I’m on Facebook NOW WHAT
If there's one thing a successful independent dealer is good at, it's probably selling cars. That might explain why some dealers, when they launch a Facebook business page, concentrate on getting their inventory in front of their social media followers. And that, in turn, might explain why many dealers aren't happy with their Facebook experience.
"They don't get any traction or any comments or gent any 'likes' on a bunch of pictures of cars," said Tracy Myers, owner of Frank Myers Auto Maxx in Winston-Salem, N.C. "Then they back off and say, "Social media doesn't work.' "Of course it doesn't work - because you're not doing it right."
Experts in the field and car dealers who have had success with social media agree dealers must use Facebook and other social media applications as they were intended to be used - as social channels, not sales tools. Showing off your inventory on Facebook has its time and place, but dealers should emphasize personalized, useful, humanizing content, the type of material your customers and potential customers will look forward to seeing in their Facebook feeds.
In a sense, the best way to use Facebook to increase sales is to not emphasize sales when you use Facebook. First, be aware that any dealer who hesitates to use social media does so at his or her own risk. After all, as LT2Media social media and reputation management supervisor Jordan Goheski pointed out, everyone is on Facebook. "Facebook isn't going to go away," she said. "It's going to keep getting bigger."
ENGAGE BEFORE TRYING TO SELL
In this age, when so many purchasing decisions are informed by online research, experts stress a business must consider its social media presence as important as its physical presence. In terms of first - and lasting - impressions, your Facebook page might as well be your showroom.
"Social media is incredibly powerful in influencing people's perceptions of your business," said Mandy Pennington, director of Internet marketing for NetDriven, an NIADA National Member Benefit partner that provides websites and Internet marketing services exclusively to the auto industry. "It's not just about being present on Facebook. It's about having a good presence on Facebook," which, she said, means a regularly updated page with valuable, educational, interesting or fun content.
Justin Osburn, moderator of NIADA's retail 20 Groups, said he commonly sees dealerships fumble in their use of Facebook. "it's just car after car after car after car, and that's not really a powerful marketing message," he said. "We do need to advertise our cars and our inventory on Facebook, but the goal of social media is engagement. You want to build an organic audience, a base of people who have interest in your business." Dealers will have a chance to learn more from Osburn on April 19th, when he'll hold a Digital Marketing / Social Media Workshop to discuss best practices and strategies for marketing using Facebook and other social media, as well as other digital methods.
So if dealers shouldn't flood Facebook with inventory, what should they publish? Janine Brancale, co-owner of Star Auto Sales in Meriden, Conn., suggests dealers ask themselves a few questions. What do your customers want to read? What sets you apart from. your competition? What makes you and your dealership interesting? And how can you be useful?
A brief write-up honoring a dealership employee for her 20th anniversary, a picture from a community event the dealership helped sponsor, a video of tips to help get lug nuts unstuck when changing a tire and a video of a satisfied customer raving about his experience your dealership are examples of content that can engage and resonate with potential customers. "It's the most basic things in the world," Gravitational Marketing director of digital marketing Rich Bolani said, "which can take an individual two minutes a day over a cup of coffee to create and can feed their page with organic content to keep the users engaged.
PLAN BEFORE POSTING
NIADA's Osburn said in his experience, the dealerships that have the most success with their Facebook initiatives dedicate resources toward planning what they're going to publish. Those dealerships, he said, have invested the time to test and determine what content works. They build a schedule and they follow it. "They literally write all this out," Osburn said. The schedule might include an organic, in-house video on the first Tuesday of each month, a "how-to" article about automobile maintenance on the second Monday of each month, information on a community event for the coming weekend every Thursday, and so on. "Having a lot of content on Facebook is labor-intensive," acknowledged Brancale, who said she tried someone to help with her dealership's marketing. "We have to put some effort into it." Creating and following a schedule for publishing content ensures the social media page always has fresh material. "The worst thing a business can do," NetDriven's Pennington said, "is start a social media account and never keep it updated." OF course, committing to a publishing schedule shouldn't stop. you from also making impromptu posts to your Facebook page. Facebook can promote an upcoming event, call attention to a weather system likely to affect local residents, congratulate a school club on some accomplishments and so on.
Like all social media, Facebook offers agile and versatile ways to reach your audience. North Carolina dealer Myers said he likes to observe the rule of thirds when it comes to content on Facebook: One-third of the material his dealership published is personalized content (spotlighting employees, community involvement or material useful to customers), one-third is commodity-based (calling attention to a promotion special of the day) and one-third is just for fun (quirky, offbeat or interesting material that might have nothing to do with cars). The complementary pierce to planning and executing a Facebook campaign is review. You need to assess how your plan has worked. "You have to put sometime and resources into planning, but you have to put about the same amount of time in review na tracking," Osburn said. "If you just have a plan and throw stuff up on the web, you're going to know if you're selling more cars - maybe. But if you really want a good program you've got to go back and say, 'Which posts received the highest level of engagement?'" Experts use the term "long game" in describing the return on investment in social media. Even with a well-conceived and well-executed campaign, you might not immediately see sharp increases in engagement on your Facebook page or page views of your dealership website. "Don't go into it to sell cars or sell services immediately from your Facebook page," Brancale said. That said, having some short-term goals - such as incremental increases in social media followers or "likes" of Facebook posts - is a good idea, NetDriven director of business development Rich Mullen said. "Having a plan, strategizing, setting attainable goals is good practice," Mullen said. "You're going to feel you're getting results, and that's important. It is very easy to get discouraged, because it is a longer-term game."
DIY OR HIRE OUT?
As part of their social media planning, dealers will need to decide who will execute the various tasks involved - writing posts, taking photos, shooting videos, publishing the content and reviewing comments and ratings.
There might be an 9n-house candidate who could do that job. On the other hand, though, is social media marketing what a dealership wants its employees to be doing?
"Dealerships need to focus on what dealerships do really well," said Bobby Bailey, a senior manger for Managed Social and Copywriting, part of Cox Automotive owned Dealer.com. If a dealerships turns to a third party, experts suggest working with one that has experience in the automotive industry. Find a vendor that will regularly communicate with you and incorporate content from the dealership in the social media campaign-in-house videos of satisfied customers, pictures of community events the dealership has supported and so on. "Its very important that you have a connotation to your local clientele," Bailey said, noting those social media assets - articles, pictures and videos originating from the dealership and its community - are tools an external agency can use to emphasize a local touch in your marketing campaign.
BOOSTED POSTS AND FACEBOOK ADS
As supplements to the organic content a dealerships posts to its Facebook business page - the articles, pictures and videos destined to resonate with local residents, humanize the dealership and build its brand - "Boosted" posts and Facebook ads can help expand your reach an dare an option available for targeting particular segments of the market. "The bottom line is, if you're a business, you have to pay to be successful on Facebook, " Myers said. "There's no other way around it."
That was not always the case. But Facebook has altered its algorithms that determine which posts appear in a user's feed, so you can no longer depend on organic content reaching people - even those who follow and like you.
To boost a post, a business pays a fee so the content appears more prominently in its audience's feed. The business can specify whom it wants to target with boosted post. Facebook ads can be similarly targeted. Hootsuite, a social media marketing agency, cited a march 2016 survey by Social Fresh, Firebrand Group and Simply Measured that demonstrates the popularity of Facebook ads. When social media marketers were asked for their top three choices for return on investment among social media platforms, 95.8 percent of the included Facebook among their answers. Facebook was elected more than 50 percent more often than the second-place platform. Social media experts agree Facebook ads are an effective - and cost-effective - way to get your message out. "A couple of hundred bucks can have a great return with the right targeting," LT2Media's Goheski said. So how much should a dealer spend on Facebook advertising? Gravitational Marketing's Bolani suggested using the average cost in advertising per sold vehicle as a basis for how much money to commit to Facebook advertising. If a dealer is willing to spend $500 on traditional advertising per vehicle sold, and he wants to sell five more units via Facebook advertising, he should commit $2,500 to that campaign.
For dealership that use third-party agencies, Bolani also suggested holding the vendor accountable for data that matches sold cars with advertising leads. The usual metrics used by vendors - impressions, vehicle detail pages, etc. - don't necessarily correspond to sold inventory, Bolani said. "If an agency is not willing to help you match back a digital lead that was generated with your money to a unit that was sold from you lot, then you should stay away," Bolani said. "That's the only, only metric that matters. How else are you supposed to measure an effective advertising campaign if you don't know if the leads are directly attributed to selling the unit?"
THIS SOCIAL MOVEMENT CAN'T BE IGNORED
If they haven't already, independent dealers need to accept the role social media plays in the automobile business. Even if a dealership thrived for years using traditional marketing techniques, that's no guarantee of continued success. "It's not, 'Do you need to be on Facebook?'" Myers said. "It's, 'How soon can you get on Facebook if you're not already there?'" Among the most attractive features of social media is much of what you need to do with it is free. With proper planning and consistent and solid execution, a social media campaign on Facebook can build a dealer's brand and increase the number of potential customers. And that's how to succeed with social media. "You don't want to not take advantage of something that's very easy to take advantage of, "If you're nt even scratching the surface with the low-hanging fruit, your competitor probably is."