In my job, I often travel the country to speak to various automotive groups or facilitate classes for dealership personnel. When the topic of social media comes up during these events, usually a debate ensues over whether social media is a fad or something that is here to stay. There seems to be a firm line drawn in the sand between those who believe in the longevity of social media and those who feel this is a short-term phenomenon.
I strongly believe that social media is not a fad. Social media has revolutionized the world and significantly impacted the way we stay in touch and communicate with each other. Everything from breaking news to staying in touch with your children has changed as a result of social media. And as the saying goes, “Once the cat has been let out of the bag, it’s almost impossible to get him back in.”
A great example of how social media has directly impacted our country’s ability to capture and share information is the story of US Airways flight 1549, which crashed into the Hudson River in 2009. It wasn’t CNN or another major news network that first broke the story. Instead, the social media site Twitter was the first to blast out the news when a Twitter user on a nearby ferry boat posted a comment and shared a photo of the accident. As a result, the major news networks were forced to chase down a breaking story that the America public was already becoming familiar with thanks to Social Media.
However, it’s not just news stories that social media is starting to reshape. Businesses are feeling the impact as well. Customers have greater access to information than ever before, and are using this information to define the way they want to do business.
At the core of the social media revolution is Generation “Y”, which is the new, up and coming generation. This generation is going to be both your new customer base and your next group of dealership employees. Not only are they a highly educated (and tattooed) generation, they are also extremely technology advanced. This generation grew up using computers and tools such as instant messaging, and is engrained in the fabric of social media. If you try to discount their potential impact on the automotive industry, just think for a minute about what this generation has done to long standing businesses such as the newspaper and recording industry. What has/is happening to those two groups today?
In order to remain successful, it is crucial for businesses to evolve. While you may be hesitant or resistant to join the social media revolution, you can bet that a lot of your competition is already on board. Rather than assume that their salespeople are just “playing online,” proactive dealerships are providing their salespeople with the tools and training necessary to make the most of the social media culture and capture more business for their stores.
One of the biggest advantages to social media is that it happens 24/7. If your salespeople are connecting with customers or potential customers during the day, they are also connecting with them a night, on the weekends and even on their days off. Social media provides your customers with constant access to the information they need, and allows them to establish a relationship with your store.
However, many dealers dismiss the impact of social media simply because they don’t see an immediate return on their investment (ROI), or find that ROI difficult to measure. It is important to remember that social media isn’t about selling a car today. It’s about building relationships with your customers, so when they are ready to purchase a vehicle, they don’t even hesitate about buying that vehicle from your store. Social media also impacts customer retention. By making that connection with your customers, you keep them engaged with your store’s activities and culture, thus helping to ensure these customers continue to come back to your dealership year after year.
Also, dealers need to remember that participating in social media is free. There is no cost to join or remain active and engaged. So from an ROI perspective, what is there to lose?
There is one caveat to a successful social media presence. Dealerships need to have the “right” person in place to manage their site, or find a reputable outside provider who can manage it for them. As I’ve mentioned, social media is about instant information and constant communication. In order to be effective, dealerships need to have someone actively monitoring their sites, updating them frequently, and responding to customer posts and inquiries in a timely manner. Customers will disengage if the information on your site doesn’t change, or it takes several hours or even days before they get a response to a post.
Social media is not a fad. It is something that has taken root in our communities and business cultures, and is here to stay. If you want to remain competitive in the automotive industry, it is imperative to arm yourself with knowledge about social media, and jump into the game. If not, your competition will likely pass you by.