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The 'engaging' aspect of social media

March 16, 2012
Dealers who still think getting engaged only means proposing on bended knee are missing a big part of social media today.
“Engaging means building a relationship that amuses and intrigues the consumer, such that he or she wants to participate in activities the dealer is promoting,” says Kevin Woods, chief operating officer of Driven Solutions, a dealer-based social-media firm in Michigan.
To engage an audience, dealers are creating offbeat ads, staging fundraising pie-throwing events, sponsoring contests, and shooting in-house videos — and posting it all on websites such as Facebook.
Innovative dealers also use Internet chat platforms to communicate with customers, offer search engines to help consumers find online inventory and, less seriously, create cartoon characters based on the dealer principal. It works, say the dealers.
One study of consumers who intended to buy a car in the next 12 months found 40 percent of buyers use social media to research their new-vehicle purchase. And 84 percent of U.S. vehicle shoppers use Facebook in general.
“We are witnessing the evolution of the automotive purchase cycle,” says Kevin Root of, which conducted one such study. “Dealers now have an opportunity to use social media as an integral part of their marketing mix and turn customers into loyalists and advocates.”
But don’t overwhelm people with waves of information, Woods warns.
“You want people to opt in, so don’t blast them every day with stuff,” he said. Present a compelling offer, and keep everything short and simple and friendly.
One text-messaging campaign offered free windshield wipers. The public learned of the offer through social-media sites tailored to smartphones. It engendered customer interest and good will. And when 2,000 people went to the dealership to get the free wiper blades, many of them purchased oil changes and other services.
Social media presents opportunities for dealers to engage with and attract key online audiences, according to the study, which indicates 41 percent of Facebook users who were car-shopping saw a post that caused them to consider another brand or a model. Toward that goal, dealerships across the country are creating in-house video segments to draw attention to their inventory. 
Shoppers who look at videos with vehicle listings on the website spend an average 30 minutes a visit, nearly twice as long as auto shoppers who don’t view a video, said’s Jack Simmons.
Because reputation management is vital, the people who oversee a dealership’s social-media initiative should keep track of what others are saying about the store.
Social media and data-mining can help expand a dealer’s sphere of influence far beyond its location, says Ken Smith, president and owner of Dave Smith Motors in Kellogg, Idaho, a city of 2,400 people. Yet his dealership sells cars well beyond its market, advertises on national Sirius-XM satellite radio and ranks No. 2 on the WardsAuto e-Dealer 100.
“Thanks to Google and the Internet, people know our name,” said Smith, a second-generation dealer who makes extensive use of videos to highlight vehicle inventory.
His vibrant website includes travel information on the dealership’s proximity to ski resorts, national forests and historic mining companies.