Social media has been a challenge for car dealers for the last few years. Ever since Facebook went from a large social media site to one of the five most popular sites on the Internet (2009-2010), dealers have been struggling to figure out a social media strategy that has a positive ROI. So, what’s the answer?
For the last three years, I’ve seen a number of social media vendors come and go in our space. Some of DealerOn’s customers have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars with social media companies.But because the agency they hired can’t quantify the impact of that investment on the business, they turn to me. That’s why, when a customer asks me what are the best ways to invest in social media, I first focus on three areas that I know will impact their dealership.
1. SATISFY AND COLLECT
For 90 percent of car dealers, the largest source of their website’s traffic is Google (organic or paid search). And the customers Google sends to dealers have searched for their dealership’s name (e.g. “Hare Chevrolet”). When a consumer does a search on your dealership’s name, Google will present them with your dealership’s Google+Local page. Now, there are two things that pop out right away when searching for a dealership on Google: the store’s review score and the number of posted reviews. These two things will impact the shopper’s decision to visit your website, call your dealership immediately or visit your showroom.
So, in my opinion, the single most important way a dealer can use social media to impact sales is by increasing the quantity and quality of the reviews that appear on Google. And in case you weren’t aware, Google made that goal a little tough when it updat- ed its review guidelines on Dec. 12. Basically, many of the tactics that helped drive reviews are now obsolete. Problem is, there are vendors in our space specifically recommending practices that are now explicitly forbidden by Google, such as setting up specialized review stations inside the dealership for the sole purpose of soliciting reviews.
So, what does that mean for increasing the quality and quantity of your Google reviews? Well, it means you’re going to have to drive those positive reviews the old-fashioned way. And by that I mean providing fantastic service to your customers and then encouraging them to post a review on Google. You could provide them with a postcard on how to fill out a Google review if they’ve never done it before. You can also send them a link with instructions on how to write a review. Just remember that Google has tentacles all over the online world, so if one of your employees has a Google profile and writes a glowing review somewhere online (Facebook, Google+, Twitter), you can bet Google will know about it.
2. SPREAD THE WORD
A second way to improve your online reviews is through new functionality DealerRater is offering as of Dec. 10. What the dealer review site now does is incorporate content and ratings from several additional sources, such as Google+ Local, Yelp, Citysearch, Cars.com, Edmunds, Insider Pages and Yahoo! Local. That means you can now incorporate all of these review site sources into your website from one data feed. We encourage our customers to pipe their reviews (assuming they are positive) directly into their website’s homepage and vehicle details pages.
The reason we recommend that is because consumers come to your website for four things: your inventory, your service department, your contact information, and the reasons why they should buy from you instead of one of your local competitors. So, having a scrolling reviews widget directly on your homepage that shows third-party confirmations of your dealership’s sterling reputation is critical. In fact, I would say it’s just as important as having your CSI awards, President’s Cup or Better Business Bureau logos on your homepage.
Another essential place to highlight your dealership’s reputation with your customers is on the vehicle details pages you create for every vehicle on your website. These pages usually ask shoppers to call the dealership or to submit their contact information so you can contact them. There is no better information to provide at that point than third-party reviews from real customers who can confirm the positive experience your store delivered. There’s a reason Amazon, a company that invests millions of dollars in testing annually, incorporates customer reviews in its product pages: It increases conversion rates and sells more products.
3. MANAGE YOUR IDENTITY
Another smart way for dealers to invest in social media is to either hire a vendor or assign an employee to actively manage the dealership’s profile across all of the local directories and review sites. And their first duty should be to ensure that your business name, address and phone number are correct on Foursquare, Yelp, City Search, Yahoo Local, Merchant Circle, etc.
The degree to which your NAP (business Name, Address, and Phone number)’s match across your website, your Google+ Local listing, and other directories is one of the most powerful SEO signals Google uses in its Google+ Local algorithm. And you control it. If you are actively managing this information, you can directly increase the organic search traffic and quality of traffic on your website.
So in 2013, I recommend that dealers keep investing in areas of social media that clearly impact website traffic, conversion and vehicle sales. So, increase the number and quality of your Google Reviews (as well as reviews on other sites), incorporate your reviews into contextually appropriate and high-leverage areas of your website, and, finally, make sure that you are managing your dealership’s listings and reviews across the spectrum of local directory and review sites. There may be other ways for you to make money in social media in 2013, but I can guarantee you that if you execute on these areas, your dealership will sell more cars.