I have always been a little bit wary of social media. Never an active user in my private life, most of my experience comes from the business side. For our sister publication, F&I and Showroom, we operated the F&I Forum, where dealers, F&I professionals, agents and executives from the product and finance segments could exchange ideas and opinions about best practices and the state of the industry.

At least, that’s how it was supposed to work. Too often, the conversations devolved into personal attacks, particularly when “outsiders” dared to comment. In one case, a very well-placed executive contributed an informed opinion to an ongoing discussion. Those who disagreed with him piled on, ignoring the substance of his comment and mocking him for never having worked in a dealership. In fact, he has worked with hundreds of F&I professionals as an agent and consultant, and his executive team is largely comprised of retail veterans. No matter. He took a beating.

Around that time, F&I’s back-page columnist, “Mad” Marv Eleazer, a veteran F&I director, launched the Ethical F&I Managers Facebook group, which effectively replaced the F&I Forum. Marv does a terrific job of moderating, and I recommend you join the group if you are so inclined. I say the same to my friends in the executive ranks, but I warn them that, if they are going to participate, rather than observe, they had better know their stuff.

Dealers who dive into the social marketing pool face a set of unique challenges, and reputation management is only one. Many of you have created full-time positions to manage your profiles and many more have considered it. We wanted to offer useful advice for recruiting and hiring a social media manager, setting goals and measuring your ROI — all while protecting your brand — so we reached out to five such professionals to uncover the secrets of their success. I believe you will agree the results are highly instructive.

In recent years, the Social Media category of the annual Dealers’ Choice Awards has begun to gather real momentum as more dealers partner with agencies that offer those services and work hand-in-hand with your managers to make their social campaigns fly. As you may know, the awards are handed out at a special ceremony at the annual Industry Summit, and this issue also includes a pictorial featuring many of this year’s winners.

As you can tell by the smiles on their faces, these awards mean an awful lot to the recipients. The winners are selected according to the results of a survey we send to our readers each spring. Voting is open only to dealers and dealership personnel, and each respondent has to manually enter their vendor or finance company’s name for every award and rate them in five categories. Every vote is meaningful.

We are very proud of our program, and more dealers respond to the survey every year. I encourage you to participate because your favorite partners deserve to be recognized.

Thank you as always for reading. We have had a turbulent if not profitable 2016, and I wish you nothing but happiness and success in the year ahead.