My uncle spends his days selling to salesmen (web solutions for car dealers), and he called me up last week to get my opinion on social media tools. “Dealers are getting curious about social media,” he said. “It seems like every new guy I talk to asks me what I know about Facebook and Twitter.”
When members of an industry as traditional as the automotive space begin dabbling in social media , it’s a clear sign that this form of marketing has become ubiquitous.
However, just because everybody – and their car dealerships – are jumping on the social media bandwagon, there’s no indication that you’ve got it right..
The Problem – If You Build It, They Probably WON’T Come
Unlike other forms of marketing, such as television commercial making, event planning or press release writing, social media seems almost…easy. You don’t need a college degree to push the “Tweet” button.
But I think this is where many businesses go wrong. If you assume that a social media presence is as simple as setting up a Facebook and Twitter account and waiting to “go viral,” you’re not only going to be disappointed, but you’re also going to be missing out on some actual benefits of the trade.
Personally, I don’t believe that every company needs its own “social media gurus” to do well in the space.[i] But at the same time, whoever is put in charge of social media outreach should understand that doing this job right takes time, patience, and some best practices kept in mind.
Forget Numbers for a Second… And ENGAGE
I won’t pretend that I’m the first person to say this, but it’s a lesson that bears repeating – hundreds of fans who actively post on your page and read and comment on your content are better than thousands of fans who don’t give a flip about you.This is especially true if your dealership is in a small to midsize community; you can’t compare your followings to those of national brands. Instead, compare your engagement!
Remember the word “social” in social media? Lack of interaction, even with thousands or hundreds of thousands of followers or fans, is not social; in fact, it’s more like throwing a big party (and inviting thousands of your “friends”) that no one attends.
This goes back to my anti-“Field of Dreams” theme – thousands of people who love your brand/store/shop aren’t just WAITING on Facebook for you to build a fan page, so expecting an influx of immediate fans is unrealistic. Instead, focus on the small band of fans you already have, encourage your “regulars” to join the page, and actually interact with them (none of this streaming RSS or Twitter feed to Facebook wall cop-out nonsense…) and you’ll slowly and steadily build loyalty, just like you probably did when you first launched your business.
My insistence upon pure engagement is not, however, an argument against the use of Facebook ads or other types of ads. I’ve actually used them quite a bit and found that they’re actually especially helpful in advertising short-term promotions, or when you’re directed towards a specific audience. But a generic use or an over-use of Facebook ads lead to diminishing returns for your dollar.
One of the coolest ways I’ve found to grow followers is by offering incentives for our current site visitors to fan our page. As a dealer, you can find ways to encourage visitors to your dealership to fan you on Facebook. Hold a simple contest which they have to fan your page to enter, or offer a grab bag of prizes for new fans who come into your dealership. In essence, Facebook should not simply exist on Facebook – if you’re going to use this network, tie it in with assets you already possess.
You could also hold events for Facebook fans only, or give exclusives via your blog or Twitter following. If your brand’s social networks are a giant invite list, you want to make sure there’s a party to invite people to.
Examples from CarWoo!
In the six months I’ve been the Social Media Director at CarWoo!, I’ve already seen great growth, not only in the numbers of fans and followers we have on each network, but also in the amount of engagement we’re garnering on each channel.
While I post often about auto news and cars, I don’t always stick to that rule, and it has proven fruitful. Sometimes I post haikus, or pictures that make me laugh. It’s amazing how well people respond to people who act like…people.
Social media can also help customers with support questions. Even if you already have a support email address or phone number, social media can act as a shortcut – providing faster and more personal responses to those who know to use those channels. These folks usually become even more ardent supporters of your brand. With a dealership Facebook or Twitter profile, you may be able to answer auto questions from perspective customers in a way that feels more relaxed and pressure-free from their perspective.
So Will Social Media Sell Cars?
Yes…and no. If someone is trying to sell you a subscription to a magical social media dashboard that will help you sell dozens more cars every month, hang up on the IMMEDIATELY! Instead, you should think of Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, even YouTube in the same way that you think of CarWoo! They’re free. They take some time to set up and engage, but overall, they won’t be a huge drain on your resources, especially with a smaller fan base that many local dealerships can come to expect. Quoting a recent article on social media in Automotive News, “With 500 million users as of last July, Facebook is just too big to ignore.”
But don’t let that scare you. Facebook might be big, but only because it’s made up of thousands of small communities, of people with a few hundred connections each. Join the conversation, talk to your customers and develop relationships with them that you couldn’t have dreamed of 10 years ago. Imagine a day when people trust their car salesman or saleswoman as much as they trust their local restauranteer, bookstore owner, or ice cream man. It all begins with engagement.
[i] In fact, I would even argue against outside agencies, as they’re never going to be able to engage with the same sort of passion and commitment that your own employees will give.