Over a five-day stretch, thousands of dealers, thought leaders and allied industry members met at the Driving Sales Executive Summit, Digital Dealer Conference and J.D. Power Automotive Marketing Roundtable in Las Vegas to discuss best practices and industry trends. Presentations and workshops covered an array of topics, with social media, mobile, “Big Data” and search strategy emerging as key themes of all three events . Let’s take a look at a few takeaways related to the conversation on social media.

From Facebook’s Doug Frisbee and Patrick Workman to Kain Automotive’s David Kain and SEOmoz CEO Rand Fishkin, industry leaders agree that social media is changing the way consumers shop, leaving little debate surrounding the importance of automotive brands and dealerships alike having a social media strategy. In fact, in sessions at the DrivingSales Executive Summit and Digital Dealer, Frisbee and Workman shared that 71% of Facebook users are influenced by social comments and, contrary to popular belief, 20% of Facebook users are over 55 years of age, implying that usage has become mainstream and a powerful influence point in the shopping process.

At all three conferences, there was much discussion over whether or not day-to-day social responsibilities should be handled in-house or with an outside partner. At the Search and Social Panel during the J.D. Power Automotive Marketing Roundtable, Kain argued that even though managing social media in-house is preferable, it’s often “not realistic” for dealers without prior experience. That said, Kain continued, dealers must work closely with any outside partners to ensure they truly own their online reputation management efforts.

In a separate session at DrivingSales, however, Jeff Cryder of Lebanon Ford argued that dealers must manage their social media in-house to truly align with their “authentic self.” Cryder advised dealers to begin their processes by identifying why their customers should care about a dealership’s social presence, then work to develop content that supports their store’s mission and vision.

Beyond the immediate benefits of doing social media well, such as garnering customer engagement through comments, retweets and “likes,” a sound social media strategy also has a profound impact on organic search. As Fishkin discussed during his keynote at Driving Sales, social media and SEO are merging. To effectively leverage social for SEO, Fishkin said, it’s important to have a strong brand message, optimize the timing and format of social posts, and emphasize video content.

The final step of any great social strategy is testing and iteration, said Fishkin and other experts throughout the conferences. Understanding what your audience responds to is difficult, so it’s best to experiment with a variety of posts and types of content to determine what resonates best with your audience. By setting goals and evaluating metrics through Facebook Insights, Twitter, online reviews and URL short-links (i.e. bit.ly), you can define success and continue to grow and engage your dealership’s community.

Across the board, however, speakers agreed that the main driver for any effective social media strategy is creating content that is authentic, relevant and engaging to your dealership’s audience.

“Nobody cares about your logo but you,” said Driving Sales / J.D. Power keynote speaker, Scott Stratten, “your brand is how your customers define you.”

For those of you who attended the conferences, what were your social media takeaways?

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