Having a Social Media account is more than just adding photos, videos, or curating collective, effective content. Social media accounts develop, define, and test your brand’s image. An image that if not handled efficiently can change from good to bad to ugly in the matter of -seriously - seconds.
This article, though, is not meant to scare, intimidate or advise your dealer from having social media accounts. What it is offering, however, is that there ought to be guidelines in which the store has to follow. That includes the dealer having exclusive access, and ownership to their employees brand pages.
That is not a favorable statement for many. In fact, there has been much debate lately as to whether or not the dealer should have the right to ‘own,’ and/or remove social media accounts of past employees. Employees who have curated content using the dealer's likeness to build a customer base.
That customer base - while constructed by the employee - was built using the dealerships likeness, brand image, inventory, and digital assets. Whereas, in other business models there is a 1099 contractor who pays for their own advertising costs (including steep membership and marketing costs) for using the brand's image and likeness. Including, but not limited to following strict guidelines in content, brand image manipulation, logo manipulation, and inventory placement.
If that does not have you squirming a bit - here are the top reasons your dealer needs to have a social media policy.
Public Image Employee Branding Page Vs. Company Branding
Sure, John Doe is a great guy. He is the kind of guy everyone likes. John has 2,700+ followers on his Twitter account. With over 983 people talking about it. John is off to an incredible start. His customers are leaving rave tweets on John’s page. Sending him new clients every month!
This all sounds incredible, no? Every dealer’s dream come true. Free traffic. Well, here is the deal. No traffic is free. Not to mention, all of that ‘traffic’ that John has collected is not in possession of the dealer. Despite the fact that John used the dealer's likeness, assets, and public image to promote himself to sell the brand.
So, meanwhile - one day John gets involved in a public Twitter war where his words were not chosen so wisely. Despite the fact that John deleted the Tweets making his account private the damage has already been done.
Customers then start to slowly disembark themselves from wanting to be involved with your brand or John. Leaving you on the outs! Think this doesn’t happen? How many celebrity endorsements have been damaged or have damaged brands?
There are two types of social image brand damage: Company Damage & the Wrong person handling the Issue
Just this past month a Florida dealer was in the eye of a social media frenzy, well a storm actually. The dealer was accused of parking their vehicles at Florida State University (using their parking garages) - FSU, had made a statement offering its students/public had access to their parking garages to seek shelter for their vehicles. With the number of vehicles parked in the garage from the dealership, not all students were able to secure their vehicles for the storm.
This resulted in a nasty, 400+ negative review spree - including hundreds of negative comments on their brand's page. And to make matters worse their response was not necessarily offering an apology, but rather their ‘support’ for the school, and their being unaware of it being an issue. Despite there being two sides to every story their brand was at the height of a social storm one that can leave a damaging aftermath.
Now, just as I mentioned above, the person who handled this situation at the dealer level might not have been the owner or the one who was to have made the decision. However, because the public ‘viewed’ him/her as the brand representative, all the damage was reflected towards the dealer. Not to the employee who handled the situation.
All that to say regardless of whether the employee is branding their own page or managing the dealers page all of the ‘content’ that is posted is - in most cases - directly reflecting your brand's image.
Data Property - Who Owns the Data?
Dealers are spending thousands and thousands of dollars monthly to promote their brands. In recent NADA studies - customer acquisition costs are at an all-time high costing a dealer more than $650 to sell a vehicle.
With the costs at an all-time high, are employees brands page’s customers the dealerships or their own?
The dealer is still paying for the image, likeness, inventory, and - most importantly - dealing with the liability for their pages. That said, think about it (as mentioned above) those 1099 companies/business models such as AVON, Mary Kay, ReMax, Plexus Slim all require their subcontractors to use their sites. And beyond the website, they are also required to use their social media guidelines. In addition to most likely having to pay a royalty fee for using their public image, and likeness which is what results in their acquiring of new customers.
While I can sympathize with the employee whose efforts are there - like the ones that are creating their own brand page - the fact still remains that if it weren’t for the dealer's inventory, image, brand assets you wouldn’t or in most cases couldn't afford to acquire new customers. Not to mention manage (or pay for) the floor plan that is substantiating the steep costs of managing millions in inventory.
More often than not people do not understand just how much there is involved when it comes to creating, developing, and curating content that is compliant with your OEM. Everything from the font, images, logos, pricing, and disclaimers have specific credentials. If your employee - who is managing their own page - does not give the dealer access, it opens up a can of worms regarding the brand.
For example, John Doe decides that they want to build some weekend business with offering a coupon (no harm no foul, right?). A coupon off the already low internet price for both new and used.
Unbeknownst to John, the OEM states that if offering a coupon on the sale of a new vehicle the coupon has to be off of MSRP - not the internet price.
The OEM flags the ad, and before you know it you’re receiving a strike (or whatever the fine or process is with your OEM) for failing to comply. Yet, you were unaware. Now, imagine if your brand only allotted just 3 strikes. And if receiving 3 strikes meant that you weren’t eligible for a brand program - you’d have the potential to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars as you were not aware of the branding going on regarding private accounts.
If that does not have your attention not sure what else would!?
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that while you are not wanting to discourage the use of social media, there has to be a clear, concise policy that is tailored to your brand. This will ensure the protection of your brand's image while promoting it in a healthy, stable, but effective way.
Not having standards & guidelines other than ‘ethical’ guidelines, which includes, but is not limited to the acts of racism, and sexual harassment. There are other things to consider such as a controversial brand you might not support, but your employee still ‘likes/supports’ the brand on his/her page, which still reflects your brand. That alone can cause quite a bit of controversy.
I encourage you to check out what's being said about your brand. Not just on your store's page, but on pages that are using your brand. I am confident that you will be shocked to see how many pages and social media accounts that are out there that you were completely unaware of - that includes former employees who might still be acquiring customers from your brand! (who handles your off-boarding process?)
How do you handle social media at your store? Do you allow employees to have and manage their own pages? If so, what guidelines or policies have been implemented?