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The Facebook dilemma: to sell or to socialize?

November 10, 2010

By Ben Brigham, president

By now, everyone is aware of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking Web sites. Many auto dealerships have embraced this new phenomenon and are developing or actively executing strategies for using these sites to further their business interests.

The sudden awakening of the automobile industry to Facebook has created a virtual Wild West, where anything goes, every consultant is an expert and no two experts agree.

The truth is that no one really knows what will happen and how social media will ultimately integrate with the daily activities of the modern auto dealership and impact the bottom line.

An auto industry consultant who specializes in social media recently wrote to me that he advises his clients to be really careful how much selling versus socializing they do on Facebook. This highlights a struggle going on right now among experts about how social media Web sites should be used by auto dealerships and businesses in general.

In one corner, you have the purists who say you should limit your activities on Facebook strictly to socializing. In the other corner, you have the opportunists who say you should use your social network profiles to advertise and create new opportunities to generate leads and sales, as well as employ any tactic available to build a fan base.

In the gulf between the two camps, there is a happy medium: applications that create passive opportunities for you to generate leads from your Fan page.

The Inventory Application is a good example of how to ‘sell’ on Facebook without violating the ‘social’ principle. It is there if someone wants to see it, but it doesn’t pop up in their face if they don’t.

Anything that involves bombarding your Fan base with offers, Farmville requests, or other solicitations is a bad idea. The general rule to apply is this: if something creates an opportunity to further your business interests without disrupting the user’s experience, it’s probably OK.

As you develop or evaluate the social media strategy for your dealership or group, I suggest you consider two very important factors: your primary objective and the fundamental concepts behind social networking.

Your primary objective most likely is to make a profit for your company by selling products and services. The fundamental concepts behind social networking are socializing and networking with people you know and people they know. In other words, it’s not just about socializing with your friends; it’s about networking through your friends to socialize with their friends, and their friends’ friends.

Anyone visiting your Facebook Fan page knows that you are a car dealer and that you sell cars. If they want to see what you have in inventory right now, why wouldn’t you give them the opportunity to view your inventory from your Fan page?

When it comes to legitimate socializing, it should begin from within. Start by building your fan base among your staff, their families and friends, and your customer base. Beware of anyone promising to build you a fan base of tens of thousands, unless you want a fan base made up of 10,000 people in India.

One thing is clear: if you don’t already have a Facebook Fan page for your dealership, its time to get one. When you’re ready to tackle the question of whether to sell or to socialize, my advice is to strike a balance between doing things that further your business interests and legitimate socializing.

If you need help getting started, Bluesky Marketing Group offers a suite of Facebook Applications that does a very good job of striking a balance between selling and socializing. The company also offers an ‘organic’ Fan building campaign that is generating legitimate, local fans for their dealers.

The author can be reached at (888) 633-7738 or