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2010 brought with it main stream social media for the auto industry, some embraced it and ran with it while others (most) knocked their head against the wall wondering what they were doing wrong. 2010 was more or less a trial, a yearlong test in the field of relationship marketing, what did you learn from it? If you're like a lot of dealers you pushed social media to the side as a failed experiment and went back to what worked, more or less.
Social media has evolved and will continue to evolve, its only constant is change and if you take the time to learn it before you tackle it then you will be behind the moment you start. But, if you harness the human element of social media and stop trying so hard to learn the ever evolving tools, then you are well on your way to building a true social business, one that even the oldest school car dealer can get behind, grasp and run with.
In the beginning social media was seen as an extension of traditional advertising, as a way to get your marketing message heard by even more people, but that quickly fizzled out as you learned that people considered what you were doing as spam and only served to hurt your dealerships reputation. As time progressed you learned that the less you pitch, the more you sell. You learned that in order to build a social following that you needed to engage your online community in other ways, besides just your inventory.
Building A Purpose-Driven Community
Building an online community around the dealerships brand will often lead to failure, as participation is mainly driven by advertising dollars and costly promotions. I'm not taking anything away from this type of "community marketing" because it's often the best way to get things moving along in the right direction, but what happens if you stop doing promotions ? That's right, participation stops as well.
By anchoring your social initiatives in something larger than your brand, a higher calling, you drive community participation through passion. By building a purpose-driven community you create a common bonding point between the dealership and it's community, this is the surest way for community growth, participation, and an increase in ROI (return on influence).
The appeal to a higher calling builds organic growth that unites employees and communities behind a common cause that's larger than both the dealership and its community members. The higher calling can be a shared passion, a way of life or a cause, as long as it's something that people can rally behind and feel like their part of.
As an example let's talk about Metro Honda of Union County and their recent initiative to help fight hunger in their community. Wal-Mart, during their Fighting Hunger campaign, put up $1.5 Million to be donated among the top 6 communities with the most support. $1 Million to number 1 and $100,000 to the next five communities. During that time Metro Honda created videos, sent out emails and engaged their Facebook fans in order to get them to "like" their community. During this time they saw a tremendous increase in their post views, and daily active users.
A lot of dealerships fall into the trap of looking at their "likes" as a gauge as to how well their doing on Facebook, when the best stat to look at is their daily and monthly active users. During the Fighting Hunger campaign Metro Honda saw an increase in their Daily Active Users (people consuming their content) from an average of about 200 per day to over 1000, with their daily post views going from around 5,000 per day to upwards of 25,000! Now that the campaign is over they are still seeing double the number of daily active users and post views than was the case before the campaign begun. That's the power of a purpose-driven community.
Finding Your Purpose
It's important when finding a purpose that it's aligned with who or what the dealership is. It's important that the cause be the focus and that community members don't start to think that the only reason you are pushing that specific cause, way or life or passion is because you are trying to earn more business. While that is most certainly the case, don't approach it with that thought in mind. Instead just give, promote and grow the higher calling. I know that sounds counterintuitive, especially since marketing is all about pushing the dealerships agenda but if you spend your resources pushing fighting hunger, as an example, then you create a bonding point between the dealership and the community. It's that bonding point that will spur organic growth and create good will.
Going forward, 2011 will see the rise of the human business and dealerships will be wise to approach social media this way or they run the risk of going by the way of the dinosaur. We are in the midst of a relationship economy and more and more people are putting emphasis on what others are saying, what others are thinking and what businesses are part of. Keep in mind that there is more to a dealership than the brick and mortar building, the lot, and the inventory, there are also people, people that make up the business and its the connection between those people and the community that will drive the dealership to new heights in the new year.
Starting today it's time to redeveloped the core message of your dealership. Make it something community oriented, something that people can rally behind and become part of, something bigger and more grand than all of those involved, an ideal that goes beyond selling cars, beyond selling service and F&I products and becomes part of what people are passionate about.
David Johnson is the Digital Marketing Strategist for Next Generation Dealer Services and authot of PersuasiceConcepts.com