If there is a constant in automotive digital marketing, it’s the need to connect with car buyers where they live. As social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram continue to add users and make themselves indispensable sources of information, dealers are following. In recent years, many have hired full-time social marketing managers to maximize engagement with customers and prospects.
To find out what that position entails and how to measure the success of a social marketing campaign, ADT sat down with Nick Askew, internet director at Patterson Auto Group in Longview, Texas, Jordan Barrett, director of business development for Glendale, Ariz.’s Yates Buick GMC and Yates PreOwned Arrowhead, Olivia Kohlstaedt, manager of social media and grassroots marketing at Panama City (Fla.) Toyota, Karl Kramer, communications director at the Kansas City, Mo.-based McCarthy Auto Group, and Cathy Nesbit, social media director for Harry Robinson Buick GMC in Fort Smith, Ark.
How long have you been in the industry, and how did you become a social marketing expert?
Kramer: I worked for General Motors for almost 21 years, and then had the good fortune of moving on to retail in October 2012. Social media is a learned behavior. I started using it in my last years at GM. I gained an appreciation for what it could provide and tried to be as proactive as I could to learn more.
Nesbit: I have been with Harry Robinson for six years, and this is my first job in the auto industry. I learned social media at my last job, managing a recording studio. My boss there was very innovative. She was into the concept early on.
Askew: I actually have only three years in the auto industry. I started off selling cars and quickly moved from that into managing the internet department, including digital advertising. I manage a lot of advertising for the auto group as a whole, including video production as well as social media.
Barrett: My background is in globalizing marketing efforts for Fortune 500 companies. I would work on translating websites and digital marketing and social media campaigns. It was a really good opportunity for me to learn how to translate messages to new audiences.
Kohlstaedt: I have been at Panama City Toyota and in the industry since May 2015. My family has been in the business for more than 20 years, so this was a familiar place for me. I have a degree in English and I thought this would be an interesting way to explore that. It’s not like writing an essay, but there is a certain skill level you have to attain.
How does one get started, and is it wise to focus on one platform or have a presence on all of them?
Nesbit: The first thing I did was dig into all our websites, social accounts and review sites. It took me several weeks just to correct our name, address and telephone number. We partnered with String Automotive and I have found several resources to keep up with changes to the rules. If you go more than three months without getting caught up, you could be in violation of a rule you didn’t know about. Twitter can suspend your account. Facebook can make you go away. Google can for sure make you go away.
Kohlstaedt: When I started, it was fairly minimal. We had Facebook. We work with Potratz Advertising, so they were posting some, and we had another manager who would post as well. But it was mostly sales-driven, larger-scale Toyota stuff. I set up an Instagram account to learn more about how people in our community interact with each other. We also have a Twitter account, and we usually post on all three two to four times a day.
Askew: The good news about Facebook is that it’s now integrated with Instagram. When I create an ad campaign on Facebook, that same call to action gets put through on Instagram using the same algorithms for display ads. So I would advise starting with one platform and building from there.
Kramer: We just concentrate on Facebook and Twitter. We’re starting to broaden our scope.
Barrett: I think if you are a normal dealer who doesn’t have a lot of people working on social media, that’s a good approach. We have one franchise store and one nonfranchised used-car store. We have one person. We might have to pick our battles. But if you have 20 stores and lots of people who can contribute, you can do much more.
How does social marketing build and protect your dealership’s brand and reputation?
Barrett: Your strategy depends on what your dealership offers. We have a service department and an Allstate agency, we are non-commission, and we’re an accredited Kelley Blue Book partner. When you can paint that picture, you give the customer reasons to come in or submit a lead. The customer ends up feeling like they know your business and understand what the journey is going to be. It might even incentivize them to pick us over another dealer.
Kohlstaedt: You do that by making it more personable and people-friendly. My goal was to humanize the dealership. We want to show we’re people first, just like you’re a customer but you’re a person first. We try to do as much community engagement as we can. We share stories from local charities. We share the stories of customers who have come in and why they came in.
Kramer: I feel I am responsible for reputation management. We are engaged with the stores’ DealerRater pages. We try to be responsive and look for opportunities for improvement, but I don’t try to overachieve in that space. We really try to use our social media platforms as messengers of our company — who we support, why we support them, and how to get involved.
Askew: Dealers are often scared of any kind of controversy or people leaving negative reviews or comments. I believe that’s healthy. You can combat that by getting people on your side. But video content, to me, has to be the biggest representation of your brand. You can very quickly create followers that will come back again and again for certain video content. We create videos that show customers what happens to their car after they trade it in, for example. It generates curiosity, and that’s what I want to do.
Kohlstaedt: We recently started doing Facebook Live, which is incredible. That has made a difference. People are much more likely to watch a video than read text. Every Thursday, we highlight a used vehicle on the lot. It’s a selling tool, but it’s also an information tool. And it helps that our salespeople love cars. Even if it’s not a Toyota, we can still get excited about it.
Nesbit: When I started, the big thing at the time was getting 100,000 likes. But I’m a quality over quantity person, and I knew our heart was in the local community. I wanted likes from people who are actually here and could become customers. All the wonderful things Harry does for this community that he doesn’t want people to know about? I let people know about it.
How do you set goals and calculate return on investment?
Nesbit: I make sure I have a schedule. I give myself things to do every week, month and day. I plan the strategy for the next year in September or October. Then we go quarter-by-quarter. I have to make sure I don’t overlook anything and leave myself time to do research.
Kramer: Social media probably won’t maximize any one element of floor traffic, so it’s hard to fault someone if it’s not working. With lead-generation ads, it’s easier to have someone to follow up with and understand the behavior. In most cases, the ad didn’t get pushed to someone who liked your page; it’s being served up because they are being solicited. Depending on how you engage that customer, hopefully, it will increase your consideration.
Barrett: There are a couple things most dealers are doing well. They are spending more time understanding their customers. They are getting a better understanding of previous customer behavior and putting up billboards on the digital highway. There is no one campaign that will get all of them, but that’s the beauty: You can take a tailored approach. I have a credit-challenged customer, it’s back-to-school time — what kind of message can I send to them?
Kohlstaedt: There is a huge return on investment. You don’t have to spend hours and hours creating content or scouring the internet. Setting up a Facebook account is very simple, and you can reach people in a meaningful way. The younger generation might not watch TV, but they do have phones. They will be on social media once an hour.
Askew: We often do things that have nothing to do with selling cars. I created a photo competition for the Great Texas Balloon Race. Within a matter of hours, I had hundreds of photos of balloons circulating on Facebook. There were pictures of balloons every 10 posts or so. It’s your content and your hashtag, so it will always drive them back to you, even if it’s not about you.
How do your bosses know you’re doing a good job?
Kramer: They trust me to manage the space. They know I’m hands-on and I work closely with our vendor, and they can see the engagement potential customers have with our pages. Whether it’s service, collision, new or used sales, they are looking for those results. The sales managers get a list at the end of the month: Here are the leads that came in and here’s what sold.
Askew: It’s always difficult because you don’t know if that money is directly driving people back to your website unless you use some kind of conversion tool. But I would say it’s not the number of likes or views you can get but how much conversation you can drive. I like to measure my success not by what people do on my page but how often Patterson content comes up in other people’s conversations.
Barrett: I partnered with Digital Air Strike to track all our advertisements, so it wasn’t them just having to have full faith in me. We set up a digital trail to determine how visitors are coming to our website and how they’re converting. I also build out specific landing pages to drive social media engagement. We ran a promotion for anyone shopping over Labor Day Weekend. Facebook brought 50 people down the funnel in one weekend. As a dealer, whatever your budget is, you have to take a step back and say, “OK, I spent this amount and got this response.”
What advice would you give to a dealer who wants to hire a social marketing manager?
Askew: It’s actually quite tough. People who are interested in selling cars don’t tend to have this skill. But you can find them on Facebook. You can find them in your friends list or posting on forums. These people formulate ideas in their heads. They know how to get likes on a post and what topics will drive people to open a discussion.
Kramer: I would suggest picking a member of your management team who understands social media, then put your trust into a company that has the expertise to manage it. I talk with our agency, Friendemic, four or five times a week. And you have to do the research. You can’t define what’s working or not working if you don’t understand the space.
Kohlstaedt: It helps to have a relationship with as many people in the dealership as they can. When I do a video, I ask, “What did you like about our last video?” and “Can you think of a scenario in which this vehicle would come in handy?” Get their help and ask those questions.
Barrett: I suggest you hire somebody who is a big user of social media. I’m not necessarily the biggest user myself. I don’t really have a persona I promote. But I have used all these mediums, and I understand how others use them. And you want to look for somebody who can understand the wrong way to talk to customers on social media. Some of the dealerships we compete against try to make their TV ads work on social media. It’s not the same audience. I’m young, I grew up with this stuff. But a lot of people in the industry don’t understand it and don’t know how to use it.
Nesbit: I would just add that, if you don’t believe in it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. I will take the customers and the leads. If you start off thinking it will be a waste of your time, it probably will be. But if you embrace it, it could be the cheapest and best advertising you’ve ever had.