Tips for Social Networking

The short answer: Absolutely!

The longer answer: Yes, but only if you’re going to do it right. Doing it wrong is worse than not doing at all.

The complete answer: Social networks have been used as marketing tools since they started getting really hot a few years ago. Businesses have been using MySpace, Facebook and more recently, Twitter to get their message out to an online audience that is willing to listen. The problem that most businesses, including car dealerships, have with marketing through social networks is that it’s a completely different animal than traditional advertising or even other forms of Internet marketing.

Social networks are designed around interaction. Businesses often try to use them as platforms to get their message across without taking the time to interact with the rest of the community on their own terms. For every successful social networking campaign, there are 1,000 MySpace and Facebook accounts and 10,000 Twitter accounts that fail miserably.

If You Build It, They Will Come
And then they will leave if they don’t see anything of value. The latest special interest rate or next weekend’s big sale are not of value to social network users. They didn’t visit your Twitter page to hear about your gas card promotion. They came to your Twitter page to find out who you were and what you had to say. If all you talk about is the dealership and its amazing inventory, they’re not going to stay. They will remove you as a friend and block any attempts you make to contact them.

If you want to make an impact on the high-potential markets available on social networking sites, you have to be interested in what everyone else has to say. Simply saying, “Hi, Facebook, here are my cars,” will not get you far.

Read what others are posting. Respond to them. Find local people who are involved in these networks and strike up an online conversation with them. Your business accounts on social networks are still run by people and should have a personality that goes beyond letting everyone know about your latest trades.

I’ve Got An Account, But Nobody is Following Me
I see car dealers on Twitter every day. Many of them contact me and ask, “How did you get 37,000 people to follow you? I only have 14 followers and half of them are employees.”

Getting noticed on social networks takes activity and creativity. You have to get the people’s attention by making friends, saying interesting things, and putting forth a well-designed “face” through which users can associate with you. Creating the accounts is simply the first step. Engagement is the key.

But I Don’t Care What Someone in Indonesia Has to Say
This is common. Dealers think the only people they need to talk to are the locals within driving distance. This couldn’t be further from the truth. By building strong online relationships with people across the globe, the interaction with the locals becomes much more likely. You see, they came to Twitter to interact with the world as well as with locals.

To truly “network” means interacting with a wide variety of people. Local networks have always failed simply because people use the Internet to branch out. If anything, talking to local people through Twitter becomes a “small-world coincidence” that can turn into direct contact down the line.

When Can I Talk About My Specials?
On the other end of the spectrum, social networks can become worthless for dealers if they are too busy networking and forget to actually talk about their dealership.

Two rules govern when and how to market through social networks:

1.  Make it important. If you say something through social networks about your dealership, it should be something worthy of note. Plug in an RSS feed from your blog if you are posting once or twice a week. Just got in a DeLorean in that looks like the Back to the Future car? Tweet it! Just got a 2007 Chevy Malibu in? Don’t tweet it.

2.  10-to-1 Rule. If you can engage people in conversation 10 times as often as you mention yourself, you’re on the right track and will get more people (even locals) to follow you.

This is Just the Start
It would be possible to write 100 pages on the topic of social networking in the automotive industry. These tips are just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a great way to get started. If you would like to hear more about this topic, please send me an e-mail  and I would be happy to get into more detail in future articles.

Vol. 6, Issue 5