Social Media and the Car Dealership Part 1

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Social Media and SMM, or Social Media Marketing, has been taking the world by storm, increasing by leaps and bounds in just the last few years. One forward thinking, early adopter group, is missing from this huge marketing undertaking and that is the local dealership. Why are dealers not doing a better job as Social Media? Where are their departmental layers of brand tiers? Where are their Twitter accounts? Their Instagram accounts? Why is such a social industry not very social on social media?

In this multipart series, we will look at the evolution of social media and SMM within the dealership. We will take keys from outside the automotive industry to create ideas on how to build a more effective SMM strategy at the dealership, with a positive ROE. We will establish concepts and benchmarks to show how SMM should be helping the dealership, and how to focus local efforts in a way that become trackable, and beneficial for the dealerships as they move back into this vitally important aspect of online advertising and marketing.

First, it is important to look backwards, because local dealership did, in many cases, jump onto social media and SMM very early on. Unfortunately many of the techniques they chose to use (or were told to use by many online marketing companies) were simply not the best use of time or energy. And in many cases showed very little ROI.

Let’s take a look back at what we as a dealership did, and what we as a digital marketing company advised dealers to do (yes, we at UpShift Digital are taking some blame in this scenario as well).

Let’s start with Facebook, as it is the most popular and widely used site within the dealer base. What did we do (and what are we still doing, in many cases)? We created top-level brand pages – meaning created one page for the dealership, usually named for the dealership. John Druien Chevrolet was the page. We assigned one employee the ability to manage the page, because in a lot of cases the only person at the time that really understood Facebook was the Internet sales manager or at least the youngest kid in the department. Sadly, this youngster usually created the page as a “friend page” or worse yet, as a business page linked to their personal Facebook account, and did not give anyone else in management or ownership at the dealership top-level administration rights. Likely no one knew what that even was, or that it was a good idea to demand that access for a page representing the social personality of the store. We did not link the page off of our website, nor our Facebook page back to our website. We created marketing strategies for ‘Likes.’ Bragged about the huge number of ‘Likes’ we were achieving. (Which were not actually huge) We posted our newspaper ads on Facebook. We posted videos of our television spots on Facebook. (And left them there) One of the favorite strategies of marketing companies was to advise you to take pictures of every new vehicle you sold, with the new owners, and post it on page, tagging the new owners and inviting them to share with all their friends. Just like the old bulletin boards that everyone had by the sales office, loaded with Polaroid’s of smiling, happy families in their brand new mini-van. I will admit the last idea was actually the closest many of us got to remembering the ‘social’ part of social media.

At the end of the day, we posted too few of times. We followed no analytics to learn and evolve how, when and what we posted. We couldn’t measure ROE or ROI. Our young Facebook poster went back to college or worse yet, another store and took the access to the page with them, leaving us unable to get on the page again. Ultimately, we gave up. Or, we’re still doing this – exactly the way we started to do it 8-10 years ago. And we really don’t have a plan, or a strategy. We know we have to be there. We just do not know why. Or if there is ROI, and if so, how to measure it, manage it, grow it.

In doing a quick review of several dealerships that we at UpShift Digital have worked with around the country, some stores with a fairly savvy approach to most online adverting and marketing, we found that nothing has changed except maybe most dealers have finally discovered not to have a “friend’ page and actually create a business persona or a ‘fan” page. One such page that I just reviewed (and will not reveal the owner) has broken most of these rules: they have posted three times so far in December – two of which were in the last hour. There are .pdfs of full-page newspaper ads (really?). There is at most one engagement (like, comment or share) on most of their posts. The last review they commented back on was from last September. (By the way – Facebook will now give you a “badge” displayed on your page if you respond within 2 criteria to all visitor posts and comments). Most of the reviews are for their service department, which I will address later in the series. There is no link on their website to their Facebook page. I will give them credit for a “Shop Now” call to action button on their Facebook page which links back to their inventory on their website. I could keep going, but it would sound like I was piling on. And honestly, in the quick comparison of dealer Facebook pages I did this morning – THIS IS THE BEST ONE!

So does this sound like your dealership? How many of these things can you check off your for store? One top-level brand page? Newspaper ads in .pdf? Reviews unanswered or slowly answered? TV spots loaded into your video section (from campaigns that were over 6 months ago)? Thousands of ‘Likes’ but no idea what a better measurement is, and if you do, no idea what that number is, or how to address and improve it?

Facebook, at the local level, is the absolute most used social networking site and tool, yet those of us that attempt to use it try to make it something it is not. The audience is not in the same place as they are in front of the TV, or in the car listening to a radio ad, or driving down the road and seeing a billboard, or reading the newspaper. Not saying that any of these advertising avenues are bad. We are saying they are different. Facebook is different. Stop trying to make it a newspaper, a TV or a billboard. Make it a social network. Social means trackable, real time engagement. ‘Likes’ are a useless statistic, stop celebrating them. Engagement, recent, consistent, reoccurring engagement is ALL that matters in Social Media Marketing. If you have 2000 page ‘Likes’ and 10 people have engaged on your page in the last 30 days, you are doing it wrong! If any other media brought you that low of a response ratio, you would drop it in a heartbeat. Wouldn’t you? The one way that Facebook, and all social media should be treated like other media – traditional and digital – is the response, ROE and ROI are still the important benchmarks.

I am going to end the first part of the series here. I have hopefully given everyone something to look at and look for with his or her Facebook pages and strategy. The reason I wanted to leave Facebook to its on episode of the series is simply because of its importance in the space, and how many dealers actually do at least attempt to have a presence. In later entries we will look at Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat and yes, even Google +. Start thinking about how you (or if you) use each of these platforms. These too are not traditional media – they’re not newspapers or televisions or billboards. And, truly, while they are social media and should be part of your SMM strategy, they are not Facebook. Gone of the days of advertising with the same strategy across multiple forms of media. (Actually those days never really existed, but that’s another rant).

Until next time – get to Facebooking!

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