How long have you been involved in social media? How did you get into it?

I was introduced to a little website called Friendster back in the mid-2000s along with an up-and- coming social site called MySpace. I was working in radio at the time and looking for another channel to communicate with my listeners.

Engagement was a big factor in creating a good radio program. MySpace allowed me to interact with my listeners more easily and effectively. Radio was just a one-way communication device, where sites like MySpace and Friendster allowed a two-way communication platform.

What five tips would you give to a dealership looking to start using social media more and how have those five suggestions changed over the past 10 years?

I think most dealerships struggle with looking for content. They’ve been stuck in this traditional marketing/communication rut for a while. Blasting out radio commercials and TV commercials and talking at their customers. This way of thinking has made dealerships focus on the sale and not the emotional connection they need to form with consumers. Even though trust is a huge bullet point in the traditional advertising strategies dealerships use, it is hard to show trust through radio, TV, and print advertising. I believe social media allows consumers inside the dealership, and seeing the culture of the dealership is what builds trust. I tell dealerships to believe in their culture and use that as the engine for content online.

The second tip that I would give to dealerships is to involve their employees. Get employees excited about the social presence of the dealership and open up the social media policy to allow employees to post more from work. Showing that employees enjoy what they do and where they work really appeals to today’s consumers.

Third, look for the existing social media influencers working at your dealership and get them involved in expanding the reach of your messages. They will most likely be on board since they already exercise a strong interest in social media. They might even come up with strategies you didn’t know about.

Fourth, get more into video. This doesn’t mean a bunch more walk-around videos of your inventory (which is extremely important), but videos of your dealership’s culture – what you are all about. And don’t forget your fixed ops department. Show o work that your body shop and technicians do. Find the personality of your dealership and capture it in video.

The fifth suggestion I have for dealerships is to brag about the amazing things your dealership does in your community. Spread the word of the involvement your dealership has with nonprofits, schools, sports teams, etc.

These suggestions have not changed much over the last 10 years. It’s all about creating content to highlight the culture at your dealership. Sure, you need to show off your inventory and your amazingly low prices, but every other dealership is doing the exact same thing online. Highlighting your culture separates you from the rest.

What is the biggest social media myth you have heard over the past 10 years?

In my opinion the biggest myth is that you can hire someone with a basic understanding of Facebook to run your social media marketing strategy and campaigns. This simply is not true. You must have someone who truly understands the nature of social media along with social networking, and a clear understanding of what social broadcasting is. Simply taking pictures and video inventory and throwing it out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram does not cut it. You need a good understanding of content marketing and what makes engaging content. Social media is all about emotional connection with the consumer through a user-generated website platform. Simply knowing how to put filters on Instagram pictures does not cut it as a social media marketer.

Over the years the social media manager position had a positive impact on dealerships due to the importance of being on social media, but not every dealership has bought into hiring a full-time social media manager or community manager. Why do you think this is?

I’ve seen the growth of social media managers in dealerships explode over the past three years. Many dealerships are now seeing that social media marketing is just as important as their website, search engine optimization, and search engine marketing. Dealerships that are behind the times are just filling that position with the third-party vendor the OEMs are requiring. This does not help the dealership at all. I believe all dealerships need to have somebody in-house who is familiar with social media and digital marketing, along with a background in photography and video. Using a third-party social media vendor, along with the social media manager inside the dealership, keeps the vendor in check and takes some burden off the social manager. Even though dealerships have social managers, I believe they should also have a strong third-party social vendor working with them. The third- party vendor handles a lot of day-to-day tasks, allowing the internal dealership employee to focus on leads coming from social media.

YouTube reaches more 18 to 34-year-olds and 35 to 49-year-olds than ANY cable network in the U.S.

How has online reviews and reputation changed over the past 10 years?

It’s amazing how much online reviews have taken their place in the buying process for consumers. I don’t know one person who doesn’t read reviews before they buy something on Amazon. This is also true in the car shopping process as well. About 90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a dealership. Consumers consider around 16 dealerships when shopping for a vehicle online, but only
1.4 dealerships get the customer to come in. Of course, price and inventory come into play when making that decision, but I know what customers read about a dealership also heavily influences their position. It simply comes down to what your reputation is online. Around 72% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust the local business more, but no dealership can get 100% positive reviews. Sometimes we fail the customer and they express their grievances online. That gives the dealership a great opportunity to publicly address the mistakes that were made and maintain an image as a trustworthy business. A full 86% of consumers will hesitate to purchase from a dealership that has not addressed negative online reviews.

What can a social media manager do if, or when, a customer service interaction spirals out of control online?

I think we can learn from United Airlines, which proved that doing nothing is horrible. I believe you need to address the challenge immediately and tactfully. Never publicly place blame on the customer. Something went wrong and someone is not happy. If a dealership wants to get the last word and make sure the world knows they did nothing wrong, it may cost sales going forward. I think the dealership sometimes forgets that people read these reviews and can tell when a customer has a legitimate complaint compared to a customer who is just trying to get something for free. Always absorb the blame in an attempt to take the conversation offine.

What are some ways the dealership can connect and interact with social media influencers?

This is a question I am asked quite often. My answer usually stuns people, like they didn’t realize the answer was so easy. The answer is look toward your employees first. Chances are you have two to five online influencers already underneath your rooftop. This is a great opportunity to empower them with your brand as well, giving them great tools to help promote what they sell or service along with the events and activities your dealership is always doing. These engaged employees can expand your reach on social media exponentially without your spending an additional dime. Communication is key, and providing amazing content about your dealership to your employees is critical. When you have engaged, happy employees, they love telling their network all the awesome things their dealership does.

Social media continues to evolve at a rapid pace. What has been the most challenging aspect of building your clients’ brands over the past 10 years?

The biggest challenge I face with dealership management is the thinking that social media is a broadcasting platform. They want to use the same strategy they’ve been doing with radio and TV advertisements, which scream a one-way message through the platform. I’ve been saying for 10 years that social media is a two-way communications platform. Not only do you get to put your content out, but you can also see the engagement with that content. With radio, you do not get to see the listener change the station. With social media, you can absolutely see who is tuning out. I’m an old radio guy so I’ve known that communication sells more than blasting a message. Getting a general manager or dealer principal to adopt that same mindset can be very challenging, but showing examples of how other dealerships are doing it right, as well as companies outside the automotive vertical, can sway a lot of minds.

What is the next big thing in social media?

One word – video. When it comes to content on social media, visual is king. There’s absolutely nothing that is going to change that. Long, drawn-out posts do not get the same engagement as visual content. And if visual content is a mountain, then video is the peak. Short, entertaining, and educational video is blowing up. Just look at the amount of short recipe videos that are going through your Facebook newsfeed. They are recorded from a high angle, showing all ingredients going into a bowl, and creating amazing food in a 90-second video. The younger generation is not learning how to cook with recipe books; they’re learning how to cook with videos online. You always have the people that’ll read your brochures, but millennials, the iGeneration, and even Gen Xers are turning to video to educate themselves. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, which means videos are getting shorter and shorter. One day your Facebook newsfeed will be nothing but short videos.

If you can leave our readers with one word to inspire them while creating social media marketing strategies, what would that one word be?

Communication. It is the most important thing at the dealership today. Communication with your employees. Communication with your customers. Communication through social media. Stop selling and start communicating.