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It has been said that cars are one of the few personal possessions that arouse extreme consumer passion and fanaticism.  People talk about their cars frequently, whether they are bragging or complaining, to their friends, coworkers and family members.  And in today’s technologically advanced world, they are conveying their opinions, thoughts and feelings (both positive and negative) to an infinite number of strangers online – through blogs, forums, review sites, and social media communities.  While a certain percentage of individuals actively voice their opinions online, an even larger number of individuals use the Internet to research products, services, and companies as part of their buying process. A 2009 study by Razorfish found that 73% of consumers have posted a product review online, while another 97% of consumers search a brand online.

Conversations are taking place...everywhere, 24/7/365!  The conversations that are occurring online, through sites such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, review sites and so on – are about your dealership, your cars, your services as well as your competitors.  More and more in today’s world, customers are consuming and reacting to user-driven content and ignoring corporate advertising and PR. Therefore it is vital for your dealership to understand social media, where these conversations are occurring, what is being said, how to handle the comments being made and, last but not least, how to become part of the conversation.

Social media has fundamentally changed the way we communicate and, perhaps most importantly for you, the relationship between companies and consumers. Monologues have given way to dialogues! According to Heather Angus-Lee’s “Time Is Of The Essence: Gaining and Maintaining a Competitive Advantage With Social Media,” traditional media had a “top-down” or “one-way” delivery, where companies told consumers what to buy, as well as when and how to buy products through the use of newspapers, magazines, television and radio. Today, social media boosts a “ground up” (as termed by Angus-Lee) or multi-directional delivery in which companies and consumers have ongoing interactions through self-published or user-generated content. Unlike in traditional media, companies cannot continually push products and go for the “hard sell” online…because if they do, their message will fall upon deaf ears. That is the beauty of social media: people quickly decide what they want to listen to and talk about.

How can your dealership employ social media as part of your marketing strategy?

It is glaringly obvious that avid car enthusiasts, your current customers, actively interested shoppers and those that peruse the Internet as part of the buying process are ALL over the Internet! To capture their attention, it would be wise for your dealership to use social media. That being said, you do not want to jump in without looking first!

Start Your Engines!

SignalWith a vast array of online social media sites to choose from and, given the rocky economic times and shrinking marketing budgets, less time and fewer people to handle the tasks associated with a social media campaign, it’s very important to have a sound strategy (as with any other marketing effort). Here are some steps to get you started on the right foot:

1. Research First! Find out where your customers and prospects are on social media by listening to and researching the current conversations. And don’t forget about your competitors…where are they and what are they doing?! There are several listening tools available online, such as Google Alerts, Social Mention, Twitter Search, and even a search function within Facebook. However, one simple suggestion is to ask your in-dealership customers what social networks they are using.

2. Plan! Just as you would other marketing campaigns, create a social media strategy based on what you learned above. Ask and answer the following questions:  Where are you going to participate? Will your dealership employee be responsible for maintaining your profiles? How much time will they devote to it? Or will you outsource your social media? What is your objective? What type of content will be posted?

3. Build It! Once you have an understanding of where your audience is, you must build a place for them to visit, whether it is a Facebook Fan Page, a Twitter account or YouTube channel.

4. Engage! An inactive account, second to the hard sell, is one way to lose customers and prospects. If there is one thing to remember during the “engage” phase, it’s this – engagement is a process…an evolving process. Content must be continually refreshed.

Using social media for marketing your dealership can certainly seem daunting. Most dealerships are still trying to sort out the real value of social media and understand how it can influence their company, brand and their bottom line. However, keep in mind that conversations are happening online about your dealership and your products whether you choose to participate or not. Social media will allow you to connect with an online community of customers and prospects. They’re out there just waiting to hear what you have to say!

For a more in-depth look at Navigating Social Media in the Automotive Industry, download DMEautomotive's free whitepaper here.

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