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reputation (37)

This photo cracks me up because it looks as if the guy wants to make sure that you've noticed how good he looks in the reflection of the car!

What a stupid, selfish, conceited sounding question, right? "What do you think about me?"...

Yet this is what I see on the majority of dealership websites that I visit. 

A whole lot of "We're so awesome" and "Look at how pretty we are" or "We are the best"...

Okay, so you aren't using those words exactly, but you're using words that nobody cares about like these:

"We're a family-owned and operated facility with 35 years of experience" OR

"We have the best team of professional sales people ready to work with you..." OR

"Come visit our state-of-the-art facility to find out why we're the best choice for new and used cars in [location]"

Man oh man, I'm cringing just writing those phrases.

But why are they so bad?


And then after all of that crap, you have the nerve to put a "Rate us" page or link on your site.

"But enough about me, let's talk about you. What do YOU think about me?" 

Sounds more stupid the longer you think about it right? So let's talk about how to turn things around so that you can kick you dealership website up a notch.

First things first.

You MUST understand that every individual on the planet has a favorite word and letter. Their name and the letter 'i'. 

Why? Because nobody cares about you as much as they care about themselves. 

Now I'm not saying it's entirely bad to talk about yourself, but you need to focus on presenting yourself in a way that demonstrates maximum benefit to your customers. 

"Great, you are an award winning dealership. What does that mean for me?"

"Fantastic, you have the best leasing specialist in the entire state - that benefits me HOW?"

"Wonderful, you have a state-of-the-art facitility - how does that have a positive impact on me?"

The information you present on your website needs to be carefully thought out for maximum market penetration and benefit to your customers.

Think about the message you are conveying about your dealership to the largest traffic source you have. 

Are you presenting yourself as a truly customer-centric dealership, or are you like the rest of the pack?

In my next article, I'm going to talk about how you can take this concept and really ramp up your game. 

It's all about setting yourself apart from what others are doing, and I'm going to show you how to do that through your dealership website. 

Stay tuned...

Read more…

Over the last couple of months, I've been researching reputation management companies in and out of the automotive industry. On one hand, I found a couple of shining stars that stood out from the competition. On the other hand, they were only the best but were still missing the boat when it comes to the true potential of what reputation "management" should be.

I've been told that my posts are too long, particularly when I'm in rant-mode, so I'll keep this as brief as possible. Car dealers deserve better. The industry started getting flooded with reputation management services a few years ago and they all migrated to the same basic premise: solicit reviews through emails. While this in itself isn't a bad thing (and I'd debate anyone who thinks it is a bad thing, including anyone at Yelp), it's only a small piece of the puzzle. For a true reputation management solution to work, it needs to have an holistic understanding of how to utilize the components of online reputation as well as a grasp of how to turn a quality reputation into an amazing marketing tool.

Again, I'll try to keep this brief. It will be challenging.

More than Defensive

We've learned that defense wins championships. However, the concept that reputation management is about keeping your review star-ratings high is like saying that a car is about having a place to sit while you travel. Your reputation can do so much more for you than a star-rating just as a car can do so much more for the owner than just act as a moving seat.

The concept of reputation marketing is completely underutilized at best and butchered by some at worst. The first step, getting your star-ratings higher, is good to keep people from dismissing you altogether when searching for you. That part's fine. However, those who click through to the review sites are most likely looking for dirt. They want to know what you've done wrong. They're scanning beyond the good reviews and going straight to the bad ones.

A strong reputation management solution should go on the offensive. Expose the great reviews. When someone is out there talking about how they just bought their fifth vehicle in the last decade from your dealership, your reputation management company should be getting that out to as many people as possible. No, that doesn't mean an automated feed from the review site to your Facebook page that will end up getting seen by 50 people in their news feed and actually read by somewhere between zero and one of them. It takes more effort than that and I haven't seen anyone doing it properly yet at the vendor level.

The Search Component

How in the world has nearly every reputation management firm in the automotive industry missed the tremendous benefits (and potential pitfalls) of utilizing reputation for search engine optimization? When I was at the SXSW convention last year, Google pretty much declared that online reputation and review sites would play a role in organic rankings as well as PPC exposure, yet I haven't heard a peep about it other than a mention on another site noting that Google had taken down an Adwords account because the dealership had a bad reputation.

The two companies that had the best solution that I reviewed both touched on the benefits of reputation from a search perspective but neither have taken the appropriate actions to put together a working strategy, yet. Hopefully, that will be coming, but most in the industry haven't even made the connection despite the clear message from Google.

Botching Social Media

I'm going to keep this part extremely short because I'll start spitting and foaming at the mouth if I talk about it too long. The absolute butchering of dealership social media pages and profiles by reputation management companies and their 2008 social media strategies makes me insane. I want to grab them by the shoulders and force them to listen to reason.

Just because reputation management and social media have a connection doesn't make a RepMan consultant a social media expert. Cars and planes are similar - they're vehicles that get people from point A to point B - but that doesn't mean that having a driver's license gives you the skills to fly a 747. The potential synergies between social media marketing and reputation management are clear, but so far I've seen nothing that even remotely approaches a cohesive and intelligent plan of attack to make them sing in harmony. It's like they took peanut butter, jelly, and bread, tossed them all in a blender and said, "Look, I made a PBJ!"

(wiping foam from mouth now)

Sorry for the Rant

Okay. I'm done. It's been bugging me since NADA and after seeing what I saw last night I had to get it out there. At the end of the day, it's the responsibility of a dealership to train employees on the art of treating customers well. Those of us who have been on the retail side of the car business know that you'll have customers who will burn you no matter how hard you try to please them, but their frequency can be minimized by an appropriate company culture and a well-trained staff.

That's the onus of the dealer. On the vendor side, I'm making it a personal mission to educate reputation management companies on the proper way to position this potentially powerful marketing tool. We deserve better. You deserve better.

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There’s a misconception that has been permeating across many industries over the past couple of years. It’s the thought that “reputation management” is about getting positive reviews on sites like Yelp, Google+, and Merchant Circle. While that’s a portion of it in theory, the practice of it has turned into a huge monster that is ready to burst… possibly before the end of 2013.


It’s not the fault of the businesses nor is it really the fault of the reputation management firms. It comes down to the review sites themselves that have found themselves in the predicament of needing more reviews to gain relevance while also wanting those reviews to be legitimate. Some, such as Yelp and Google, are taking steps to eliminate the fake reviews, but even then there’s a challenge. It isn’t always easy to tell what’s real and what’s fake.


The bubble that’s going to burst surrounds two components of many reputation management services: automation and filtering. With automation, the same responses are made on dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of reviews. These are the businesses responding to people, but they’re canned and the review sites don’t like that. Google recently removed thousands of these automated replies spread across hundreds of Google+ pages.


The other aspect is much more nefarious. It is called filtering. In it, a company uses a 2-step process for soliciting reviews. In the first email, they ask the customer to take a quick survey about their experience. If the survey comes back positive, they then receive an email asking them to let the world know about their experience on the review sites, often with links to the appropriate ones.


If the first response comes back negative, the second email is much different. It is consoling. It is apologetic. It declares a need for something to be done about it and normally promises that the response is going straight to the top to be handled by the manager or the owner.


At no point in this second situation are the customers told to post a review. This friendly/unfriendly test before soliciting reviews is filtering. It’s frowned upon by most review sites and is a breach of terms of service in some. What’s worse is that if a major publication knew about it, they would certainly come down hard on the parent companies or the individual companies themselves for trying to manipulate their public reputation.


The right way to solicit reviews is through a transparent, single step process. Businesses that take pride in their service and boldly ask for reviews regardless of the perspective of the customer is the only way to get reviews the whitehat way.


That’s not where it ends, though. Getting more reviews is important, but handling the reviews – good and bad – in an appropriate manner is the real juice in reputation management. This isn’t just about getting a higher star-ranking. It’s about being gracious and humble to those that leave a good review and being helpful to those who leave a bad review.


The responses to bad reviews can be more powerful than a positive review. Nobody expects a business to be perfect. They make mistakes. When these mistakes are made, the willingness to listen to the challenges, try to offer solutions, and be sincerely sorry for the bad experience can go a long way towards helping a business improve their chances of getting more business.


In other words, negative reviews can be more helpful than positive ones in many circumstances.


The other component of reputation management that few companies explore is the search engine reputation component. Review sites are almost invisible if they’re not found on search. To see what people will be viewing, do four searches:

  • [Business Name]
  • [Business Name] [City]
  • [Business Name] Reviews
  • [Business Name] Complaints

The results on the first page of the search engine results pages will be what people are seeing. The things that appear on page two are threats or opportunities. The things that appear on page three or beyond are invisible.

The absolute most important part of reputation management is service itself. If you’re getting bad reviews, it’s not a random occurrence. It’s not “those damn internet folks” trying to ruin your business. It’s probably not your competitors or former employees being vindictive.

If you’re getting a lot of bad reviews, you might just want to improve the way you do business with your customers. As strange as it may sound, your reputation management issues may be justified. Fix those first. Everything else is just strategy and technique.

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Yelp and Siri Integration

Did you know Yelp is directly connected to Siri on the iPhone as well as apple maps? Since half of smart phone owners have an iPhone, the effects of Yelp on your business are even greater. Every 5 seconds a call is made to a local business directly from the Yelp platform on iOS, and over 30 percent of all searches on come from a mobile device.

Whenever someone asks Siri to find an “XX business type” near them, Siri automatically pulls up businesses with Yelp reviews attached. If you pull up apple maps and activate your tracking, you can view businesses in your area who all have Yelp reviews automatically attached. It simply cannot be ignored anymore. Yelp has major connections in the area of mobile and online reputation.

So what should you, as a business owner, do? Here’s a checklist:

  • Claim your page! This shows reviewers that you’re interested in their feedback and you are responsive. It also gives your company a little boost in the search engines.

  • Fill out all the details of your business, just like you have on your website.

  • Add photos. This adds a personal touch to the listing.

  • Respond to reviews, negative AND positive. This keeps the “Google Juice” flowing.

  • Run a check-in special and advertise it in your store. This will create more buzz about your business online.

  • Get ACTIVE YELPERS to write reviews for you. If they’re not active (more than one review), their review will most likely get filtered. You need to seek out people who make a habit of leaving reviews for businesses.

Following these guidelines, and identifying active yelpers will boost your business ratings as well as your SEO. It’s very clear that it’s a new age of online reviews and Yelp has staked its claim at the top.

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July 1, 2013



To All Hyundai Dealers:


With pleasure, I announce the launch of Hyundai Customer Reviews powered by SureCritic, a new and innovative program created for your dealership’s Service Department.  Hyundai Motor America designed this web rating and review program for you to leverage customer satisfaction in order to more efficiently market your dealership’s reputation, increase web visibility, and ultimately grow customer retention.


In today’s consumer-driven marketplace, automotive retailers need a web presence.  In fact, your Service Department has one, whether created by you or not.  HMA collaborated with a group of our dealers to create a program that ensures a positive presence with verified reviews from real customers.


Our approach is simple.  Customers complete a four question web survey about their service experience.  Customers can share their review on the social media sites of their choice.  Dealers can address and fix customer complaints before lower ratings post on the web.  Dealers can also share reviews via social media sites.


A six month pilot among 22 dealers produced fantastic results.

·         Ratings averaged 4.7 on a 5-point scale.  All dealers performed at 4.3 or higher.

·         95% of customers would recommend the dealer for service.


The law of averages applies to the web: The more real reviews your dealership receives, the closer your score reflects real performance, which is over 4-stars for most Hyundai dealers.  The many positive reviews overshadow the few negative reviews, but these negative reviews lend credibility to the process.


Hyundai Customer Reviews launches as a voluntary program, and I encourage all dealerships to participate.  Web ratings represent the CSI of the future.  HMA will guide you through the enrollment process and support you through the simple start-up period.


Hyundai Customer Reviews comes at no additional cost to you.  That’s how strong we feel about it.


Watch for a communication from Frank Ferrara, Executive Vice President of Customer Satisfaction, with program details.


Stay humble, stay hungry,

Read more…

Strong Review

I'm "that guy." You know, the one who thinks that 4-stars is an amazing review coming from me, the one who hasn't rated anything a 10 out of 10 since my wife's Mediterranean pasta, the guy who wonders why his kid only got an "A" and not an "A+" on a test. There are more of us out there than you think, but there's a benefit to what I call the "conscientious reviewer". You might only get 4 out of 5 stars from us, but we'll write a book and sing your praises.

That's the real key to reviews. It's the words. It's the sentiment. The stars are only important if you don't have them already.

I get discouraged when I see dealers sitting there squeezing every possible five-star review they can get. If you have 300 reviews and a 4.9 average score, you don't need more 5-star reviews. You need more quality reviews. On the surface, most dealers would say that they would want the bottom review more than the top one because it's 5-stars rather than 4. If you think about it from a customer's perspective, they will read and get more out of the top review than the bottom one. It wouldn't even be close.

Some dealers are pushing their sales team to get 5-star reviews. They are even offering spiffs to make it happen. In the example above, the person who acquired the 3-word 5-star review would get the bonus and the person who acquired the well-written, conscientious 4-star review would likely get rebuked for not prompting their customer appropriately. This is a mistake.

Reviews with less than 5 stars get read more than the others. People are waking up to the idea that these review sites are often gamed. They know. They've probably been asked at one time or another to leave a positive review for a business. They do not believe that any business can accumulate 300+ reviews and have them be almost 100% positive. That's not how the world works. As a result, when they visit a review site that's listed on the search under "ABC Motors Reviews" or whatever they type in, they're looking for the reviews that have less than 5-stars.

I'm not suggesting that you should be promoting the concept of getting 4-star reviews. I'm not saying that a 3-star review from a happy customer is better than a 4-star review. All I'm saying is that you should be encouraging your customers to write full reviews. You don't need more 5-star ratings with 3-word reviews. You need more reviews that actually tell the story about their experience. In the example above, the 4-star review will have more of an impact on a buyer's decision than the 5-star review below it. Keep that in mind as we continue the never-ending quest of review acquisition. Focus less on the stars than the sentiment.

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Sometimes, social media seems to be integrated into every part of the day. But, are companies reaping rewards or return from the social-media campfire conversations?

That would be a NO.

There are plenty of conversations that power a business to stand out from the competition, but for many, deducing all the fodder into financial gain is not easy.

The number of small businesses that have increased their social-media budget has quadrupled, and 43 percent of small businesses now spend more than six hours each week dealing with social media.

In the near future, I’d hedge to bet businesses will discover that online reviews provide more conversation in fewer places, and reveal the invisible customer – the one that got away (and launched an online review assault against the company).

Our research suggests Facebook is not the first stop when people want to check out a business; they often go to review sites beforehand.

The Verification

My team at eReputationBUILDER recently did a study on two dealerships, one with high-end buyers and the other with mid to low-end buyers. We analyzed sentiment and patterns in both review growth and customer perception.

The two departments that benefited the most with this game changing insight into customer preference and behavior were operations and marketing.

Here are our findings: Despite differences in target markets (upper-middle incomes vs. middle to lower incomes), both dealerships experienced a growth in reviews. No matter how much or how little a person spent on a car or service repair, no matter regional differences, people still wrote reviews.

  • Negative encounters that led to bad reviews for both target markets all resulted in similar descriptions – rude service, dealership was a rip-off, sales team was dishonest, etc.
  • Positive encounters varied according to the target market. This led us to conclude the variables that drive customers to write negative sentiment are much more common than the variables that evoke positive feedback.

Group 1: High-end buyers

  • Features they looked for in their car
    • Options and customization
    • Elegant and classy look
    • Speed
    • Easy Handling
    • Advanced technology
    • Push-button parallel parking
  • Features they look for in a dealership
    • Waiting room amenities (Wi-Fi, free coffee, etc)
    • Detailing their car when it gets serviced
    • Financial Transparency
    • Polite, no stress salespeople
    • The Look of success, from the showroom to the people in it
  • Experiences that led to negative reviews
    • Bad amenities (e.g. no Wi-Fi in waiting area, etc)
    • No financial transparency in the buying process
    • Salesperson was rude and not appropriately dressed
    • Dealership was dirty or looked rundown
    • People were too aggressive to get the sale

Group 2: Mid to low-end buyers

  • Features they looked for
    • Mileage
    • Dependability
    • Car Safety features
    • Warranty
    • Access to manageable payments
    • Family friendly vehicles
    • Features they looked for in a dealership
      • No hassle financing
      • No co-signer required
      • Incentives
      • Different car options in their price range
      • Nice and friendly personnel
      • Family oriented
      • Experiences that lead to bad reviews
        • Bad customer service
        • Dealer not working with them to find the right price
        • Unnecessary delays in the sales process
        • Stressful rush to make the deal
        • High waiting times for service


Brand association was stronger for lower-mid car buyers, but upper-income buyers cared more about luxury features. Dealers can leverage this research by making changes internally and invest dollars in marketing and operations. Propelled from the customers voice, reviews are measurable and certifiable.

The lower to mid-market company should link the brand name with its amenities (e.g., "INSERT DEALERSHIP NAME offers..."), while the higher-end business should advertise the luxury attraction ("Vehicle comes with push button parallel parking”).

Online review sites are a game changer, no doubt. But they are the dark horses in this race, at least in terms of where businesses are currently putting the most focus. Companies need to use these reviews to better their business practices and improve satisfaction and acquisition. Listen to what your customers are saying; and refocus according to your target market. You are sure to reap the benefits.

Jerry Hart

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Amaral Auto Sales Homepage

Take a look at those familiar little icons in the top right corner of the screenshot above. Four of the primary social media sites’ logos adorn a prominent position on the homepage. It’s not an uncommon sight. Some put them at the top. Other put them at the bottom. Some make them large and prominent. Others make them small and subtle. One way or another, most dealerships put them somewhere. They do it for a reason.

The reason is presence. We’ve all heard about the potential of social media but few local businesses and car dealers in particular have found the level of success that they would like. Finding that success is not the topic of this particular article (important though it is). Instead, we’re going to gain an understanding of the importance of social media outside of the obvious.

We all know that Facebook, Twitter, and the other networks have the potential to drive business when done right. Some would say that the effort and cost are too high, that the spend of both time and/or money can better be allocated elsewhere. This may be true for some; finding demonstrable success and true ROI from social eludes the vast majority of dealers. There’s assumed benefits, but real ROI – that’s a whole series of other posts. For now, let’s assume that you’re cruising along with a social media strategy that is basically there for presence only. You have to be there because you have to be there, but the effort or investment are currently minimal. Perhaps you’ve tried it yourself or with a social media vendor and couldn’t justify the cost. For whatever reason, you’ve taken your eye off the social media ball.

It’s okay. Many have. There’s nothing wrong with it. However, it’s important to understand one thing, one spark of an idea that you should consider before abandoning it all together. Whether you’re paying attention to it or not, others are. Your customers are. Your employees are. Even if you’ve given up on the “social” aspect of social media, there are other reasons that make it to where you must pay at least a little attention to it.

If you’re already out there finding the type of success that I’ve seen in recent weeks (and there aren’t a ton of you from what I’ve seen), then this article isn’t for you. If you’re just not sure of the importance of social media, read on…


It’s Search.

Amaral Auto Sales Search

People look for you by name. Take a look at your analytics and you’ll see that the majority of your traffic comes from people searching for a variation of your dealership by name. As with any search, there will be those who look at the search results page as a whole and click to more than one spot.

Thankfully, those who are doing their social media properly can have their social profiles easily found on searches for their name. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and LinkedIn all hold strong authority in the eyes of the search engine. This is the case for a reason. The search engines know that people like to click on the profiles. If they didn’t, the search engines would not present them so prominently. That’s one of the key factors in the search ranking algorithm – searcher activity.

When they click through from search, will they be pleased with what they see or will they be embarrassed for you over your social profiles? Will they see that you’re using social media as a communication tool or a place to put funny cat pictures? Will they see that people are commenting and you’re commenting right back at them?

If you want to give people a bad taste in their mouths before they even attempt to do business with you, have a dormant or mismanaged social profile for them to click through from search. That’ll do it very quickly. Remember, millions of Americans take their social media seriously. Studies show that 64% of social media users are much more inclined to do business with a company that is maintaining the profiles on their beloved social media sites. Is your profile up to par or better than your competitors when people click through from search?


It’s Reputation.


This is one of the most challenging concepts to communicate to clients. When we think of reputation and reviews, we think of review sites. While these are definitely important, they are best suited for defense. In other words, people look at your ratings on review sites when they’re already in the market. They do so just to make sure that you’re a dealership they’re willing to do business with, but there are challenges to that which I’ll explain below.

First, let me explain the difference in how social media reputation works. In the old days before the internet took over, asking a dealership about reputation made them think of “word of mouth”. Many made a living off of word of mouth – repeat and referral business normally led down an easier road to the sale as well as higher gross margins. That concept has been replaced in many ways to where the thought of reputation has been isolated to review sites.

The problem there is that word of mouth is not only still alive and well, it’s actually more prominent today than ever before. It’s social media. Reviews are “name defending” to allow those who would consider you to continue down that path. 4-stars, 25 point rating on Google, good on the easily visible comments – that’s a great defense. When people see that, they’ll continue looking at you.

Social media takes your reputation on the offensive. It’s not the review components on your social media page as those are rarely used and even more rarely seen by consumers. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to proactive customer sentiment communicated through their wall posts, Tweets, etc. I’m talking about making sure that people are saying positive things about you through social media. When people leave a review on a review site, there’s no commitment. They’re not really voicing an opinion that will be seen by the right people. Yes, it’s helpful, and I hope that everyone understands the distinction here. It’s just that there’s no “skin in the game” the way there is on social media.

When they post something about you to their own social media profiles, they’re telling their portion of the world (much of which is in the local market) through a venue that means something to them, their friends, and their family. This is aggressive, proactive reputation marketing and it can only be done by the consumers themselves. If they say they had a good experience at your dealership on Yelp, there’s not a great chance that anyone who knows or trusts them will ever see the review. Yes, you get the stars, but that’s defensive.

Their Facebook wall, however, is sacred. It means something to them. Their friends and family will see what they said and it will register because they trust that person. It’s word of mouth on steroids. No, you don’t need robust social media profiles to have it happen to you, but it certainly helps. When they can tell that you’re active on social media, they are much more likely to interact with you as well as commend you publicly through these venues. This is the golden ticket that, with very little effort or investment, can translate into increased business. It’s not just about defending your reputation. It’s about advancing it. This cannot be done through review sites. Social media is the word of mouth for the digital age.


It’s Presence.

March of Dimes

The last reason that social media is so important to dealers beyond the actual social aspects of it is presence. This is the easiest place for you to shine as a company. Community involvement, employee spotlights, customer highlights – all of these things express a positive sentiment about your dealership that can have an impact on your potential customers.

It’s through social media that you’re able to humanize the company. This is where the “big, bad, scary car dealer” can be shown to have a heart, to be active in the local area and charities, and to be another business just like the bakery down the block. It’s this presence component that makes abandoning or going through the motions on your social media profiles such a huge mistake. This is no longer a world that relies strictly on proximity and newspaper ads to help them buy vehicles. It’s a world that is open to the realities of entities such as businesses.

You have an opportunity through social media to show your potential customers that you’re truly better than the competition. In many ways, some dealers have decided that they’re not reaching people through social media because they don’t see the interactions. This is confusing because so many times as I talk to dealers they tell me just how active they are on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or the others, yet they somehow feel that their own presence on social media is invisible. If the strategy is wrong, they very well might be invisible. However, when the strategy is strong, the possibilities open up to turn social media into a true advertising medium.

* * *

These aren’t techniques to help you find success. These are simply reminders that social media is hot for a reason, that bad experiences in the past do not have to be repeated, and that there’s more to it than just getting likes and fans. Stay focused on improving your social media presence. Don’t let it slip. As the world becomes more and more social, you’ll want to maximize the potential benefits that can arise from this ever-changing and ever-growing medium.

Read more…


Over the past several months, we’ve been doing a ton of research in the automotive industry about how dealers perceive social media marketing. It’s something that has both thrilled and alarmed us because the results have been greatly mixed. On one hand, many dealers are starting to realize that social media is more than just a fluffy form of marketing that has not demonstrable ROI, a perception that had been growing in 2011 and 2012. Those tides have turned. However, the one alarming piece of information we discovered is that many dealers are considering social media to be a “checkbox item” for reputation management. In other words, if their reputation management provider offers social media, they’re covered.

Unfortunately, this is a bad trend. There are some pretty strong reputation management services available today. They perform some of the right activities that can be performed on the dealership’s behalf when it comes to getting more positive reviews on sites like Google Local and Yelp. The problem is that most of the social components that we’ve seen in these products and services are lacking quality and true return on investment.

It’s much the same battle that we have fought when it comes to search engine optimization. Almost all web vendors offer SEO, but must are simply not that good at it. Again, SEO should not be a checkbox item for a website any more than an engine should be a checkbox item for a car. Nobody goes out and says, “I like the way the car looks and it has all of the seats that I need. Does it have an engine? Okay, good, I’ll take it!”

Back to social media. The automotive industry has, for some reason, lumped reputation management and social media marketing into the same budget, the same type of product. This is very far from the truth. It’s a little discouraging because the effort put into a proper social media marketing strategy and the campaigns associated with it are of utmost importance and having a social media presence that is not aggressive, that acts as a checkbox to be clicked just to say it’s present for the dealersthip, is a huge mistake. Social media is growing so rapidly in both mindshare and timeshare. More people are on it and thinking about it. They’re spending more time on it than ever before. To dismiss it is a problem.

Reputation management is important. It acts as a way that dealers can protect their potential when it comes to business. People who are actively considering doing business with a dealership can be turned off as a result of bad reviews. It’s not common, but it’s present and should be treated appropriately. If having a strong reputation management service can help to save one or two deals a month, it’s probably worth the investment.

Social media, on the other hand, is proactive. It’s intended to take people and get them into the dealership and/or onto the dealer’s website. Even when it fails to do that, the fallback benefit is in the branding, getting the name and logo of the dealership in front of as many local people as possible as many times as possible to make the dealership a top-of-mind consideration when it’s time to buy a car or have service done.

If anything, reputation management should be the checkbox item. Social media needs much more attention and bad social media marketing partners can do more harm than good. Vet them carefully.

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Along with a total revamp of Maps, Google has announced at I/O, the forum and their blog the return to a 5 star review system. You can request an invite to the new Maps here. From their blog post:

Users who opt-in to the new Google Maps will now rate businesses on a scale that ranges from one to five stars. The system maintains the precision of the former 30 point scale while improving the readability and accessibility of the business listings. Your customers will be able to find up-to-date, accurate information on your business faster than ever. As a business owner, you’ll notice that past ratings have been mapped to the five star system.

Here is how the new scores are now calculated:

poor/fair = 2 stars
good = 3 stars
very good = 4 stars
excellent = 5 stars

Some other notes from Google:

  • Users on legacy Maps, mobile (Android + iOS), Google+,, and other properties will continue to see 30 point ratings for several more weeks
    • If a user is opted into the New Google Maps and clicks on a “more reviews” they will be taken to a plus page where they will see the 5 star ratings
    • However, if the same user had just navigated to the page from they would see 30 point scale
    • Note that users just searching on not coming from New Google Maps will continue to see the old results.
  • Google will no longer be asking users to rate on specific dimensions/aspects. For example, for restaurants users will no longer rate the “food”, “decor” and “service”.
    • Google will show just one overall score (they used an algorithm to translate the food/decor/service scores into a blended overall score).

To the dismay of many, Google replaced the yellow stars with the Zagat system in May, 2012 when Google rolled Places pages into Plus. It was clear from August of last year that Google was testing a return to the 5 Star system and they were never removed from local AdWords display.

The current iteration of stars appear to be universally red and it seems that they will roll out to all properties over the next few months. The new “Places” results that were spotted earlier will apparently be the results seen when visited from the new Maps interface.

Original article from Mike Blumenthal

Jerry Hart
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Thanks to the crew at Digital Dealer for the opportunity to speak on Reputation Management at Digital Dealer.

Digital Dealer may have presumed Reputation Management would be the most sought after topic at the conference.  Ah-no.   I was shocked at standing room only in some sessions but not for the topic of reviews and reputation mgmt.

The lack of butts in seats for all rep mgmt sessions reveals many dealers simply view it and the truth of what is reputation best practice as a nice to have, not a have to have. 

I likened it to hearing your smoke detector go off in the middle of the night—and you get up and remove the battery! The irritating beeping sound stops, but the fire is still raging, and you're not addressing it!

The reputation industry scandals are the clue phones that are ringing with warnings. 

For instance, Forbes released news of “mug shot extortionists” who targeted a man who had gotten a DUI.

His arrest and mug shot quickly surfaced online and his wife received an email from a service provider letting her know that for a small fee, approximately $400, the service would get the posting and photo back down. Horrified of what the item might do to her business if it were seen by distributors, she quickly complied. Problem solved.

Then several weeks later the item appeared on a nearly identical site and she received an identical offer: Pay $400, and the new item could be removed from the web. By now my friend realized she was in an endless loop of extortion. But her initial $400 is gone, and for now, at least, the damaging item lives on.

Forbes also provided this news from a source in the U.K., who asked that they not be identified by name:

“I am aware of the extortion used by most of the biggest ORM firms out there, to name one, it is [redacted]. You will see a huge list of websites they claim they are able to remove bad reviews, reports, affair complaints and trade complaints from. Our team became aware of a scandal where we found that many of these sites have either been setup by the company themselves, or have created financial relationships with the owners of the sites to remove content when paid.”

“Most of the biggest [ORM] Online Reputation Management firms are involved in this kind of mafia extortion. A client of ours who refused to do business with [redacted, but a different company than the first] found a slew of negative listings about themselves appear online just a few weeks later. The company called again and remarked they ‘knew about them,’ offering our client a reduced contract of $25k a month to remove or demote the results.” “What a racket!” said Cheryl Conner, contributor for Forbes.

There isn’t any industry or person exempt from being attacked in this way, hence proactive review building and short circuiting complaints is now mandatory to survive as a business.  Many decision makers are unaware of the dangers of reactive reputation management, versus proactive reputation management, and that is a bit frightening. 

The search engines will shift algorithms again and Dealers Google scores will soar or hit the floor, based on using honest and unbiased steps to building reviews or manipulative means to publish reviews preferentially. 

The worst practices and the impact of unbiased and dishonest reputation mgmt practices have yet to hit a dealers bottom line. Meaning, dealers have been sold worst practices, veiled as best practices that in the short term can satisfy a dealers appetite to get reviews posted and manage  negative sentiment.  Fact is, a number of our new dealer clients stopped following what they thought were best practice, fatigued from low review response rates, the hemorrhaging of removed reviews or de-ranking penalties.

What about the Google slap in August that was symptomatic of not paying attention to best practices?  Perhaps Google was elusive and sent all of us mixed messages and failed to strongly sway dealers from setting up a review kiosk in the showroom. Regardless, that's not my point. My point is unbiased and honest review building has powerful meaning. 

What I want to know is...could the next Google slap have been avoided had dealers followed the Google rules of how to harvest honest and unbiased reviews in a non manipulative proactive process. For example, will Google slap dealers who use, in my opinion, a biased process where the dealer sends a feedback survey and IF the customer is satisfied, customers are sent an email to post a positive review?

The unpredictable giants; Google and Yelp.  Will they continue to throw down the reputation gavel and sentence dealers to review purgatory who do not pay them or fail to nudge the customer to post on yelp if they are a yelper [10 reviews or more] or on GLocal if an active Google-user? Will they say, we warned you, again!  Will penalties only apply to those whose violations are the most extreme; for example, allegedly hiring for reviews,like Samsung did recently. 

Please revisit the conflict of interest page from Google and define how you define honest and unbiased in terms of how you manage your reputation and build reviews or negate complaints.

Dealers with a biased or dishonest control of reviews may see a slow decay in their reputation scores and ranking.

Will dealer decision makers shift their consciousness to a more proactive understanding and do what Google says about honesty and unbiased review building, literally!  Perhaps, we humans are wired that way; we need a good slap to our reputation before we wake up to that beeping sound, and finally call the reputation fire department to put out the review destroying fire

Jerry Hart
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Your Reputation Life after your Google Death

What happens to all your social content when you die? Do you ever think about your private information falling into the wrong hands?

Perhaps this is why I never kept a journal online or offline, knowing someone might have the pleasure of finding dirt that is sacred to me. Today we have email, electronic calendars, and myriads of documents for work and play all filed away in Google Drive. Will anyone in the future have access to them, locked away behind our passwords?

Now I’m thinking what part of my after-life reputation I want protected from the public when I die. I don’t care about parting ways with my +1's. I’m thinking I should be able to leave someone the books, music and apps I purchased rather than fretting if my Gmail or drive folder is accessed by some fruit loop.

Lawyers, scholars and the government have been urging us to prepare to protect our post mortem reputation (our content). Write a social-media will, they plead, some sort of detailed plan for how your online life should be handled after you croak.

The will is a great idea except for one thing. What if you list all your social media information and passwords in the will and a month before you die you update a password and forget to revise your will? If the social media information in that account is not accessible by the appointed “trusted contacts” because of a wrong password, that information then becomes public information. If you’re like me, I have many passwords and will change them frequently, making it cumbersome to maintain a social media will.

Here’s a review from Google’s blog:

You’d think Google Death would make his wife's life easier by managing his digital accounts for her so she can focus on the other details of handling his death.

I’d be less concerned with my Facebook account living forever, and more concerned with the wrong person accessing my private email or Google drive information and plastering it all over the internet. Sure I’m dead and would care less about my reputation, however, my loved ones might not like what they find on the net from an adversary who only wants to damage my family’s reputation and cause harm.

Google has now rolled out a technological solution, a euphemistically titled "Inactive Account Manager" tool ("Control what happens to your account when you stop using Google," the company says, i.e. die). With this tool, you set the amount of time you want Google to wait before taking action (3, 6, 9 months, or a year). One month before that deadline, if Google hasn't heard from you, it will send you an alert by either email or text message. If that month closes out and you still have not re-entered your account, Google will notify your "trusted contacts" -- you can list up to 10 -- and share your data with them if you have so chosen. The email they would get would look something like this:

Alternatively, you can set up the manager to outright delete your account without sharing it at all. This includes all data associated with the account -- Blogger posts, uploaded YouTube videos, Picasa albums, Google Voice messages, etc.  (Note to self – this is for only your Google world content, not Facebook or other social hubs).

I always say, “if you don’t have plan B, you don’t have a plan.”  Google Death is a splendid plan B when it’s time to say Ta-Ta Toots. Now you can execute your plans without you once you're gone – in a graceful way, requiring few decisions on your part. So fill out that quick form and wait for the next service from Google.

I’ll really be impressed when Google finds a way to post from the grave.

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This is part 1 in a series about building brand ambassadors at the dealership. I'll be adding more parts later, but here is the series so far:


It isn’t what you’re saying on social media that has the biggest effect on your business. It’s what others are saying about you that makes the true impact.

I’ve used those words in various forms since 2008. It’s become a cliche in my own mind because I have to say it so often; many businesses we talk to haven’t gained that understanding by the time we have our consultation even today in 2013. It’s not their fault. The social media marketing industry is challenged with laziness in many ways. Building brand ambassadors is hard work so many “gurus” prefer to stick with what they can do easily, namely posting random things and pushing for likes, retweets, +1s, repins, and other components of social media promotions that are useful but that aren’t as important as they lead their clients to believe.

There are three truths that need to be understood about social media marketing:

  • It’s a communication tool more than it’s a broadcasting tool.
  • Getting others to talk about your business in a positive manner is the most powerful thing that can happen to influence your business through social media.
  • It isn’t as hard as most think but it takes more effort than most are willing to allocate.

The easy road is to post interesting or entertaining images, text, video, or links. The more fulfilling road is to play outside of your own profiles, to make your social profiles a conduit rather than a hub, and to do the things that encourage the customers or clients who love your products, services, or ways of doing business to advocate for you online.

It’s about building ambassadors, and as inhumane as this may sound, you should be building a brand ambassador factory. Sounds creepy. Almost makes it seem like an allusion to Soylent Green. Thankfully, we don’t have to turn our customers into feed in order to make this work. We simply have to make them happy and give them the opportunities and prompting to tell the world that they love you.

The processes to do this differ from business to business. There are too many moving parts from one industry to another and from one store to another within the same industry to be able to post a roadmap or guide that would do justice to the topic, but over the next week I will be posting articles that give some general concepts to help you develop your own plan. The best way to stay on top of this (there will be much more written on this specific topic) and other social media marketing concepts is to subscribe to Soshable by Email.

More to come on this important topic very soon…

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The Importance of Brand Ambassadors

Loving Her Car

This is part 2 in a series about building brand ambassadors at the dealership. I'll be adding more parts later, but here is the series so far:


We’ve all heard the cliches.

  • “Build raving fans!”
  • “Word of mouth is the best form of advertising!”
  • “Delight your customers!”

These sayings would start to get really annoying if they weren’t 100% correct.

As I said in part 1 of this series, it isn’t what you’re saying about your brand on social media as much as it’s about what other people say. Unfortunately, many people only talk about a brand if they have something bad to say. To counter this from both a reputation perspective as well as an exposure perspective, brand ambassadors are the most important people in your public relations world as it pertains to social media.

Everyone already knows that you love your brand, that you believe in your product, and that you have the best of everything to offer your customers in your opinion. If you didn’t believe that, you wouldn’t be in business, so most claims by a company are not believed. Not every brand can be the best, but every brand claims to be the best. As a result, people go to two forms of outside sources to confirm or deny claims. They go to experts in many opinions – Roger Ebert has made and broken many movies with his words over the decades. The other place they go thanks to the power of social media and review sites is to their peers. What are other people who have already tried your brand, product, or services saying about you?

The presence of brand ambassadors is not just a matter of encouraging happy customers to write reviews. Reviews are great and extremely important, but there’s no real “skin in the game” when they post to these sites. They’re one within a group. If a company has 100 Google Local reviews, what’s one more added to the mix, at least from a customer’s perspective. It’s not a personal thing when someone posts to review sites.

Social media, on the other hand, is a personal thing. Those who take their social media seriously are much less likely to say something good about a brand. When they do, it actually means something. Their friends and family who already have an opinion about the person will take their recommendations on social media more seriously. This isn’t even taking into account Facebook Graph Search which has the potential to amplify this even more (we’ll see). This is simply looking at the state of social media today. If someone’s willing to say that they love your brand, product, or service on social media in general and Facebook in particular, it’s the most powerful review anyone can give you.

It’s the “skin in the game” that isn’t present on review sites.

If your company is actively building brand ambassadors, you’re  already seeing the amazing results. You’re hearing from your customers either through social media itself (“You were right, Bob. ABC Motors took great care of me, too!) or at the store itself. If you aren’t hearing about people coming to your store because they heard about your from a friend, you’re not building brand ambassadors. I’m not trying to use circular reasoning here. Just stating a fact. If you build brand ambassadors regularly on social media, you will hear about it at the store. It’s that simple.

In the next story, we will go into detail about how to identify potential brand ambassadors. In the meantime, be sure to subscribe to Soshable by Email to get the full scoop on how to make the most out of your social media marketing efforts.

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How to Identify Potential Brand Ambassadors

Brand Ambassador

This is part 3 in a series about building brand ambassadors at the dealership. I'll be adding more parts later, but here is the series so far:


Let’s assume, for a moment, that you have step one on the path to building your Brand Ambassador Factory covered. For those who don’t know, step one would be to make sure that your business is operating in a way that creates extremely happy customers and clients. There’s nothing I can say on this social media blog to help you there – run a good business and make people more than satisfied with the results you deliver. If you aren’t doing that, social media can’t fix it.

With the assumption that you’re running a good business out of the way, let’s move on to step two. You have to identify potential brand ambassadors. The initial requirement is easy – they have to like you. Unfortunately, it goes much deeper than that. Liking your business isn’t enough to make a brand ambassador. You have to look for other qualities to go along with it.

This is where stereotypes have to be thrown out. A hip 20-something isn’t necessarily addicted to their smartphone and Facebook. A 65-year-old grandmother isn’t necessarily still handwriting postcards to her grandchildren. You can’t identify a potential social media user without asking them. Once you start asking, you’re going to be surprised at the results.

Before you ask, you’ll want to make sure that your employees are prepared for the initiative. It is an initiative. To downplay it as something that you’re “playing with” or to isolate social media activity to a single person is a mistake. It takes every customer-facing employee at a company to really get the most benefit out of this. Have a meeting and even have everyone read this blog post first. It’s important that they get it before trying to sell them on the concept.

Here are some characteristics you’ll want to look for when determining whether or not to approach someone about being a brand ambassador for your business:


Social Media Brand Ambassadors are Social

This isn’t as much of a no-brainer as one might think. There are tons of shy people on social media. In fact, social media offers a venue for shy people to interact with their world from a safe distance which is part of its popularity. These shy people aren’t going to be brand ambassadors.

You want that person who can’t stop socializing. They are often talkative in person, sharing information without being asked. They will likely check their smartphone throughout a long transaction. If they grab it and take a peek every time it pings them with a new text message or Facebook update, they’re connected in all the right ways.


Social Media Brand Ambassadors are Friendly

We’ve all known that ever-connected person who is a total snob. Their profile is probably loaded with cynical comments, which are only slightly less cynical than what they say about people in real life.

Friendly people are much more likely to be brand ambassadors. They are the ones who carry an extra smile with them in case yours runs out of juice. They like you the moment they meet you and many people like them as a result.

This is an extremely important trait of a brand ambassador because these are the type of people who are willing to help you out when you ask. At the end of the day, very few people become a brand ambassador without prompting, which means that you want to identify those people who are willing to put their name behind a good experience they’ve had with a company. Remember, brand ambassadors are giving personal endorsements. It’s not like asking someone to post a positive review on Yelp. Getting them to post on their social media is a true endorsement. Since it’s a reflection of themselves that reaches their friends and family, it actually means something. It’s “skin in the game” which is why it’s so much more powerful than a simple positive review.


Social Media Brand Ambassadors are Extremely Satisfied

This is the moment of truth. Are they happy, and I mean really happy with your product or service? If they meet the first couple of criteria and they express extreme satisfaction with their transaction, you’ve found an ideal candidate to approach about being a brand ambassador.

You’ve done right by them and you could really use them to do right by you on social media. This is it. You’re about to get a real endorsement from a real person who is likely trusted by their friends and family.

* * *

In the next part of this series, we’ll discuss the ways to approach a potential brand ambassador and put them to work for you.

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I've shared this story before but it's worth mentioned again. I was speaking to a client about their social media presence. Well, it was actually their lack of a social media presence. They didn't have a Facebook page, they didn't realize that they had a Twitter account that had been set to Tweet AutoBlog via RSS, and they through that Google+ was a premium service that Google was selling. Don't laugh. This was one of the darkest days of my marketing career.


When I asked why they didn't have a Facebook page at the very least, he said that "they don’t want people to have the ability to talk badly about them on Facebook." After some explaining about how Facebook and social media in general worked, I got down to what was the real root of the problem. He said that he totally understood that they could post on their own Facebook profile without his permission or even knowledge, but if he had a Facebook page and he posted there then he would have to respond.

Exactly. You have to respond. You want to respond. Every customer challenge is an opportunity to shine.


Control the Feedback

Disney. Apple. Amazon. Johnson & Johnson. These are brands that regularly topped the "most loved" companies lists. They do what they can to try to make everyone happy. Despite being at the top of the list, they have haters. Many haters. Thousands, perhaps millions of people have a negative opinion of these loved brands.

Let's look at it locally. There's a Peruvian restaurant close to the office that we go to whenever we want to have a casual lunch. The food is amazing - the Lomo Saltado is the best way to fill up on $10. I took a friend there who loved Peruvian food and he hated it. He even said so on Yelp (granted, the service was uncannily awful that day, but the food didn't impress him either). You simply can't appeal to everyone.

Those who are going to complain about your business will find a way to complain no matter how hard you try to avoid it. The reality in today's uber-connected world is that you can't avoid it and you shouldn't even try. In fact, you should embrace it by allowing as many venues such as Facebook to be the place where you want to hear their complaints.

When people post negative reviews to many of the review sites or tell the story of their experiences on their social media profiles, you often have no recourse. Many of the review sites allow you to reply and you definitely should, but it still goes onto a permanent record. The complaint is logged and you can't take it down. In cases like those, it's extremely important to reply whenever possible with empathy, professionalism, a sincere desire to improve through their feedback, and (whenever applicable) a willingness to make things right for them. It's a best practice to reply to every review, good or bad, but that's another blog post.

Now, imagine if you used your social media, Facebook in particular, as a venue through which people could voice their opinions about your business. Some would say that it would get more exposure that way, particularly if they have a lot of friends, but there's a couple of reasons you'd want it here rather than on review sites. First, you definitely can and should reply to those comments. Using Facebook as a two-way communication tool allows you to shine through the dark moments and highlight the brighter ones.

The second reason is control. When they post a complaint to your Facebook page, you have the ability to control this portion of the conversation. If your reply is thoughtful and satisfactory to the user, awesome! If it starts to turn into an argument or the user becomes offensive, you have the ability to hide it. I do not recommend hiding complaints as a general practice. Take what you can from the feedback and improve your business. Stand behind your product and company and accept criticism with the professionalism and a desire to improve as I mentioned above. Hiding posts is a last resort and should only be used when the complaint turns offensive.

Thankfully, this post does not apply to many. Over the last couple of years there has been a wonderful shift towards the desire to be more open to feedback. It's a necessity with today's quick and easy methods of communication that are available to consumers. If you're still missing the point and choose to do what the image for this blog post implies, I'm not sure what else to say that can help.

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Many dealerships today view online reputation management as a reactive job of monitoring social media and product reviews and then responding to them to make certain customers know that they care.  Proactive reputation building is where you want to be today.

The reputation of your dealer or your reputation as an expert is a precarious thing. Any negative press about your dealership or a new product or service can spread online like an STD, so it’s imperative to make the most of all the positive content you do have. It is also important to proactively protect not only the dealer reputation, but that of each vehicle brand or service repair or part you represent.

Get the Good Word OUT!

I suggest you first gather all the positive dealership content and about each product or service you offer.  Positive content could include but is not limited to:

  •     testimonials / reviews
  •     success stories
  •     give back to the community stories
  •     results of survey or trial
  •     case studies
  •     certifications and other marks of quality

Continually strive to get more positive content that can be maximized for the benefit of the dealers online reputation. You know it's critical to be proactive and build positive reviews that boost your local search score and ranking.

Publicizing Positive Content
What’s critical is syndicating your content online in as many places as possible so it shows up in the first page of search results. A great place to publish content with one click of a button to social networks is

Testimonials that are as Real as they Get!...on your website
For the most believable testimonials, create an image from your 3rd party review sites, such as Yelp,
Google Local, etc. Meaning, take a screen shot of your customer reviews from 3rd party review sites and place those on your website. Testimonials copied than pasted to your testimonial website page is much more believable to a visitor than testimonials published by the company who owns the website.  I’m shocked when companies only publish raving testimonials with all 5 stars. Is this really a trustworthy dealership when I see no negative feedback or interaction with unsatisfied customers? Also incorporate testimonials into your social media strategy with links to this page. Publish them in press releases, articles, and other online and offline materials.”

Next, set up a Press, Media, or News page
Got a big announcement? Toot your horn with a simple press release (success stories are the best) and publish it first on your corporate or business news website page. This way, all other online press releases will link back to the original content on the corporate website as the source of the information.

Most important! Success stories illustrate how your dealership has helped an individual struggling with a problem. If your dealership is married to the community and gives back then broadcast it all over your social networks. The pay it forward good deeds go viral so fast and build a dealers online reputation with the power of storytelling, while appealing to a different segment of your target audience.

Jerry Hart

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Why Reputation Management Matters: Your Legacy

“The opinions in this blog are mine alone and not the opinions of who I work for”

If that isn’t clear please click here.

Recently I spoke at an “event” in Portland, Oregon. The room was not at capacity, however those that attended were very engaged. One of my co-workers welcomed the small workshop attendees and dived into best practices for website optimization, SEO and SEM. His down to earth approach, humor and Subject Matter Expertise shone brightly that morning in the Washington room at The Red Lion. Using common sense approaches he brought what some would consider a very high level discussion to level that was easily digestible.

After lunch I took the stage. As there were a couple executives from my place of employment there I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. I said “amen” and dove into Reputation Management. There was great discussion from the crowd of best practices, things that worked and what to be careful not to do and who they would recommend their peers stay away from. I was then asked if I really thought if Reputation Management mattered at the end of the day. I took a different approach then I normally do this is what my response was…

One of the most influential speakers, authors and someone who changed my life, Gary Vaynerchuk has said legacy is more valuable than currency. Right now I don’t want you to think about money. Don’t think about selling a car, don’t think about servicing another truck. Think about your children and grandchildren. Think about what they will discover about you online. For the most part, what is put online will be there in some form forever. Think about what they will learn about who you were and the organization you worked for. Taking money out of the equation, what do you want your legacy to be?

I am happy to say this made some people in the room think about what their Reputation meant. What do you want to be known for?

Safe travels.

To see what makes a good review click here

To see the 2 most critical items in reputation management click here

Oh and pardon my errors…I stink at typing:)

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Reputation Management Starts at the Dealership


With General Motors mandating reputation management to its dealers and other manufacturers considering the same course of action, it's clear that power of online reviews is catching the attention of the automotive industry at the highest levels. The old days of CSI being the primary indicator of whether or not a dealership is servicing their customers properly are quickly fading to the past. Online reviews are the future. In many ways, they're the present.
One of the biggest challenges facing dealerships today is that the outspoken consumer willing to go to review sites and leave their thoughts are most often the ones who left the dealership upset. We can provide services and techniques for getting as many positive reviews as possible, but at the end of the day it's the actions at the dealership level that have the greatest influence over whether an upset customer is going to leave a bad review and whether a happy customer is going to go through the time it takes to leave a good one.
Here are some ideas and best practices that you can apply at your dealership to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives.


Make the Owner or General Manager Aware of Risks

When a detailed negative review pops up online, it usually only takes a handful of questions asked around the showroom floor to identify the person who left the review. "Oh, ya, I remember that guy. He was completely unreasonable. Nothing we could have done would have made him happy."
This may or may not be true, but that doesn't matter. The point is that the salesperson, service provider, or manager that worked with the customer knew based upon their interactions that there was a risk that the person was leaving unhappy. They may have had an argument. They might not have offered enough for their trade. They might have waited a long time to get their oil changed. Rarely do reviews pop up from people who were dissatisfied without giving any indication while they were at the dealership that they weren't pleased.
Despite what many believe, there aren't a ton of people who go around looking to give bad reviews to every business with which they work. In many cases, they try to have their issue addressed at the store and leave feeling like their concerns were not addressed. This prompts them to be more public about their displeasure.
An owner or general manager does not attain their position without having some skills in bomb-defusing. We're faced with new circumstances that may blow up at any given time on a regular basis. Just because a salesperson or service adviser couldn't make the person happy doesn't mean that a thoughtful ear from a high-level person at the dealership can't make it work. That's not to say that the owner or general manager can make things better, but they should be able to communicate to the customer that their concerns have been heard. That's what most people want when they leave bad reviews. They want to be heard. Often times expressing their concerns to an owner or general manager is enough to let them know that their concerns will be addressed, if not for them than at least for the next person who has similar issues.
It doesn't work all of the time but there are negative reviews that happen every day that could have been addressed at the dealership with an empathetic ear.


Pay Attention to Bad Experiences at Other Dealerships

Many dealerships have started putting in measures to try to encourage online reviews near the end of the sales process. They should be having their salespeople in particular (or finance manager in some cases) discuss the importance of online reviews for the business and asking people to help them when they get home. These requests, of course, go largely ignored because there's really no reason for them to want to do so.
An exception can occur when people have a bad experience at another dealership. "I came here because ABC Motors thinks their cars are made of gold or something."
In those situations, it's a best practice to check at some point to see how the competitor is doing with their reviews. If they're doing well, then a salesperson can use this as an opportunity to get a review for their dealership.
"If you like the way we treated you, we would appreciate it if you let people know. As you can see, ABC Motors is doing a great job at getting people to write positive reviews for them on Google. We would love it if you can help us by writing a positive review for us as soon as you get home.
At this point, some would even suggest writing a bad review for the competitor. This is not a good business practice and should be avoided. People are smart. If they had a bad experience at another dealership and you ask them to write a good review for you, they may or may not follow that up with a bad review for the competitor. It doesn't matter if they do or don't - just a drop in the bucket - but you should take the high road in such instances and never encourage negative reviews even if someone had a bad experience elsewhere.


Give Exceptional Service

No program or service can hide a problem for very long. If the issue is systemic and you're getting bad reviews because you're delivering bad service, it may be time to re-evaluate your practices.

Remember that today's consumers are connected, they do research, and they are very aware of their power over businesses. The company culture shines through each employee whether it's a positive one or a negative one. If you are constantly getting bad reviews (and thankfully there aren't a ton of dealers who fall into this category in 2013) than you should take a look at the things that people are saying online. We all know there are reviews that are bad because of misunderstandings or outright ignorance from the consumers, but there are more bad reviews that echo the truth than most are willing to acknowledge. If it's a growing problem, find out what the people are saying and do what you can to improve it.

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What is Your Dealership's Personality?

It's one of the most overlooked components of a modern automotive internet marketing strategy. Some do it naturally, expressing the way they want the dealership to be perceived by customers and potential customers by instilling a unified sense of direction amongst employees, on their website, and throughout their online interactions such as on social media or when replying to reviews. Most have not set up a personality in the traditional sense and are just trying to get by day-to-day facing whatever obstacles come at them.

Your dealership's personality shines through regardless of whether you've established one or not. For most, it's one that is friendly, inviting, and competitive. This works. It just doesn't work as well as it could if the dealership took a more holistic approach to all customer-facing activities online and offline.

So, what exactly is a personality as it pertains to a dealership (or any business for that matter)? Let's start there...


Understanding Your Business Personality

It's not the easiest concept to understand. Sure, we all have a personality that shines through from the top, permeates to our employees, and (hopefully) manifests properly to our customers. It could be as simple as a "whatever it takes" personality, one that tries to communicate to customers (and employees) that we're here to earn your business and we're not going to let price get in the way. For others, it could be a community-effort personality, one that focuses on the family-owned-and-operated component that builds trust and lets customers (and employees) know that they can count on your dealership to be there for them.

Some go a more direct route. This is where the old television commercials come in with men screaming about amazing deals. This type of personality is often frowned upon, but it has been effective in the past and is, to some extent, still effective today. How long that will last, nobody knows. I would anticipate that the effectiveness is waning.

What is your focus point? That's the start of establishing your personality. Do you focus on being the volume dealer that can has the right vehicles and that can deliver the best prices possible? Do you focus on being honest and personable, making low pressure and pleasant experience the trademark of your company? Is your dealership fun with the owner wearing crazy hats and blow-up giant monkeys gracing your roof from time to time?

Whatever your focus is, you can build your personality around it. Now, let's look at the importance of establishing your personality from the dealership level straight through to websites and social media.


Why a Personality is Important

You can't be everything to everyone. You can't tell them on one hand that you're a volume dealership that does anything and everything to put them in a car, then try to be the low-pressure, awesome customer service and experience dealership that relies on repeat and referral business. You can try, but it doesn't work.

The only way to control the public perception of your dealership is to craft your personality around a single focus.That's not to say that you can't be a volume dealer that uses a low-pressure style and has a monkey on your roof. It means that you shouldn't try to communicate all of those things to your potential customers in your advertising and marketing. Different things appeal to different people, but more importantly different things turn people off. They may not care whether a dealership claims to offer the lowest price because they think that all dealers will negotiate down to the same price, particularly on new cars. They might have had a bad experience in the past with a dealership that claimed to be low-pressure, only to feel like they were getting ripped off.

The more personality types you try to maintain, the more opportunities you have to turn someone off about the dealership. Consolidate. Pick the single component of your potential personality that you feel will resonate best at the dealership and through your marketing.

Make sure it's real. If you're a dealership that questions the salespeople any time they take an up that doesn't make it into the showroom, you can't take on a low-pressure personality because your salespeople will not give that impression to the customers. If you hold gross and refuse to cater to the undercuts when your competitor down the block keeps giving away cars, don't try to take on a price-beater personality.

When you have a singular personality that resonates across all channels, you'll be able to attract customers who are seeking this particular type of dealership. That's not to say that you will be turning away the invoice minus half of holdback customers if you express a hometown, good-experience type of personality. It just means that you're targeting a particular type of customer specifically and avoiding having too many personalities that can turn more people away.

Once you've decided on a personality, it's time to make it a reality.


Building the Company Culture

Some of you have already established a true company culture and now need to make sure it's applied to your online marketing efforts. Those of you who fit this bill can skip to the next section.

For the rest, it's an absolute necessity to get the company culture built. Sounds hard. It's not. It really only takes an email or two and maybe a mention in the next company meeting.

You know who you are. Let your employees know. All of them. Here's a quick example of an email that can be sent out:

To The ABC Motors Family:

We wanted to thank you all for your commitment to our success and communicate with you some of the goals we have as a dealership. For starters, we are moving forward with a plan to adjust our marketing preference around the fact that we do business differently than our competitors.

As you know, we strive to give our customers the best experience possible. We want them to know when they buy a car or service their vehicle here, that we're going to go out of our way to make the experience an unexpected surprise. Car dealerships often have a bad reputation based upon the business model itself. At ABC Motors, our goal is to delight our customers. We need your help.

When you're communicating with customers, always be mindful that our company culture is centered around giving them an outstanding experience. We hold this with the highest regard and we will want you to as well. If you have any questions or suggestions, please email

When was the last time you sent out an email reaffirming to your employees what your company culture really was?


Translating the Company Culture into an Online Personality

This is the tricky part. How can you sculpt your message to accomplish everything that has been outlined here? You have the overview. Now it's time to make a plan. That's not something I can do directly in an article; it differs from dealership to dealership, personality type to personality type. What I can do is give you some things to keep in mind while you're formulating your holistic strategy:

  • Make Your Website Match - There's nothing worse than a generic website. Despite what OEMs have been telling you (and thankfully some are finally starting to change their tune), a unified look and feel with your competitors is not a good thing. People are no longer "internet-challenged" the way they have been in the past. They know how to navigate any dealership's website very quickly regardless of how many they've visited. Make sure that the message that you're sending out through your website matches the dealership's personality.
  • Focus on Certain Pages for Personality - You have a limited number of opportunities to communicate your personality to the dealership. It's not just a matter of putting a slogan in your header and calling it a day. Every important page of you website should reiterate the personality. The "important" page include About Us, Vehicle Details Pages, and the most overlooked but highly trafficked page on your website, Hours and Directions.
  • Build Ads with Your Personality in Mind - Whether it's television, radio, online videos, or banner ads, you should set the tone properly. If you're loud and fun, don't use boring colors and boring voices. If you're down to earth and family-focused, put the kids or grand kids on the ads. Communicate your personality consistently with a slogan and, whenever appropriate, expand on that personality by making a longer commitment in every ad.
  • Respond to Reviews with the Right Voice - There should be a consistency that flows in your response to all of your online reviews (you are replying to all of your reviews, good or bad, right?). That doesn't mean that you're saying the same thing over and over again. It means that the tone and personality flows through your responses and establishes a consistent voice. This is who you are. This is how you reply to customer complaints. This is how your reply to happy customers. Keep it unified.
  • Center Your Social Profiles Around Building Your Personality - The vast majority of dealerships do not have an appropriate voice on social media. This is different from your review response voice. It's your way of interacting with past and potential customers that reinforces that personality. There is a ton of potential symbolism involved here as well as the need to build on your presence through your personality. I will go into further detail about this in the next post in this series.

Getting the right personality in place is one of the keys to success in 2013. Most dealers have been pushing forward and having successes and failures online with their advertising and marketing. For 2013, let's eliminate the failures and improve on the successes. It starts right here.

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