There is a rise in niche-level outsourced social media that is refreshing on one hand and discouraging on the other. It's encouraging because when agencies take the stance of focusing on a single niche such as automotive or entertainment, they are able to build up several resources to make their jobs easier and the clients' social media presence more robust. On the other hand, it allows many to create an assembly-line, one-size-fits-all mentality of automation that can actually hurt the clients.
It's one of my biggest annoyances. When I sift through the hundreds of Facebook and other social media feeds that are attached to the car dealers I follow, I often see repetition. To some extent there's nothing wrong with this; a Ford dealer in Tuscaloosa sharing the same epic image of a 1967 Mustang that a Ford dealer in Boston shared is likely a safe practice, especially if they're not posted at the exact same time. However, when I start seeing feeds that are over half-duplicated with other similar dealers, I cringe.
Where's the personality? Where's the individuality that allows Facebook and other social media sites to pump up the good and dismiss the bad? Certainly the Ford dealer in Tuscaloosa has completely different goals with social media than the Boston dealer and a diverse personality through which their dealership's humanity can shine?
Unfortunately, this simply isn't the case. Many niche social media companies have adopted as much of an assembly-line mentality as possible. Knowing what I know about social media, if I were on the other side of the discussion looking for the right type of social media I would look for certain things out of my social media partner. This is easy for me to say since we do not currently offer a product that matches these criteria; I have the luxury of speaking without bias. This is exactlywhat I would want if I were a dealer...
Seven Criteria for a Social Media Partner
I understand the concepts of scalability, profitability, and building a product that can deliver on the goods without being too cost-prohibitive. I have eliminated those thoughts from this discussion for the sake of describing an ideal situation. No vendor today offers this level of advanced social media marketing in the automotive industry (including us) today. That's a shame because it would help reshape the industry and align goals with results.
- Constant Consultation for Both Parties' Sake - Running the various social media profiles that I do, I could not imagine being effective with them if I didn't have intimate knowledge of what was going on at the companies. This isn't something that can be accomplished by a monthly call. It doesn't necessarily require a daily call, either, as that would get annoying, but a weekly touch and an open phone line are absolutely required to make sure that we were taking full advantage of the best component of social media: real time.
- Diversity of Personalities - There is no "master plan" in social media that works universally. A Chevy store in Fond du Lac may have a personality that is deeply rooted in the community. They might be one of the centerpieces of the city that plays an important role in cultural growth, education, and bringing the community together. A Honda store in Shreveport might have a completely different approach with different goals for their social media. They might be best served posting 3 times a week instead of twice a day, posting only what is relevant to their fan base that has grown used to seeing service specials advertised to them regularly.
- A Budget for Facebook Advertising - Whether through Offers, Sponsored Stories, Events, or straight up Facebook ads, the idea that a page can be maximized without an advertising budget is like saying that a car can drive really fast without gas. I don't care if it's a Lotus - without fuel the only hope to go fast is to drop it out of plane. Facebook offers by far the most cost-effective form of advertising on the internet right now. The majority of vendors who deny this are either uninformed or simply don't want Facebook taking from their chunk of the pie.
- Understanding and Focus on the Right Networks - Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are non-negotiable and should never be automated. Dealers and vendors who plug their Twitter into Facebook and call it a day are missing out. Dealers and vendors who use Hootsuite or other tools to keep their Google+ updated have missed the point (this one topic could be a blog post of its own). Tumblr, Foursquare, Pinterest, and Instagram are important and may fall in line with a strong social media presence. YouTube, Slideshare, and Flickr work well for dealers who are positioned properly with the right content. Scoop.it and a handful of other startups that we're watching are moving up on the list. Pretty much every other social network is fluff at this point. Vendors that say, "Get your dealership on dozens of social networks" are either ignorant or they believe that their clients are ignorant. The concepts of "more is better" and "it can't hurt to try" are absolutely false in social media. I'd debate anyone on this point.
- Content that Starts at the Dealership - There is plenty of generic content out there that works pretty well. In the car business, there is no shortage of content. However, the only way to get real success out of posts is to localize them. A picture of a Hyundai concept car from the Geneva Auto Show is good, but a picture of a customer's tricked-out Hyundai that drives on the local streets is much better. Vendors who are not doing point #1 will never be able to accomplish this point.
- Search Integration - This is a huge one that nobody is doing properly right now. Nobody. Social signals are quickly becoming one of the most important aspects of search engine optimization. There are those who claim to be helping a dealership's search rankings through social media by getting additional inbound links, but this is a completely different strategy than social signal implementation. Again, this is another blog post waiting to happen, but if there is nothing in the strategy that includes getting high-quality organic social interaction on your website, you don't have a true social signals for search strategy in place.
- Reputation Reinforcement through Social Media - This is one that is a "must have" for dealers. Reputation is everything. There are a few vendors who do a great job at reputation management - getting reviews, monitoring them to get the dealership's responses, and redirecting potential negative reviews directly to the dealership to allow for one-on-one conversations. Kudos to them. However, a component that I've seen done well on only the occasional social media presence is reputation reinforcement. It's not just about putting a tab on your Facebook page with a reviews feed. It's about taking the extraordinary reviews and getting them exposed to potential customers proactively.
Social media done properly can be tremendously beneficial to dealerships and just about any business out there that works with consumers. It takes a personal touch from the business that can only be achieved by doing it themselves with strong strategies and proper guidance or through true social media partners that put in the efforts, that stay on top of the trends, and that are willing to get personal and understand the personality of the business instead of blasting out generic content and hoping for the best.
* * *