It is a new year and time to take a look at what's hot and what's not in the online space. Is it the year for social networking in the car business, where we all connect to our customers and show them how good of a "friend" we are? Or is it the year that we make videos of everything? Why don’t we clog servers to show them video instead of pictures? Maybe we could hold the camera out the window like a dog holds its head out and then send that to our customer so they know how the car rides for the dog.

Seriously, as we look forward to selling more cars than last year, what has evolved in the online space? What more can we do? It’s not as though we can send them a scratch and sniff e-mail to let them know about the soft Corinthian leather. It seems every year we have to find some new and improved add-on to the world of online car shopping.

Mobile sites

Let's be realistic, some people are in love with their iPhone. You can't ignore the fact that mobile use is up. However, people complain about the photos on their 22-inch monitor, so can you imagine how they are going to view them on a 2-inch screen? They don't want an inventory list without photos, and mobile phones are slow still. Personally, I hate surfing the Web on my phone and only do it when I can't find a computer. Mobile sites are evolving, but less than 5 percent of your customers, at best, will be looking at them over the next year. Spend your time wisely. Don't get caught up in the world of smart phones and not sell anything.

Social Networking
Focus on two and go. Facebook and LinkedIn are the biggies. Let's start with Facebook. It is great for keeping in contact with most of your customers and is now just another CRM tool. Put up some pictures of new models as they come in. (Just don't get too carried away.) Make sure you put any events, charities, sponsorships, et cetera up to show how active you are in the community. Always put a map on your fan page to let people know how to find you. Finally, one of the best applications that I see for this venue is coupons. Hit them with service; get them in the door. Remember, this site is all about community. Show value for being a "fan."

LinkedIn is a more professional approach. It is your network of people out there. LinkedIn gives you a way to keep in contact without bugging them too much. Add a slide show of new models to your profile so they look at them when they visit. Let them know what special offers are out there by updating your status with them. Let the Web site do what is has been designed to do, connect people.

These sites are great and, for the most part, free. They can be costly in terms of time when there is an overwhelming urge to look at all the other media on the sites. Discipline yourself to stay up with it, but don't get consumed.

Let's call a spade a spade. Commercials work on TV, not necessarily on your Web site. Video does one thing on inventory pages—gives what is otherwise a boring page a little motion. Everyone likes to see the shiny objects, but the inventory details are the real key. It has been said time and time again to make sure your details are in the inventory. Online shoppers want to narrow their choices before they contact you or come in. Make it easy for them. Don't worry about the shiny objects when it comes to your inventory.

Maps, mobile, coupons, and so many more options. You need to select a company that will give you all the options. However, the goal is to pop the inventory. On several occasions, I have mentioned what gets your inventory to show up naturally—details, details, details. The end result is to get as many free clicks as possible. Then, pay for what you can't get optimized. A good Web provider helps too. Spread your budget to find the right mix. SEO/SEM is a necessary evil in business, but make it work for you. Find the right provider that wants to help grow your business.

In 2010, the goal is to sell cars. Work hard at not getting distracted by “friending” or “shiny objects,” and get focused on how your process works. Ultimately, the goal is to convert leads.

Vol. 7, Issue 1