One doesn’t have to be tech-savvy to understand the popularity of social media. Lisa Cryder, the owner/general manager at Lebanon Ford Lincoln Mercury, said, “I’m not the most computer-savvy, technologically-advanced person … but I do an awful lot of reading … Over , I really started honing in on this whole social media thing.” By keeping up-to-date via industry trade magazines, such as Auto Dealer Monthly, she realized social media could be a powerful business tool—one her Lebanon, Ohio, dealership stood to benefit from.
Chuckling, Lisa reflected on today’s Internet-based culture. “I’m the kind of person who looks at some of this stuff kids are seeing on YouTube and think, ‘Oh, how stupid,’ while half my staff is looking at it, laughing and thinking, ‘Oh, this is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.’”
At a family dinner one Sunday, she was talking about her desire to “take 2010 and … jump into [social media] with both feet.” When her brother-in-law asked her why she hadn’t talked to her nephew, Jeff Cryder, Jr., her response was, “Well, why would I want to talk to Jeff? He’s looking to go into media buying.”
He replied, “He’s really transitioned [his Facebook page] from college kid to professional, and I’ve had lots of conversations with him about social media. He’s very passionate about it, and I think you ought to go and have a conversation about it.” Taking note, Lisa called Jeff that same night.
She said, “I didn’t even know that right underneath my nose my nephew was into this.” After a long conversation about her plans for the dealership and social media, Jeff joined the Lebanon Ford Lincoln Mercury team as its first social media director and SEO coordinator in January 2010. “Originally, I brought him onboard specifically to do the Facebook [page] and the Web site,” Lisa said.
At the time, the dealership’s contract with its Web site provider was coming to an end, and Lisa knew the $400-a-month barebones Web site wasn’t going to mesh with an upgraded Web 2.0 presence. “I knew if I was going to do this stuff with social media, I needed to go out and get a Cadillac of a Web site too and have it all tied in.”
After researching Web providers and other dealers’ sites, Jeff and Lisa decided to partner with TK Carsites because Jeff felt their sites offered the best social media integration. Lisa said Jeff started developing a much bigger social media plan “somewhere between him having conversations with TK Carsites’ people and us getting this Web site together over the last four months.”
In addition to a Facebook page and new Web site, the dealership is on Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twellow, foursquare, Flickr, WordPress and Tumblr. While most people are familiar with Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and MySpace, here’s a rundown the other, less mainstream sites Jeff’s incorporating into the dealership’s social media strategy:
Twellow, as one might guess, came about as a result of Twitter and refers to itself as “the Twitter Yellow Pages.” Jeff uses this tool to find and connect with Twitter users in Lebanon, Ohio and the surrounding areas.
Foursquare is, as Jeff referred to it, a fairly new social location platform. It allows users to “check in” to locations (sometimes businesses) with their cell phones. “I’m a huge, huge advocate for [foursquare] … Once someone checks in, all the friends they have on foursquare – and you can also broadcast it out to Twitter and Facebook – will know that they are at that location,” he said. Foursquare offers business owners a complimentary service that allows them to offer specials to people who check in at their business, which Lebanon Ford uses to offer a name-your-price oil change coupon to people who check in.
Flickr is a photo-sharing Web site owned by Yahoo!. Jeff said, “If you go to Yahoo! and type in ‘2011 Ford Expedition,’ our picture of the Ford Expedition at the 2010 Auto Show will be the first thing that shows up. This is another way of just getting our content out there. It doesn’t have to be updated all the time.”
"I'm the kind of person who looks at some of this stuff kids are seeing on YouTube and think, 'Oh, how stupid,' while half my staff is looking at it, laughing and thinking, 'Oh, this is the funniest thing I've ever seen.' ... It's a totally different culture ... I just have not jumped into it personally, but I get it from the business side."
Tumblr is a microblogging platform, much like Twitter, which Jeff said is used as an “extension of our main WordPress blogs.”
At the most basic level, Lebanon Ford’s social media strategy is more about connecting than it is about making immediate sales. “Our social media strategy is based around making impressions on people and through those impressions, building relationships and [we know] if we do a good enough job with that, sales will follow in the future,” said Jeff. He also acknowledged that social media is very different from traditional media and should be treated differently by dealers who are serious about getting social.
“You see a lot of dealers that say, ‘We’re serious on Twitter … Facebook,’ but they don’t take it to the level that it’s a two-way street. You have the opportunity to connect with your customers and just people in general on a human level, a level that you’re not able to connect with on radio or television.” He added that social networking isn’t about being “sales-y”; it’s about being “human.” His take: “Let’s just be human. Let’s be personable. Let’s listen to our customers.”
One good example he provided was in regards to a simple post on Facebook, in which he posted a status update asking the dealership’s fans what was going on in the community that coming weekend. The post received several fan comments, and one in particular was about a benefit concert for a 3-year-old diagnosed with brain cancer. Jeff then responded in the same thread, “Awesome, what a great cause. If there's anything we can do to support let us know. What time and where … is it located?”
The woman replied with all the event details, and then two minutes later she posted another reply about a dealership she had sought out for a donation for the event, and added, “Let’s just say, I will never buy a [make] from [dealership]!!!!!! Talk about a heartless donation! … The family appreciated every cent, but as a consumer with small children as well, I don't want to invest in a company who is so stingy!” At some point during this exchange, Jeff sent the woman a private message asking where he could send a personal donation, and she told him she’d be buying her next car from him.
Granted, this woman’s post probably didn’t reach a ton of people and likely won’t ruin the other dealer’s reputation, but her comments do hold some weight with regards to how people want to be treated and the interaction they prefer to have with businesses online. “I could have easily said, ‘Hey, great cause,’ but I pushed it further by saying, ‘Where and when is the event? Is there anything else we can do to help you?’ That pushed the conversation further to open her up,” said Jeff. He added that making an impression “through doing something good” is the best way to make a positive, lasting impression.
Success on social media is “those human impressions … and doing more listening and pushing people to engage more,” because that’s what will lead to future business and loyal customers. The goal is the same on Twitter, to interact with people and make good impressions. You won’t find a tweet (or Facebook post, for that matter) about their inventory or anything else that’s a straight sales pitch. Although, the dealership’s Facebook page does have an inventory tab if fans want to browse.
What you will find on Lebanon Ford’s Facebook and Twitter pages is a ton of interaction with fans and followers, posts about Wack Web Wednesday, Fun Fact Friday and links to new content on one of the dealership’s two blogs (Ford Life and The Ford Project), amongst other things. Jeff said, “Fun Fact was something I used do every day … I decided to just do it on Friday, and people post their Fun Facts. It’s just something fun and another way to get people to engage. Wack Web Wednesday … is just finding funny videos around the Web to post. It’s fun just to see what people come up with and communicate and connect with them … [it’s] another way of just pushing the conversation further.”
“The Ford Project is kind of my baby … it’s an extension of what Ford was doing at the national level, but we’ve extended it to the local level. I currently have two people who are driving … 17 vehicles over 17 weeks,” he explained. They are “documenting their experience through video and blogging. He uploads the videos on YouTube and the dealership’s main site, Lebanon-Ford.com. And that’s just Mission One of the Ford Project. As for Mission Two, he isn’t sharing the details (partially because “it’s still in the works”), but he did divulge that it will include a trip to Dearborn, Mich., which is home to Ford’s world headquarters.
The Ford Life blog has a bit wider focus, with subpages for For[d] Life Stories, Ford News and Dealer Insights. The For[d] Life Stories are in-depth articles about “people in the community who have had Ford vehicles their entire lives.” So far the blog has three posts that cover each individual’s life story and why they have been Ford customers all their lives.
Once a new For[d] Life Story goes up, Jeff sends it to the person it’s about and his or her family and posts about it on Twitter and Facebook. The For[d] Life Stories fit in to the overall social media strategy because they’re “another way of making impressions on people. Through those impressions on that select individual, they tell their friends, they tell their family and it also shows from the outside that we genuinely care and want to hear other people’s stories.”
Jeff added, “We’re also going to be writing articles on Ford news and dealer insights … Those [blogs] are the core of our social marketing. That’s how we’re really creating our own content.” He took a wide focus in naming the blogs so they were more likely to gain recognition outside of the dealership’s immediate market area. “In this day and age, you have to think globally and act locally, and what I mean by that is by making what you’re doing online attractive for people outside your local area,” he said. If it does get national recognition, “then local people will start hearing about it, and they’ll start catching on and think ‘Oh my gosh; this is huge on the national level, this must be legitimate.’ And that right there adds a little legitimacy to what you’re doing.”
And all that content is original and always fresh, which the search engines love. While many dealers’ blogs are a part of their search engine optimization strategy, too often they’re just “regurgitated” manufacturer content, like press releases and new vehicle reviews. Of the blog strategy at Lebanon Ford, Jeff said, “It’s actually unique content that’s outside the box that will help us make further impressions on people and get people talking.”
"Our social media strategy is based around making impressions on people and through those impressions, building relationships and [we know] if we do a good enough job with that, sales will follow in the future."
He acknowledged, “Some dealerships are afraid of doing that … At the same time, it’s very important to democratize your social media and get your sales staff out there and engaging with people on Facebook and Twitter.” He said everyone knows their responsibilities “in terms of how to utilize Facebook” as well as “the consequences of not using it correctly or being unprofessional.”
He even wrote up an employee policy on social media usage. “It’s very short, very open, no legal jargon … We encourage social media use on company time as long as it is not detrimental to the Lebanon Ford Lincoln Mercury brand and what we’re trying to accomplish.” To ensure they adhere to policy, Jeff and someone in human resources monitors the employees’ social networking efforts.
He acknowledged that total buy-in can be hard to achieve. “You have to be a salesperson to get them to buy in because the only way they’re going to buy in is if they see what they can get out of it.” He mused, “Instead of hitting the phones, you hit Twitter and just do Twitter searches for people who need cars around Cincinnati.”
Additionally, Lisa wants employees to engage online so they’ll know what the dealership is doing online. She wants her employees to know what customers are talking about if they come in the dealership talking about something like Wack Web Wednesday or one of the For[d] Life stories. “They can’t live in this vacuum without knowing what we’re putting out there,” she said, adding that she hopes her employees want to engage. “If our own employees aren’t going to engage, how do we expect our consumer to?”
She said that the dealership is working to get the service department more engaged as well. “We’re working on a technician blog, more from a gearhead standpoint, taking one of our diesel techs … and maybe getting a blog from him, but from a technical standpoint because there’s a lot people out there that love the tech part of it and we want to be able to provide that also.” The objective is to get more employees “taking ownership” in the dealership’s online efforts, and she’s hoping to accomplish that by getting her employees “involved in some of the processes, videos and educational parts of it.”
To showcase their reviews, the salespeople and service advisors have personal DealerRater pages, to which they actively try to get customers to submit reviews. Jeff said, “Our sales staff needs to do their part to separate themselves from other sales teams,” and having all positive reviews on DealerRater is one way for a salesperson or service advisor to do that. “We’re really kind of making it a competition among the sales team to get them to build those customer reviews, and we solicit everybody, whether it’s a good experience, bad experience, a great experience … We want to see a bad comment once in a while, so we can show that we are listening and going out and taking care of it.”
While Lebanon Ford’s social media efforts are relatively new and a collective work-in-progress, the dealership is building momentum rather quickly with over 500 Facebook fans and over 200 Twitter followers. Though, Jeff pointed out that when measuring the effectiveness of social media, he takes the quality-over-quantity approach. “What’s more important—having 5,000 fans but none of them engaging or having 500 fans and having two-thirds engage? You find that the quantity in our industry is still seen as more successful than the quality, which in social media isn’t the case.”
However, Lebanon Ford is likely to achieve quality and quantity in its social media efforts because a lot of the hard work – the groundwork – is complete. The dealership has a new-and-improved Web site, a solid following on Facebook and Twitter, quality interaction with fans/followers, high-ranking content in the search engine results pages (SERPs), two unique and content-rich blogs, and much more.
Over the course of six months, the dealership has made some serious headway. While Jeff said the last couple months have been the dealership’s most successful, he doesn’t attribute that to its social media efforts. “Doing it this way takes time. It’s not something you can say ‘Oh, we’ve been doing it for three months, what’s my ROI?’ … [It’s] an investment. I’d say by the fall, we’ll start to see a lot of things coming from this.”
While Jeff and the dealership’s hard work isn’t done (it never is with social media), the hardest part is behind them (developing a strategy and building an online presence). As the momentum continues to build, so will the dealership’s fan and customer base. Lisa said, “I think the fun part is just going to begin.”
Vol. 7, Issue 8