promotions, post pictures of satisfied clients and respond directly and quickly to any customer concerns.
What can your dealership do on social media sites?
Share funny stuff you find online that your customers would find equally enjoyable… share cool videos… did-you-know stuff… and fun events.
Don’t get us wrong, we still recommend that you put some sales and service information on your social media profiles. There are several ways to do this, such as create an inventory tab or coupon section on your Fan Page. You can also easily post a coupon / promotion on Twitter that is only available to those that follow you.
Regardless of how you choose to promote your sales and service, we strongly suggest you do not make it your only content on the various social media sites. Those currently active in social media will tell you that a hard sell it is a major turn off! Vajda states, “If you miss your mark the first time, people won’t give you a second chance
3. Build It! – Once you have an understanding of where your audience is, you must build a place for them to visit, whether it is a Facebook Fan Page, a Twitter account or YouTube channel.
Once you have created your profile, you should share it with your friends, family, coworkers, current customers and any prospects through email. Send out a brief email to your contacts about your social
media activity with links to your profiles. Also talk about social media on your radio and television ads. Include the applicable social media logos on your mail pieces or any marketing emails that are distributed. As with your address and phone number, your social media activity should be included as part of your contact information.
4. Engage! – As Vajda of AutoNation warns, this is not a “build it and they will come” scenario and you can’t open an account and think you’re good to go. An inactive account, second to the hard sell, is one way to lose customers and prospects. If there is one thing to remember during the “engage” phase, it’s this – engagement is a process…an evolving process. Content must be continually refreshed.
All over social media forums and blogs, it is maintained that the only way to connect with people on social media sites is through content; content that captures and maintains your audience’s attention and excites them! It can’t be said enough that quality content is key. As suggested in the “Dealers Ready to Play” article, some of the best ways to engage with customers is to ask questions and answer questions. Or, as mentioned above, find ways to help them, whether it’s to educate them about the car buying process, help them better understand their car or enhance their driving experience. Use your F and I department to explain how financing works (Wardsauto.com). Have your Service Manager talk about the importance of rotating and balancing tires. Have your Sales Manager discuss the best times to buy a car. The topics are endless! And you can convey your message through a status update, a video, and/or blog. Which leads us to our next suggestion: Mix it up! There are so many easy ways to distribute content these days…write a blog or an article for your website, post a picture, make a video…and you don’t have to be a skilled copywriter or professional photographer/ videographer to do it.
There are various ways to facilitate and promote your customers’ engagement with your dealership. As discussed above, once you build your profiles, it is critical to announce your social media activity to your customers and prospects so they may easily connect with you. AutoNation encourages their customers to get involved with their social media initiatives through a variety of channels, posting social media links in their newsletters and emails, on their websites and blog, and on in-store promotional materials and business cards. According to Vajda, they let customers know how they can reach AutoNation on social media sites and encourage them to share their experiences, both good and bad.
Lydon of Prime Motor Group is also proactively encouraging engagement with their dealerships. Photos of customers with their new cars are being posted on their Facebook Fan Page and the customers are being encouraged to tag themselves in the photo. Once tagged, the photo and message are broadcasted not only to the Fan Page, but also to the customer’s Facebook profile and announced to their friends.
In summary, as you attempt to engage with your customers and prospects ask yourself, “What can I do for them?” and “How can I give them something they can’t get anywhere else?” Social media is about building relationships, finding things to share and discuss, and adding value to someone’s experience.
Now let’s discuss how to avoid a social media accident and how to keep you headed in the right direction!
1. Social is meant to be FUN!
Inject some personality into your postings, be friendly and be entertaining. But remember to keep it clean!
2. Don’t push… Pull. Ask questions... don’t sell. Ask questions....don’t sell. Especially not right off the bat. Listen and learn from your audience. Build a rapport. Eventually you should be able squeeze some sales messages in without backlash. Promote your dealership in a non-intrusive way.
3. Be authentic. Be you.
Be you. Be honest about who you are and what your intentions are.
4. Give up control!
Let your followers and fans speak and share their experiences. Don’t restrict who can and can’t leave comments. When someone does share, be sure to respect his or her opinions.
5. Be realistic. Don’t expect immediate results.
You can spend a half an hour a day on social media but understand that it will likely yield a very unsuccessful result. The more time and effort your dealership is able to dedicate, the better the engagement. (See the section on time commitment above for a refresher on the time and effort needed.) Additionally, social media is aimed at building deep, meaningful relationships. And we all know that those don’t happen overnight. It’s been said that social media will never close a deal, but it can certainly create a buzz about your product. The deal must be closed once the prospect enters your dealership.
6. Address any concerns or negative feedback immediately.
“When you respond quickly to a customer concern or complaint it lets the customer know what to expect when they do business with you,” according to Vajda at AutoNation. Not only is the timeliness of response important, but also the manner in which you respond. If someone posts a comment on Twitter, respond on Twitter. This ensures that the same people who saw the initial comment will also see your response.
7. Frequently update your profile with meaningful, relevant and timely information.
A stagnant profile will scare off customers and prospects alike quicker than a salesperson in a vintage polyester suit.
8. Measure. Just as with other marketing efforts, don’t forget to track your progress. Just as with other marketing efforts, don’t forget to track your progress. This can be done easily by tracking the number of fans you obtain, the number of Twitter followers, the number of times a tweet is retweeted, the number of blog subscribers or the number of video views. This information can usually be easily obtained. You can also use Google Analytics, a free tool used to track website and blog traffic (provided you don’t have something similar in place and/or you have someone who can set it up for you).
Social Media is the new water cooler, backyard fence, coffee shop or street corner.
It’s the place where people gather to discuss what’s going on in their world. People are congregating at these social networking sites at an astounding rate. Sites like Facebook and Twitter are revolutionizing the way that people and business communicate.
Using social media for marketing your dealership can certainly seem daunting. Most dealerships are still trying to sort out the real value of social media and understand how it can influence their company, brand and their bottom line. However, keep in mind that conversations are happening online about your dealership and your products whether you choose to participate or not. Social media will allow you to connect with an online community of customers and prospects. They’re out there just waiting to hear what you have to say!
About Missy Jensen
Missy Jensen is the Social Media Manager at DMEautomotive. She designs, deploys and maintains the social media initiatives for DMEautomotive in an effort to increase brand awareness, distribute company and industry news, provide updates on products and services and promote consumer engagement. Missy enjoys the process of learning; researching and watching projects come to fruition!
Prior to her transformation into a web specialist and work with DMEautomotive, she has 10 years of experience in the marketing and communications industry. Missy served as the Director, Handicapping & Communications for a regional golf association and helped successfully launch and maintain a cutting edge technology-based ticket resale program on behalf of the St. Louis Cardinals
Missy attended St. Lawrence University where she graduated Magna C** Laude with a BS in Psychology. She also holds a Master’s Degree from Miami University in Oxford, OH. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DMEautomotive provides multi-channel, variable communications for approximately 3,500 automobile dealers nationwide. Their robust product and service offering includes: on-demand marketing campaigns, sales renewal and reactivation programs, service retention and reactivation programs, data analytics and fulfillment services. Headquartered in Daytona Beach, Fla., DMEautomotive also has major operations in Jacksonville, Fla. and St. Louis, MO.
Sources used in this paper: