Social Media Marketing Strategizing for Car Dealerships

As social media marketing has become a key part of many business’ comprehensive marketing and advertising strategies, automotive dealerships seem to be struggling to understand exactly how social media should be used and how it can help generate more business. An industry known for relying on a somewhat outdated sales model, car dealers often tend to view social media as just another funnel through which they can push sales messages. Using social media to “push” messages is never a good – or successful – strategy! At the same time, auto dealers must meet strict sales quotas and need to move inventory quickly. So how can car dealers leverage social media in ways that build their brand’s reputation (rather than hurting it), while impacting the company’s bottom line in a positive way?

Develop a solid strategy. The biggest mistake many automotive dealers and retailers make is to jump in to social media without a game plan or idea of how social media involvement will impact their dealership brand long-term. What a business does and says online has an enormous impact on what potential customers think of that brand, i.e. how trustworthy it is, how competitive pricing is and what type of customer service to expect. Before ordering an office admin or sales rep to create a Twitter profile and Facebook page and start publishing the latest interest rates, dealership owners and managers need to first consider:

What long-term goals do we want to accomplish with social media involvement, aside from increased sales?
How could social media marketing positively impact my dealership, in addition to more sales?
How could social media marketing negatively impact my dealership?
What are some of the best ways for us to meet our long-term goals and avoid potential negative impact?
Who in the office is truly most qualified to handle our social media presence? Would it be better to hire someone new to handle this task specifically? If being handled by a current employee, will he/she need to give up part of his/her workload to manage social media properly?
Engage and build a following – don’t just talk. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, foursquare, small business directories and other social media hubs are where consumers go to talk about the things they like. Unlike in other advertising spaces – such as TV, print and radio ads – consumers do not HAVE to listen to your message! In order to connect with consumers and build a genuine audience, auto dealers need to be listening and talking about things that interest consumers, not just their bottom line. Ask probing questions about people’s favorite car models, their automotive service experiences, weekend travel plans, etc. – and talk back. If consumers ask questions or give feedback, respond – without the heavy-handed sales pitch.

Organize a weekly or monthly Twitter party. If your dealership has an active Twitter market, try hosting a monthly or weekly Twitter party to discuss common questions and concerns. Promote the Twitter party’s time, date and purpose (topic of discussion) on site, through word of mouth, email marketing and even direct mail. Be sure to attach a hash tag to the Twitter party so that participants can easily join and keep track of the conversation. Not only is this a great way to a) connect with consumers and answer their questions and b) promote your brand online with added visibility, but it’s also a perfect opportunity to give away a free prize. Incentivize consumers to join the party with the hook that prizes will be given away, and make the prizes a weekly or monthly standard.

Leverage customer feedback to create a more positive brand and online presence. Consumers are talking about your dealership online – why not take control of the conversation? Claim as much of your brand’s online space as possible by creating and/or claiming business profiles in frequently used online small business directories, such as Google Places, Yelp and MerchantCircle, then monitor and engage in the conversations there and in other social media platforms. Get positive feedback? Fantastic – respond with gratitude. Get negative feedback? This can be a great opportunity to show what kind of quality customer service your dealership offers; quickly address any issues, offer whatever resolutions are most appropriate and offer sincere apologies for any wrongdoing on the dealership’s part. Onlookers will appreciate your brand’s forthrightness and listening.

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