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Mary Henige, General Motors Director of Social Media & Digital Communications 

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I’ve been critical of many companies for not quite “getting” social media, in some cases not even by a long shot. But I can tell you after engaging in private discussions earlier this week with General Motors Director of Social Media Mary Henige as well as a public discussion I co-hosted yesterday on Blog Talk Radio with communications strategist and author Deirdre Breakenridge, GM most definitely “gets” social media far better than most.

Our thirty-minute, wide-ranging conversation yesterday on Blog Talk Radio was co-sponsored by and Ragan Communications. Henige, a 25 – year corporate communications veteran at GM and award-winning corporate communications professional, outlined the company’s approach to social media as it relates to both internal and external stakeholders. In doing so she stressed the importance of an empowering corporate culture that has provided the foundation for strong levels of internal communication. It’s that internal communication and collaboration that have been key to GM’s recent social media successes according to Henige.

“It’s not magic,” said Henige. “What we do in social media is a lot of hard work, it’s engagement, it’s building relationships and that’s something that people in corporate communications and media relations are particularly skilled at doing.”

What struck me as most interesting was the willingness and ability of Henige and her counterparts in marketing to take a collaborative approach to social media rather than one based on a turf-war mentality.

What’s even more interesting to me is the nature of that collaborative relationship. Indeed, one of the most important roles of the social media team led by Henige in relation to social media appears to be that of a trusted internal social media consulting center of excellence. According to Henige, ”Because we serve as a resource to our internal…colleagues, our expertise is sought after all the time.”

Citing GM’s sponsorship of the South by Southest Conference as an example, Henige stressed that the collaboration between GM corporate communications and various departments within the divisional brands like Chevrolet have been key to GM’s success.

“Increased collaboration is the way that you win…[Responsibility for social media - related initiatives] should be shared. If you really want to do [social media-related initiatives] well, you need to leverage the expertise of each team…We’ve made great progress this last year.”

Interestingly the collaboration has extended beyond the marketing and PR silos to also include increased teamwork between corporate communication and customer assistance. And the results there have been equally impressive.

As an example, Henige pointed out that her team was “able to help customer service reduce their lead time from about 24 hours based on when they were online down to about 90 minutes just because we were able to filter out so much of what they were seeing.”

We asked Henige to outline some of GM’s goals for social media and she explained that while the brands that fall under the GM umbrella were primarily concerned with goals related to lead generation, customer loyalty and ultimately sales, GM corporate’s first priority for the use of social media was enhancing the corporate reputation and regaining customers’ trust in the aftermath of GM’s bankruptcy.

She stressed that listening was a key component in these efforts.

“Listening is very important…We’re there and we’re still listening. And that has [also] given us a great way to collaborate among GM employees globally.”

Selim Bingol, GM’s VP of Global Communications
GM uses SocialCast as its internal enterprise collaboration application of choice and the user adoption rate has been solid with some 27,000 employees joining the internal community hosted by the web application in a single year, according to Henige. She says GM has also begun using the Town Hall feature set that Socialcast offers which has allowed managers within GM to hold Town Hall meetings online with GM employees to further enhance internal communication.

From a strategy perspective, the March 2010 appointment of Selim Bingol as GM’s new Vice President of Global Communications appears to have had a positive impact on the significant progress GM has made on the social front. According to Henige, Bingol, who recently started blogging at a new GM blog called BTW, stressed the importance of benchmarking GM’s social performance which prompted Henige’s team to undertake a gap analysis that helped to identify areas of strength as well as areas in need of improvement.

GM’s social media benchmark approach, its marketing and communications’ employees willingness to collaborate rather than compete internally, and its efforts to ensure that the GM story is communicated clearly, may together help to explain the company’s significantly improved reputation.

The recently released 2012 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ) study evaluates customer and other stakeholder perceptions of the 60 most visible companies in the country, across 20 attributes that are grouped into six dimensions of reputation:

Products & Services
Financial Performance
Workplace Environment
Social Responsibility
Vision & Leadership
Emotional Appeal
General Motors saw the greatest increase this past year among all 60 companies whose reputations are measured in the report, showing gains in every one of the six aforementioned dimensions of reputation.

Some other points of interest regarding GM’s social media – related initiatives:

GM’s FastLane blog began in 2001
GM sent out more than 1000 media releases last year
GM uses Google+ to distribute some of its news releases because of the ability to segment news releases according to blogger and media interests. Google+ also enables GM to add additional multimedia “color.”


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Interview with Whitney Willis Snow - Internet Director of Willis GM & Winner of AIS's "Dealership of the Month" Award December 2010

(READ the FULL Interview UNDER the IMAGE :)

Automotive Internet Sales “Dealership of the Month” goes to…

Willis Automotive of Smyrna Delaware

Willis Automotive of Smyrna Delaware are killing it on the Internet! They literally rose from the ashes and turned their organization around in some dark times. Willis Automotive of Smyrna is part of the Willis Automotive dealer group. They have 3 stores, Willis Automotive of Smyrna, Willis Ford and Willis Automotive of Middletown. They started their Internet initiative about a year and a half ago, right in the middle of the automotive collapse. As a matter of fact, they were one of the GM dealerships to get a letter. They lost their Chevrolet Franchise in Middletown Delaware. But this group did not let the economy beat them. They regrouped and created a NEW strategy and persevered through difficult times and are now set to reap all of the rewards from all of their hard work and tenacity. We are going to interview the Internet Director, Whitney Willis Snow-

AIS- First off, congratulations Whitney to you and your team! You just closed November 2010 with 48 units! That is AMAZING. You went from 5 units on the Internet and losing a franchise to 48 units and almost $100,000 GROSS in 30 days! I am so proud of you and very excited to share in your success.

WWS – Thank you, but it is a huge team effort. I am blessed to work with such an amazing group of people.

AIS – Whitney, your full name is Whitney Willis Snow… So, I am assuming you are an owner…?

WWS – We have a family business for over 60 years now… My mother, father, uncle, brothers etc… This is literally a family business. A small dealer group with 3 stores. I am the Internet Director and the youngest of the family in the business.

AIS – Tell us about the organization…

WWS – Simple, we are a family owned dealership with a ton of integrity. As I mentioned we have been in business for 6 decades and are very active in our community. Our reputation is everything to our family. How we treat our people… not just or prospects or clients, but how we treat our employees and each other. We strive to do the absolute best we can possibly do each and every day.

AIS – How were you engaging the Internet?

WWS – Not very much at all… We didn’t really have a strategy, no real dedication or commitment to the Internet as a “department”. As a matter of fact, when I first started working the Internet at our dealership I would simply email the prospect back once and then “hand over the lead to a salesman”.

AIS – Ok, what changed and why…?

WWS -We decided to actually build a “real” department with a strategy, focus and put resources behind it.We hired Dealer Synergy to assist us in creating the Internet Sales strategy and Standard Operating Procedures. We hired a new web design company to re-design our dealership website. We then focused on driving a lot more traffic to the dealership organically with SEO, VSEO and Social Media as well as buying leads from 3rd party providers.

AIS- What was the most challenging thing for you and the fledgling department?

WWS – That is easy… “Teaching an old dog new tricks” LOL! No, seriously… getting this accepted by the showroom floor and the sales managers. It was VERY difficult in the beginning. We had so many people that were pessimistic, resistant, non-cooperative even to the point where we felt like people were purposely trying to sabotage the department. It was crazy! I felt like, here we were, dumping a ton of resources trying to grow the business and help everyone… from salesmen to managers, but there were people that felt like we were taking away from them, or that they knew how to do things better.

AIS – How is that possible?

WWS – As I mentioned, this is a family owned dealership. Our staff has been here for a very long time. We don’t have a lot of turn over. Everyone just needs to realize to get a bigger “piece of the pie”, the “whole pie” needs to grow! We are all working towards the same goal!

AIS –What happened with the Middletown store?

WWS – Bottom line is during the whole automotive economic collapse GM sent us a letter and we lost one of our Chevrolet points. It was very hard because we have been in business for such a long time. But we decided not to shut down the dealership, we turned it into a Pre-Owned and NAPA Car Care Dealership.

AIS – How has the Internet affected your dealership business?

WWS – Point Blank… the new Internet Department SAVED us from losing our business. NO Exaggeration… The units we have been selling out of the Internet Department kept the doors open.I don’t think we could have survived the automotive economic situation without our Internet Department. We have increased internet volume and gross each month. As a matter of fact we have also increased the dealership’s total volume of sales as well as the dealership’s total gross profit.

AIS- How is everyone at the store now a days with the department…?

WWS- MUCH BETTER… there is a lot of more communication, a lot more appreciation for the department and a lot more respect for not only the department but for all of the team members in our department.

AIS- How many people are in your department?

WWS –There are 4 Internet Sales Coordinators (Phone Ninjas / Appointment Setters), my Assistant Director, and myself for a total of 6 people in the department.

AIS – What are the biggest challenges for your team?

WWS – The same, I’m sure, as all internet departments… handling people J dealing with price, objections in general, attitudes, etc…

AIS – Any advice?

WWS- Absolutely… be prepared. We have a plan of action for EVERYTHING. Phone Process, Email process… objections and rebuttals and of course “What If” process… What if this happens, what if that happens… what if, what if, what if… you have to be prepared for everything and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Sharpen the saw. That is why we are part of the Internet Sales 20 Group ( and very active on

AIS – Yes, you are! Congrats on winning the Dealership Video Testimonial!! That was AWESOME!!

Anything else you would like to add to the readers?

WWS- Yes… Don’t let ANYONE tell you that you can’t do something! Don’t let ANYONE discourage you from your goal/mission. You can do anything you put your mind too!

** Also, if anyone wants to call me directly for any advice or questions, it would be my pleasure. I believe in Synergy and in the whole Internet Sales 20 group concept. With that being said, if you HAVE any IDEAS or resources that you think are worthwhile that can help me to continue growing my department…PLEASE feel free to contact me and let me know!

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Here is an email from Whitney, the Internet Director for Willis GM...

The Willis Automotive Internet Department worked very hard all through October, ending up with 46 deliveries!!! Our best month ever so far!!! Mr. Bill Willis made a deal with the Internet Department that if we sold more than 40 in the month of October he, and Mrs. Mary Jane Willis, would fix and serve our department a fresh salad, a big baked potato, and a big filet mignon! Today--- we were served an awesome lunch (salad, baked potato, wonderful filet mignon, rolls, and warm pecan pie) with outstanding table side service!!!
Now.... just to keep everyone awake for the rest of the day ;)


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