In the past two years the social media revolution has ignited the automotive manufacturers to success.

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Auto Social Media Factoids:

Alan Mulally, Ford CEO, declared, “Social media is the future.” ….Ford’s prowess and investment in social media is legendary.
Auto industry will spend about $1.2 billion this year on social media advertising, projected to grow to $4.6 billion by 2015
Michael Wiley, GM Director of New Media says ”The secret to GM’s success is listening to conversations, including the negative comments.” GM is targeting the 80% not in the market to purchase. They are “turning to social-media to engage in meaningful connections with their customers.”
JD Power Roundtable, “Social Networking: Should it be more About Relationship Building than Selling Cars?” Social media reaches more potential new-car buyers than Google.

What is the buy-in at the dealer level?  The Dealer Debate

The two largest dealer groups diametrically disagree.

Penske Automotive Group is conservative about their role of social media for dealers contending they have “not found any real business results.”

In contrast, AutoNation  is committed to social media with its “UnDealer “campaign. “It is not about selling cars or making offers. We’re doing it because we’re trying to engage with customers.” says Gary Marcotte, Senior Vice President of Marketing for AutoNation.

Many are seeing the current Social Media Revolution as the Internet of 15 years ago!  2010 Internet is focused on social networking sites for branding, interactivity and relationship building. So the resistance in the past to the Internet adoption is now being mirrored in social media as the Internet changes in format and mindset. It’s not “IF” the dealer will engage in Social media it’s “WHEN”!  Will the dealer be an Innovator or a laggard?

Is Social Media going to ignite local Chevy or Toyota dealers?

Or are the dealers going to continue the battle on TV with who has the best 0% interest deal. Is it about who can shout the loudest and most often? Or is it about who is really listening and where are they engaging?

Car purchasing is more than a price tag war. Millions of buyers are looking for a relationship with a dealer and/or salesperson they can trust. Social media changes the mindset of the Dealer – Buyer days from a focus on “Selling Price” to “Engaging the Buyer” and “Building a Relationship”.

Dealers have lived and breathed (and it has worked in the past) broadcasting Price Driven messages. Can dealers accept that there might be a different way?  Social media is not a hype; it has become part of the fabric of social and marketing communications for Fortune 500 companies and small businesses.

More than 65% of car dealers are just beginning, are ready to start or are not using social media. There is a clear marketing opportunity.

Here’s the proof from dealers across the US:

Hyundai of St Augustine (FL) Our positive customer reviews provides us with tremendous credibility. Web traffic has increased by 40%, nearly doubled our monthly sales, having one of our best months, when the industry is experiencing one of its worst.”


Universal City Nissan (Los Angeles) boosted sales by using mobile codes. “We get as many as 20 to 30 text inquiries when we run the radio spot.”

Scott Clarks Toyota (Mathews NC –near Charlotte) Our goal is to stay connected with our customers and have the biggest dealer fan base in the US. Social media is not an advertising medium to sell cars directly. Our 4000+ Facebook fan base allows us to stay in our customer’s minds, engage them in what we are doing; serve as a platform for community involvement; and drive users to our website without increasing the bounce rate.” Internet Manager

Acton Toyota (Littleton MA – near Boston) Our Youtube presence was to showcase our dealership and engage our employees in a playful way. It was not used as individual sales tool with a specific ROI.  Rather it is part of broader SEO strategy to gain viral value to increase our search engine results.” General Manager

They have realized that social media increases brand recognition, connects with their customers and significantly increases traffic to their website. The challenge for the auto dealer is how to implement a Social Media Marketing Strategy and remain competitive on a daily basis. These are not mutually exclusive.

A step by step Digital Marketing Strategy begins with where the dealer’s marketing effort is.   Social / digital media must be integrated with traditional advertising and online marketing.

The dealer’s social quicksand is “I can have my son or friends daughter do it. They are social media junkies— texting and on Facebook all the time.” Dealers need the discipline to outsource this powerful marketing tool to specialists that know how to optimize digital media to extend their current efforts.

The real question to dealers is not if social media works – but if dealers are ready to accept that customers are asking to be spoken to in new ways thru new media. They need to invest some of their resources in connecting with buyers, where they are… on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube.

As Dave McAllister, Internet Manager at Scott Clarks Toyota said “Social media is the defining effort of business as a whole. Dealers who get involved will have a DISTINCT Advantage in the coming years. The future of dealerships is in Relationships!”