Car Dealers on Facebook and Twitter – Why?

Why would you as a car buyer want to follow a car dealer on social media? That’s the big question I’m hoping to hear addressed at the Motor Trader Social Media Conference next Thursday 2 June 2011 (more at http://bit.ly/m8QI41 ).

The point is this – just because a dealer has access to the social tools and is prepared to find the time to tweet, doesn’t mean customers will want to engage with them. But that sobering thought hasn’t stopped dealer groups diving deep into the social media pond.

Commercial return or vanity publishing?

According to research by GForces the web management company 61 per cent of the Motor Trader Top 200 groups are now taking advantage of social networking sites, such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter, compared with just 10 per cent at the beginning of 2010. An increase of 510 per cent. (more at http://bit.ly/gforcesmtquote)

But what are these dealers talking about online, is anyone listening and does it deliver any commercial return to them?

My very cursory scan of some of the social media activity around the Motor Trader Top 200 suggests that their social content ranges between corporate Facebook pages from head office, local dealers creating content (Twitter and Facebook) and individuals within dealerships adding their own views.

Social media, like any marketing channel needs to have a purpose, be linked to a business objective and then be measured to see if it’s achieving anything. Without that focus, it’s simply a hobby being pursued in company time.

Dealer social activity I discovered includes

  • iPhone Apps  – Pendragon have invested in them for their Stratstone and Evans Halshaw businesses http://bit.ly/StratstoneApp
  • Facebook content – Sytner’s pages have a mix of manufacturer news, customer ‘likes’ and dealer event reports (http://www.facebook.com/SytnerGroup)
  • Twitter is widespread and Benfield Motor Group (@DriveBenfield) has a feed which is current and maintained in a traditional (positive) manner, and there are also examples of the tactical ‘sales’ tweeting of offers on sales and service with an example being Inchcape Toyota  (@InchcapeToyota)
  • YouTube and blogs combine with Twitter for Hartwell (@Hartwell_co_uk) which gives a rich mix of content
  • A good retail-linked example is Auto Trader who have a number of Twitter feeds  – the best being @AutoTrader_UK which is a genuine dialogue with its 4,500 followers, and there are 25,000 fans on their Facebook page which is both up to date and interesting. They do have a Twitter Bot (@AutoTrader_Cars) which fires out details of cars for sale and I would imagine leads fairly swiftly to the ‘unfollow’ button.. However there is no obvious link between the front page of the main website and the social media tools which seems like a missed opportunity.

But is all of this effort generating revenue, creating loyalty or bringing new people to the business?

Curtis Hutchinson, Motor Trader’s editor (@MotorTraderMag)has pulled together leading industry figures to discuss this topic at the conference in Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands and I’m looking forward to hearing how the retail sector is linking the growing amount of social media activity to results.

Leslie Woodcock is the founder of social media specialists Pebble in the Pond (of which I am an associate) he has been Managing Director of both Suzuki and Daewoo in the UK and run dealerships for Heron. He opens a further dimension in the social media discussion with a view on the longstanding ‘debate’ between the brand and dealer as to who ‘leads’ the customer dialogue, brought into sharp focus by the ease of communication facilitated by social media tools.

He calls for more listening than broadcasting before creating a social strategy.

‘When I hear questions about who owns the relationship …my antennae go up. I wonder, if only one party owns the relationship [with the customer], does this mean that it’s that party’s exclusive responsibility to keep it functioning? It shouldn’t mean that, and in fact people who advocate that the customer owns the relationship also advocate for intense listening to the customer, and that’s a good thing’ (more at http://bit.ly/pebbleblog )

Leslie and I recently talked as Pebble in the Pond to a global car group’s conference – challenging them to get to grips with the impact of social media on the whole distribution chain – from International HQ, through UK sales office to the individual dealers. Think of the money spent on brand image and reputation though CI and other network programmes then consider the power of poorly formulated and executed social media activity to undo that investment in a flash. Brands are in part about consistency  – now look at the “mashup” that is social media.

In 2011 social media is making waves and the Motor Trader conference provides a timely forum for the retail motor industry to discuss the key issues. In addition to the issues I’ve flagged here the event will also have sessions from Google, Ford Retail, Marshall Motor Group and IMRG.

My view is that dealers have a great opportunity and reason to engage with customers but it must be based on the Four steps to make social media work for a dealership

  1. Understand what’s happening in social media around your business and the brands it represents now – a thorough review
  2. Define the objectives that you want to achieve – it’s a business activity – why should social media by-pass this core issue?
  3. Create the team to lead the programme (it’s not a ‘one person project’) – and empower them – and make sure they understand business – not just social media
  4. Measure and manage to achieve results – be regular and consistent

Do you follow your dealer on Twitter or Facebook – and if so why? I’d love to hear your views..

About Al Clarke – I am a marketing and communications specialist who has worked in the motor industry at board level since 1997. I have held senior positions in global brands such as Ferrari and the BBC including a decade working as a journalist.I am a member of the Institute of Directors, the Public Relations Consultants Association, an expert member of the digital community Smart Insights and Life President of the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association.I speak regularly in the field of marketing communications to businesses and the media with particular reference to digital media. Find me on Twitter @alclarkeltd and LinkedIn.

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