Stories From The Field: How Dealers Can Step Up Their Social Media Game

By Bruno Lucarelli

There seems to be a disconnect from reality in the automotive advertising world regarding social media. Agencies have somehow convinced dealers that social media is like more traditional media, and have insisted on plugging in terrible, generic ads with low lease payments and other messaging fit for cable TV.

The average American will, depending on the study you believe, purchase from six to nine cars in their lifetime. That means that these ads are virtually worthless to over 90 percent of the people seeing them in their Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feed on a daily basis.

What are dealers missing here? That users of Facebook and other social platforms view these services as entertainment, and bland messaging is not welcome…and even a buzzkill. Engaging, fresh content will keep your dealership at front-of-mind for prospective shoppers, but also stand out so they can recommend your dealership to their friends and family.

Another disconnect here is that the majority of content on Facebook and Instagram is local, but dealerships suffer from not being considered “local” businesses. That means your dealership has to work extra hard to craft a local presence online and in your community, too. The alternative is running the risk of having your ads and efforts overlooked and ignored, leading to less engagement, lower priority in the algorithm, and ultimately, a lack of awareness.

Staying on top of your social media presence can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. It requires an amount of time to be carved out on a regular basis to ensure your content stays fresh and relevant, with plenty of content you can boost or craft into a paid ad down the line. Here are a few content ideas that will gain some traction!

Happy Customer Shots & Testimonials
This is by far the most successful type of social media content, and it’s also the easiest to execute. We ran these types of campaigns for years with one store, and literally received thousands of user likes as a result- and remember, each “like” is a new engagement. Salespeople were required to provide at least one picture of week of a smiling customer taking delivery on a new or used vehicle. Smart salespeople stood next to them, shaking hands, arm over the shoulder, fist bumping, etc. Bonuses were actually tied to providing this content, which would then be shared by the marketing agency or in-house marketers. It could also be repurposed for local TV spots.

Customers always re-shared these posts to their own social accounts, generating excitement around their purchase that led to plenty of comments, likes, and even some shares. We made sure to include a quick description of the vehicle in each post. For example: “Dan from Great Neck can’t wait to drive his certified VW Passat this summer, thanks for the business Dan!”

The fact is, people are NOSY, and a major purchase such as a vehicle is like peeking into their neighbors’ lives, and it works! Before you begin this approach, it’s smart to draw up a quick permission form so the customer understands you are using their image for advertising. Incentivize this step by throwing in a free keychain or other premium to increase participation. If kids are in the photo, make sure your release form covers minors and check to ensure the adults present are legal guardians authorized to release the children’s images.

Promotion of Dealer-sponsored Local Events
To build up your reputation as a local business, you need to actually get involved- and make sure your business’s presence is recorded! Take photos, live stream, or take quick videos of your dealership’s table at a fair, festival, or other crowded function. The more people are in the photo, the better.

If it’s a charity event, make sure to include the website of the charity in the posting and tag their social media, as well. If your employees are participating in an event, nothing better than postings of them on-site while volunteering. Find a way to incorporate how your dealership is tied to this event. Making it clear you actively participated is preferable to simply donating some money and having your name on the banner.

Giveaways
Who doesn’t like free stuff? Giveaways on social media are a perfectly legal way to give your presence a lift through new engagement and raise awareness about your business. It doesn’t have to be car-related either- event tickets, such as concerts or games, work best. A post for the contest has to involve how to win (example: “like our page, share this post and comment with the friend you’d bring to see Bruce Springsteen!”) as well as some rules (example: “cannot have won anything from us in the last 30 days, decision of the dealer is final, etc.”). You can also make the contest responses themselves relevant to your brand. For example, eligible participants must post something fun such as “I love Boston Chevy” in the comment section of the contest.

Then, to pick a winner, head to Random.org. It’s a website that provides a random number in a predetermined set. You can use this site to pick a truly random winner, and here’s how: if you run a contest for two pairs of Bruce Springsteen tickets, and you have 120 user responses that enter, random.org can pick a random number from one to 120. The winners are awarded based on the order in which they responded (the twelfth person to respond wins if the number is 12).

You can continue the established relationship between this user and your brand by asking the winners to share pictures from the event to your social media as a thank you! Our client store picked up hundreds of new, engaged users through giveaways, and nothing but positive comments.

Humor
Lighthearted posts featuring cars from your brand in odd places are much appreciated because it’s not necessarily a “sales” push- it’s content for content’s sake, reassuring your followers that you don’t see them as individual cash cows. For example, you can post an old Chevy covered in surf boards, or cars from your brand in movie scenes.

Seasonal Content
Though not exactly evergreen, seasonal posts garner high engagement because of their immediate relevance. Plus, depending on your location, some seasons affect everyone in your PMA! A pertinent post is a great way to reach out to a large group of people immediately.

Check the OEM site for seasonal images as holidays get closer (as the sales get announced, the images will be consistent and relevant). It’s smart to be sure that the vehicle you post a picture of is one you have in your inventory – and even one you might be running an offer on (for a masterclass in how to do this, check out Happy Honda Days). Then, sit back and watch the likes and shares come in!

Social media is an opportunity to turn the perception of car dealers on its head. Immediate customer service, entertaining content, relatable posts, and a place as a “local” business would have been unthinkable a decade ago, but Facebook and Instagram offer a unique place to interact with your sales and service customers in a whole new way. All it takes is a little creativity!