Published on Friday, 02 March 2012
Last week, the Canadian Digital Dealer Conference was held in Toronto, hosted by the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association.
The “social media boot camp,” as it was nicknamed, was sold out and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Dealers everywhere have been trying to understand social media and to apply various aspects of it to their businesses.
The conference featured social media experts from across North America who specialize in marketing for the auto industry, including automotive bloggers, digital marketing gurus, legal experts and social networking mavens.
The central message was clear: we’ve entered a new age of marketing and communications, where dealers now have unprecedented access to online tools, technologies and platforms that allow them to connect with — and create deeper relationships with — their customers and the community at large.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google+ are just some of the popular social networking sites that companies are using to interact with customers, colleagues, suppliers and partners.
These developments in the digital realm are fascinating, but they’re a little daunting as well, especially for dealer principals and managers of a certain age who grew up with the traditional media of print, radio and TV.
The shift in how companies communicate with their customers represents a major shake-up in the world of marketing and advertising. Traditional media are still around and will continue to be relevant, but social media, web-based programs and mobile technologies are providing more efficient and cost-effective alternatives for delivering messages.
Some new-car dealers have already embraced social media in a big way. In researching this column, I came across several Ontario-based dealers who have developed incredibly popular Facebook Fan pages, where customers (“friends”) interact daily with the dealership.
I also found dealers who have created dedicated YouTube channels, where videos of new and used inventory, customer testimonials, repurposed TV commercials and educational clips are uploaded on a regular basis. YouTube reports that 48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, and three million videos are viewed every single day.
Recently, an Ontario dealer tried something completely different by offering interested buyers the opportunity to test drive a new Chevrolet Sonic sedan for two days. The only stipulation: they had to tweet about their experiences on Twitter.
This was good for participating customers, who got to enjoy an extended test drive as long as they posted comments on the popular microblogging service. In return, the dealer received widespread media coverage without any direct financial investment.
Don’t be surprised if other dealers follow up with equally creative uses of social media in the months ahead.
A common thread at the conference was this idea of engagement. Dealers need to engage their customers and create opportunities where information is viewed and shared by specific groups of people. Social media experts claim that increased levels of engagement with a dealership can lead to greater trust and loyalty to the brand.
In the digital world, customers (and the public) have enormous power to shape and influence a brand. If someone isn’t happy with our products and services, they can now tell the world. Conversely, if customers are happy, they can share that message with everyone as well.
With social media, the options for communicating seem endless. The challenge for dealers is finding the right technologies and platforms that work for them and continuously tweak them in order to optimize the user experience.
I encourage car owners to reach out to their local dealership through multiple social media platforms. If your dealer doesn’t have a presence on a specific social media platform, it probably will soon.
As the recent Digital Dealer Conference made clear, we’ve entered an era of heightened interaction between businesses and consumers, and dealers need to get on board with the program.