Social media can be a tough marketing tool to master, but its role in the car shopping process is more pronounced than ever.  Dealers like John Pohlig of Scott Robinson Honda, who was recently featured in a USA TODAY Talking Tech video, are seeing the value of integrating social media into their sales and service process, building brand awareness and driving more customers to their showrooms and service departments.

Putting a good social media strategy into place requires more than simply setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts for your store, says Training Director Kathy Kimmel.  Kathy recommends the following as five ways dealers can better engage car shoppers through social media: 

  1. Set (realistic) goals and develop a strategy to attain them.  Automotive retail is among most ROI-focused industries out there, so it’s important to understand this point from the start – social media will help you sell and service more cars, but it’s unlikely you will be able to quantify its true impact upon your bottom line.  Set your goals accordingly.  Social media can promote better brand awareness, foster customer loyalty and generate word-of-mouth advertising, among other perks.  Determine what you want to accomplish, and then put a plan in place that assigns accountability within your staff, sets guidelines for developing content and establishes how the success of your social media program will be measured. 
  2. Have a plan to build your audience.  Creating a Facebook page or Twitter feed won’t do your dealership much good without an audience of fans and followers.  Include links to your social media pages in your e-mail campaigns, and invite visitors to your web site to “like” or “follow” you.  Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and most other social media platforms provide widgets that can be placed on your web site to make this process easy.  Also consider running a promotion to build your audience, such as offering a free oil change or entering new followers for a chance to win a prize (be sure to check your state’s legal requirements for such promotions beforehand).   
  3. Think before you post.  Chances are you’re already using social media on a personal level – take what engages you as a user into account as you develop content for your dealership.  Communicating with your customers through social media should be more than marketing copy.  Engage them with promotions, maintenance tips, new product information and news about what you’re doing for your community, and make them feel valued by posting service coupons and other “perks” just for Facebook friends or Twitter followers. 
  4. Time it right.  Facebook posts made outside of normal business hours see a 20 percent higher engagement rate, according to a 2011 Buddy Media study.  Specifically, the auto industry sees the most engagement on Sundays, yet less than 8 percent of posts are put up on Sundays.  Make sure you include timing in your planning activities, and set a posting schedule that captures the highest possible level of engagement.
  5. Participate in your own conversation!  Social media isn’t just another way to push information out to your customers – they expect the experience to be interactive.  Respond to wall posts, comments and tweets to drive the conversation and open it up to others.  If you see a customer post something positive about you on their own page, thank them!  And on the off chance they have something negative to say, reach out to them privately to make it right – they’re likely to share the story’s happy ending as well, putting you in a good light.