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Navigating Social Media
in the Automotive Industry
Prepared by Missy Jensen
Social Media Manager
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.
This whitepaper will provide a brief description of social media, its importance and insights on how
dealerships can integrate social media into their marketing strategies.
WHAT IS IT? & WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Social media is defined by
Wikipedia as “media designed to
be disseminated through social
interaction, created using highly
accessible and scalable publishing
In plain English, social media is
people having conversations online.
According to “What Is Social Media”
by Antony Mayfield, “a good way
to think about social media is that
all of this is actually just about
being human beings.” People are
using social media to connect,
share, discuss, vent and join…with
family…with close friends… with neighbors…with classmates…with coworkers and with complete
strangers. Their conversations are powered by hundreds of web and mobile applications. The
most widely recognizable “channels” for social media are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and
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.
The one rule in social media:
The Consumer Rules!
WHAT IS IT? & WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
The somewhat harsh reality is that consumers are increasingly resistant to cold, impersonal
marketing messages. This is especially true in the automotive industry, as most people don’t
believe that a dealer has their best interest at heart. A J.D. Power and Associates 2009 Sales
Satisfaction Index Study found that 1 in 5 shoppers left a dealership without purchasing a vehicle
due to poor treatment or dealer performance issues regarding pricing games, sales pressure
tactics or discourteous treatment. It is not too surprising then that consumers are being heavily
influenced by the experiences and opinions of other consumers, including those shared online.
Here are some interesting facts about consumer behavior:
• According to Nielsen’s “Trust in Advertising,” 78% of consumers trust the advice of other
• The same survey found that consumer recommendations are the most credible form of
• Other reports have stated that 94% of consumers say that a word of mouth recommendation
from a friend or trusted source that has actually owned the product is the number one influencer
of their purchase (Forrester Research, published by Zuberance).
• A 2009 study by Razorfish found that 65% of consumers report having a digital experience that
positively or negatively changed their opinion about a brand. Of that group, 97% indicated that
their digital experience influenced whether or not they eventually purchased the product from
These conversations are taking place,
with or without your participation.
Do you want to know what people
really think about your dealership,
your cars and your service? Do you
want to learn from your customers’
experiences? Do you want to
encourage a positive perception of
your dealership and improve customer
loyalty to increase revenue? Do you
want to know what is being said about
your competitors, good or bad?
Do you want to join the conversation?
SOCIAL MEDIA &
THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY
Many OEMs and dealerships around the nation have already begun to embrace social media.
According to BusinessWeek (2009), Ford Motor Company will spend 25% of its marketing budget on
digital and social media marketing, which is two times the amount spent by the industry. Ford has
experienced a tremendous amount of success with their Fiesta Movement, a platform designed to
generate excitement about the highly anticipated Ford Fiesta, Ford’s new fuel-efficient small car.
As part of the initiative, 100 young trendsetters test drive and “live” with a Ford Fiesta for six months,
traveling as “agents” on special “missions”. The “agents” then relate their experiences through a
variety of social media sites. The results of the Fiesta Movement and test drive program in 2009 were
• 4.3 million YouTube views
• 540,000 Flickr views
• 3 million Twitter impressions
• 50,000 interested potential customers; 97% of who didn’t currently drive a Ford
• More than 162,000 customers interacted with the Fiesta
through walk-arounds & social interactions
• 35,000 have taken a test drive
During a recent Twitter conversation, Scott Monty, the head of social media for Ford Motor
Company, said that due to the fact that the vehicle doesn’t go on sale until the second quarter of
2010, the revenue-generating effects of the Ford Fiesta Movement are too early to tell. However,
Ford received 4,000 reservations in the first month!
Other OEM examples include various Facebook Fan Pages, Twitter accounts, Chevy’s Voltage
Forum, “Scion Speak”, ImSaturn, and Hyundai Aftermarket Forum. The pervasive theme of these
social media initiatives is providing an environment for their brand’s loyal and enthusiastic customers
to gather to talk, share stories, post pictures, load videos, coordinate get-togethers, and even voice
Knowing that most of the OEMs are utilizing social media marketing, this begs the question: 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!
With 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?
Given that Facebook has over 350 million users, with the fastest growing demographic of 35-54
year olds, it’s probably a safe bet to begin there. With regard to your competitors’ participation,
Facebook is a pretty good place to start, as more than 700,000 companies have a Fan Page.
However, word of caution: don’t dismiss the other big sites such as Twitter and YouTube, as millions
of people visit them daily!
Who is your target audience?
It’s common sense to identify your audience as those that live within your “target” location(s).
Though your followers/fans may expand beyond that area, focus your attention on those
who logistically are able to visit your dealership. You don’t need to have a following of tens
of thousands, just for the sake of numbers…but you do need to have a solid, active following.
Remember: Quality…not quantity.
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?
How much time will they devote to it? Though social media is free in concept, it would be
dishonest of us if we didn’t tell you it does require time and attention. You will need someone (or
multiple people) who has the time, ability and interest to manage your social media accounts.
As Ralph Paglia states in “Dealers Ready To Play”, “many dealerships have up to 100 employees…
get your employees engaged and involved.” Your staff likely has years of experience in the
industry under their belt so take full advantage of their knowledge.
START YOUR ENGINES!
You’re probably wondering, “Just how much time will this take?” Good question! In his
whitepaper titled “Becoming a Social Media Butterfly: Practical Social Media Strategies for
Business”, Gregg Holtsclaw identified three distinct involvement categories:
• Reacting to social media – For those that wish to simply monitor forums and comments, update
an occasional photo, send a few random tweets and deal with any negative customer service or
brand issues, the time requirement is 10-12 hours per week.
• Participating in social media – The more active participants who post videos, blogs, update
statuses, engage in conversations will spend approximately 20-25 hours per week in social media
• Influencing social media – Those that put out fires, respond, engage in conversation, spread
your information as well as others, and create original content weekly (if not daily) spend 40 hours
a week, if not more, on social media-related tasks.
If you decide that the requirements to engage in social media campaign are too cumbersome
there is the option to outsource some, if not all, of the work. Companies (such as Gateway
Business Development Group at http://www.gatewaybizdev.com or Deming Hill at http://www.
deminghill.com) or professional social media consultants (such as Mari Smith at http://www.
marismith.com) can assist in the set-up, design, and content creation; as well provide support for
any ongoing technical issues. Outsourcing can be a great alternative because you will lean on a
more experienced individual or group to devise a strong strategy, to get you up and running more
quickly, to provide training so your staff is competent (even if involvement is minimal, it’s a good
idea they know what they’re doing!), and to take you step-by-step through the process – from, as
mentioned above, strategizing to building your profiles, to engaging with your audience.
Regardless of whether your social media initiative is run by an employee or an outsourced
company, it is imperative that they have a strong understanding of your dealership, your business
plan, your mission, your company culture, your customers, and the automotive industry in order to
accurately and effectively participate.
What is your objective? What type of content will be posted?
With many hours of research under our belt, we can confidently suggest that your social media
objective not be to outwardly try to sell cars! That’s right…throw your old thinking out the window
because a hard sell will turn people off. Social media should be used for other reasons, such
as improving brand recognition, highlighting customer experiences and success stories and to
humanize your company.
START YOUR ENGINES!
• Stefani Lydon of Prime Motor Group said that their main goal in using social media was to “get
their name out there” and they “don’t make it about selling cars”. Rather, Prime Motor Group
uses their Facebook Fan Page to do fun stuff like post pictures of customers with their newly
purchased car, dealership events and parties, share relevant industry and product news, run
contests and promotions, as well as ask questions of fans.
Other uses of social media include positioning your dealership as an industry expert, acting as a
real-time customer service forum, and educating your customers and general public. Instead of
the hard sell, think of ways you can help your customers and general public better understand
the car buying process, the reasons behind various service requirements, how to improve or better
maintain their car and other types of insightful and useful tips.
• Lori Vajda, Social Media Coordinator for AutoNation stated that their social media “objective is
to become a trusted resource in the automotive industry” and all actions online by the company
must match that intent. Their Fan Page, YouTube channel and blog are chalk full of interesting
tidbits about car care, maintenance, and driving tips. They are “teaching people about their
cars” through social media. Additionally, they run contests and promotions, post pictures of
satisfied clients and respond directly and quickly to any customer concerns.
What can your dealership do on social media sites?
Share funny stuff you find online that your customers would find equally enjoyable…share cool
videos…did-you-know stuff…and fun events.
Don’t get us wrong, we still
Objectives of Social Media include, recommend that you put some
but are not limited to: sales and service information on
your social media profiles.
• Brand Awareness
There are several ways to do this,
• Humanize The Company
such as create an inventory tab
• Position as an Industry Expert or coupon section on your Fan
• Customer Service Page.
• Product Updates, Enhancements & Company News
You can also easily post a
• Success Stories & Testimonials coupon/promotion on Twitter
• Monitor Brand & Competitors that is only available to those
that follow you.
Regardless of how you choose to promote your sales and service, we strongly suggest you do not
make it your only content on the various social media sites. Those currently active in social media
will tell you that a hard sell it is a major turn off! Vajda states, “If you miss your mark the first time,
people won’t give you a second chance.
START YOUR ENGINES!
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.
Once you have created your profile, you should share it with your friends, family, coworkers, current
customers and any prospects through email. Send out a brief email to your contacts about your
social media activity with links to your profiles. Also talk about social media on your radio and
television ads. Include the applicable social media logos on your mail pieces or any marketing
emails that are distributed. As with your address and phone number, your social media activity
should be included as part of your contact information.
4. Engage! – As Vajda of AutoNation warns, this is not a “build it and they will come” scenario and
you can’t open an account and think you’re good to go. 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
All over social media forums and blogs, it is maintained that the only way to connect with people
on social media sites is through content; content that captures and maintains your audience’s
attention and excites them! It can’t be said enough that quality content is key. As suggested in the
“Dealers Ready to Play” article, some of the best ways to engage with customers is to ask questions
and answer questions. Or, as mentioned above, find ways to help them, whether it’s to educate
them about the car buying process, help them better understand their car or enhance their driving
experience. Use your F&I department to explain how financing works (Wardsauto.com). Have
your Service Manager talk about the importance of rotating and balancing tires. Have your Sales
Manager discuss the best times to buy a car. The topics are endless! And you can convey your
message through a status update, a video, and/or blog. Which leads us to our next suggestion:
Mix it up! There are so many easy ways to distribute content these days…write a blog or an article
for your website, post a picture, make a video…and you don’t have to be a skilled copywriter or
professional photographer/ videographer to do it.
There are various ways to facilitate and promote your customers’ engagement with your dealership.
As discussed above, once you build your profiles, it is critical to announce your social media activity
to your customers and prospects so they may easily connect with you. AutoNation encourages
their customers to get involved with their social media initiatives through a variety of channels,
posting social media links in their newsletters and emails, on their websites and blog, and on in-store
promotional materials and business cards. According to Vajda, they let customers know how they
can reach AutoNation on social media sites and encourage them to share their experiences, both
good and bad.
Lydon of Prime Motor Group is also proactively encouraging engagement with their dealerships.
Photos of customers with their new cars are being posted on their Facebook Fan Page and the
customers are being encouraged to tag themselves in the photo. Once tagged, the photo and
message are broadcasted not only to the Fan Page, but also to the customer’s Facebook profile
and announced to their friends.
START YOUR ENGINES! – Cont’d
In summary, as you attempt to engage with your customers and
prospects ask yourself, “What can I do for them?” and “How can I give
them something they can’t get anywhere else?” Social media is about
building relationships, finding things to share and discuss, and adding
value to someone’s experience.
Now let’s discuss how to avoid a social media accident and how to keep
you headed in the right direction!
1. Social is meant to be FUN! Inject some personality into your postings, be
friendly and be entertaining. But remember to keep it clean!
2. Don’t push… Pull. Ask questions... don’t sell. Ask questions....don’t sell. Especially not right off the
bat. Listen and learn from your audience. Build a rapport. Eventually you should be able squeeze
some sales messages in without backlash. Promote your dealership in a non-intrusive way.
3. Be authentic. Be you. Be you. Be honest about who you are and what your intentions are.
4. Give up control! Let your followers and fans speak and share their experiences. Don’t restrict
who can and can’t leave comments. When someone does share, be sure to respect his or her
5. Be realistic. Don’t expect immediate results. You can spend a half an hour a day on social
media but understand that it will likely yield a very unsuccessful result. The more time and effort
your dealership is able to dedicate, the better the engagement. (See the section on time
commitment above for a refresher on the time and effort needed.) Additionally, social media
is aimed at building deep, meaningful relationships. And we all know that those don’t happen
overnight. It’s been said that social media will never close a deal, but it can certainly create a
buzz about your product. The deal must be closed once the prospect enters your dealership.
6. Address any concerns or negative feedback immediately. “When you respond quickly to a
customer concern or complaint it lets the customer know what to expect when they do business
with you,” according to Vajda at AutoNation. Not only is the timeliness of response important,
but also the manner in which you respond. If someone posts a comment on Twitter, respond on
Twitter. This ensures that the same people who saw the initial comment will also see your response.
7. Frequently update your profile with meaningful, relevant and timely information. A stagnant
profile will scare off customers and prospects alike quicker than a salesperson in a vintage
8. Measure. Just as with other marketing efforts, don’t forget to track your progress. Just as with
other marketing efforts, don’t forget to track your progress. This can be done easily by tracking
the number of fans you obtain, the number of Twitter followers, the number of times a tweet is
retweeted, the number of blog subscribers or the number of video views. This information can
usually be easily obtained. You can also use Google Analytics, a free tool used to track website
and blog traffic (provided you don’t have something similar in place and/or you have someone
who can set it up for you).
Social Media is the new water cooler, backyard fence, coffee shop or street corner. It’s
the place where people gather to discuss what’s going on in their world. People are
congregating at these social networking sites at an astounding rate. Sites like Facebook
and Twitter are revolutionizing the way that people and business communicate.
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!
About Missy Jensen
Missy Jensen is the Social Media Manager at DMEautomotive.
She designs, deploys and maintains the social media initiatives for DMEautomotive in an
effort to increase brand awareness, distribute company and industry news, provide updates
on products and services and promote consumer engagement. Missy enjoys the process of
learning; researching and watching projects come to fruition!
Prior to her transformation into a web specialist and work with DMEautomotive, she has
10 years of experience in the marketing and communications industry. Missy served as
the Director, Handicapping & Communications for a regional golf association and helped
successfully launch and maintain a cutting edge technology-based ticket resale program
on behalf of the St. Louis Cardinals
Missy attended St. Lawrence University where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BS
in Psychology. She also holds a Master’s Degree from Miami University in Oxford, OH. She
can be reached at email@example.com.
DMEautomotive provides multi-channel, variable communications for approximately 3,500
automobile dealers nationwide. Their robust product and service offering includes: on-
demand marketing campaigns, sales renewal and reactivation programs, service retention
and reactivation programs, data analytics and fulfillment services. Headquartered in
Daytona Beach, Fla., DMEautomotive also has major operations in Jacksonville, Fla. and St.
Sources used in this paper:
“Becoming a Social Media Butterfly” – Gregg Holtsclaw, Delphic Sage
“Dealers Ready to Play” – WardsAuto.com
“Facebook for Auto Dealers” – ActivEngage
“FEED: The 2009 Razorfish Digital Brand Experience Report” – Razorfish
“Ford Uses Social Networking To Market New Fiesta; Brand Awareness Skyrockets” – Ford Media
“Ford Spending 25% of Marketing on Digital and Social Media” – Businessweek
“Harnessing Word of Mouth in Automotive: Boosting Revenues & Reputations by Engaging
Influential Brand Advocates” – Zuberance
“J.D. Power: Poor Customer Treatment Trumps Brand Satisfaction”
“Monitoring the Social Media Conversation: From Twitter to Facebook” – Vocus
“Social Media Marketing: The Right Strategy for Tough Economic Times – Awareness
“Time is of the Essence: Gaining and Maintaining a Competitive Advantage with Social Media”
Heather Angus-Lee, WSI
“Trust in Advertising”, 2007 – Nielsen
“What is Social Media?” – Antony Mayfield, iCrossing