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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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