Social Media Marketers Should Attend Cars & Coffee Events

With marketing becoming personal, as social media has brought both consumers and companies closer than ever, I believe it’s time for those who pursue social media marketing in certain industries, to start interacting among the customer base they’ll be selling to. Recently, I had attended a Cars & Coffee, which I guess is the automotive version of a Wine Tasting event. Having observed the attendees and their behavior, now more than ever, my beliefs in using content over relentless advertising campaigns has been solidified. You can’t get away with a sponsored advertisement on Facebook and think you’ll get sales; it doesn’t work like that in the automotive industry.

The reason why marketers revert to advertising campaigns on Facebook for car dealerships is because they don’t know any other way to sell to consumers. These marketers haven’t attended Cars & Coffee events, which means they don’t know the thought processes behind the automotive consumer. Now I know what you’re thinking. “Everyone is not a car enthusiast”. I get that, however, people take pride in the vehicle they buy. Whether they’re deeply invested in their car or not, they are drawn to certain brands over others, and in 2015, they’re being influenced by YouTube videos and Instagram photos.

I encourage you to go on Instagram and see who is succeeding on this platform. You’ll be shocked to find 15 to 16 year old kids having 10,000 – 15,000 followers; they’re not Marketing Majors, but they have a strong sense of what the car lover wants. Visual content. Fifteen second videos and edited photos of vehicles are dominating Instagram, yet dealerships can’t seem to figure out how to achieve the same success. The auto industry as a whole has spent too many years hard selling, and as a result, marketers and advertisers transition that sell first mindset to social media platforms. That doesn’t work, especially with high school students beating well-respected dealerships to the punch on content.

I recommend to the social media marketers who want to make a quick dollar in advertising to car buyers, to attend Cars & Coffee events, along with International Auto Shows when they come to town. As a personal observation, it’s been made clear to me that not many, if any social media marketer has taken the time out of their lives to understand the market they’re getting themselves into. The best marketers who stand out among the rest are the ones who are fully engaged in the communities they sell to.

It’s not just marketers, but the sales representatives themselves. Consumers aren’t walking through the showroom doors confused and uncertain anymore. They no exactly what they want, and with tools and resources such as Edmund’s, they’re prepared to walk out without a deal knowing they can get a better price elsewhere. It’s time to stop being overconfident that Facebook advertisement can convert to car sales, and instead focus on a steady stream of native content that creates engagement and excitement.

Around 2011-2012, a wave of social media gurus enjoyed a few months and years of success, but where are they now? The next wave of social media marketers who will fail is coming, because ramming advertisement down consumers throats on social media platforms will force them to go to new platforms, where yet another group of advertisers will arise. Everything goes in cycles, and if we’re not careful we could turn off the consumer from buying a certain brand or going to a particular dealership, because the advertisement, along with boring content, provides no value to the customer.

Facebook and Instagram Are Important Platforms For Car Dealerships

With the existence of social media and the changes in how we communicate, there’s now a difference in how people shop. Instagram and Youtube has given consumers the ability to visualize themselves owning and driving the cars they see, both in pictures and videos. Facebook then comes in as being visual, while also striking a cord with customers, by writing a few sentences that make an emotional connection with the cars they own, or will own in the future. Car dealerships are far behind this curve, as car brands have taken to Instagram and Facebook, seeing results that’s creating a very loyal following.

Think back to when your parents or one of your older neighbors bought a car. Sometimes they’d be extremely loyal to a certain brand. “I only buy a Cadillac” or, “Ford makes the best cars and that’s why they’re the only cars I drive”. Today, it’s much different. Consumers aren’t as brand loyal in some cases, and can easily be influenced by other brands just by their marketing and the products they’re selling. Not only can the cars themselves influence these consumers, but also their interactions with the brands on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook is where most of the one-on-one interactions take place, and for the car dealerships who are using the platform correctly, they’re building long-term relationships with those customers. On a side note, this is where posting native content worth engaging with comes into play. If you’re posting articles from Car & Driver, Consumer Reports, or some other third party source, you won’t see engagement from your followers. By sharing pictures of vehicles in your showroom, along with exterior and interior shots of individual cars, you’ll begin to see growing interest from current and potential future customers.

I can’t stress enough the importance of interior pictures of your cars. Very few car dealerships use them on social media, and in fact, you’re withholding the most effective content you currently have. Anyone can Google search the car they want, but very few photos with the interior of the car with a real life setting. Usually most photos have a white backdrop, or fake scenery in the background, giving customers an inaccurate view of what they’ll be experiencing when they get behind the wheel.

I understand that the dealerships who do post pictures of their pre-owned lot on Facebook tend to not go too far into detail because there’s a high probability that particular car could be gone tomorrow, possibly upsetting a few followers. However, you shouldn’t be too shy from sharing your pre-owned lot, even if it’s a wide shot, especially if they’re certified pre-owned inventory where most if not all of the vehicles are by one brand.

With new cars though, post pictures, both the interior and exterior. Why have your customers go on Autotrader.com or Cars.com to get a visual of the cars you sell. While you do want them to go on your website for those details, having those pictures on Facebook too would allow interested customers to contact you via social media. This allows for instant communication, or you can try encouraging them to call if they have more questions.

As I’ve said before in multiple articles in the past, I’m very against the hard sell on social media. You’re building a community of happy customers, while also reaching out to potential car buyers. Never revert to the, “Come visit our showroom” line, because that doesn’t work. If the customer is interested they’ll visit your dealership. Your job on Facebook and Instagram is to give them a visual appeal that attracts them to your dealership and social media pages. While your ultimate goal is to sell cars, Facebook and Instagram should be used with the intent of creating a connection with the customers, whether they’ll be visiting your dealership to buy a car, or after they’ve already purchased it.

Many dealerships aren’t even using social media, and if they are, it consists of hard selling copy, along with recycled content used from some other dealership or the car brand’s advertising department. Post native content that the consumer can’t get anywhere else. That’s your value proposition on social media, and because 90-95% of dealerships don’t use Facebook or Instagram right, there’s your advantage over the competition. Social media is meant to build a long-term, and hopefully, a life-long connection with the customer. Don’t hard sell and just continue posting relevant and native content that will keep your followers coming back for more.

Dealerships Should Leverage Social Media To Build A Community

What dealerships are lacking the most when it comes to social media is a sense of community. Of course, when it comes to any business, community is a term that might not be used lightly. However, all those people who are following you, responding to your statuses, tweets, and Instagram pictures have become part of your social media circle. The people you interact with builds a virtual “friendship” over time, and especially for dealerships, a trust begins to form, leading them to a potential future purchase of a vehicle at your dealership.

What’s unique about car dealerships, or any establishment in the automotive industry, is you have a very wide range of consumers. You have high school to college-aged students in need of a first car, the middle-aged adult who is likely to be a loyal customer, the car enthusiast, contractors who need pickup trucks and transit vehicles, and the list goes on from there. I’ve said before that car dealerships should not just be selling cars, but an experience. Whenever I walk through the doors of the dealership I got my first car from, I could spend 30-45 minutes in the showroom looking at the new cars the dealership received, or check out the preowned inventory out front. You have the cars to attract customers, you just have to make them aware of what you have via social media.

There’s one dealership group in my state that has already created a community that not only extends to social media, but traditional forms of advertising; e-mail and online newsletter. By hosting Cars & Coffee events at their dealership locations, not only do car enthusiasts meet up and discuss cars amongst themselves, but they’re taking a look at the inventories these dealerships have. There’s a sense of community, and it not only reaches these car enthusiasts, but their families and friends, creating a large group of potential car buyers.

For the dealerships who don’t have the luxury of hosting Cars & Coffee events, social media becomes your best friend. By leveraging Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you can reach your previous, current, and future customers just by posting quality content and interacting with them. However, that interaction should be friendly, open to discuss cars with these people, and not sell them with, “We have these cars at our dealership, check them out.” Your account name will make it pretty clear that you probably have those models, and if that person is interested they’ll ask. Let them do the questioning first, and then you come in with the selling. By giving them the power on the platforms they’re most comfortable at, they’re going to be more open to visiting your dealership. That’s why I’m extremely against hard selling on social media, unless you’ve constantly posted great content that attracts interest.

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are where your customers are more open, social, and comfortable. That’s why the companies who’ve put the customers first, and interacted with them on a friendly level are seeing a stronger, close-knit following that is also loyal. Looking at any local media outlet or car magazine/auto website’s social media pages, the same people tend to comment. At times, you’ll notice people consistently commenting on each others comments, creating sub conversations. Dealerships can learn from this.

Vehicles are not one of those buying decisions you make in a day. It takes time and persuasion. By having a customer community through social media channels, it’s very possible that potential car buyers will be influenced by your own customers. The only way those customers play that role is if you post content that keeps them coming back to your social media accounts, engaging with the posts and pictures you’re sharing.

For instance, if you’re selling Hyundai’s and you’re evenly distributing content that covers all the models you sell, it’s very possible that the Sonata or Elantra community that purchased their cars from you, could not only influence others through their positive engagement, but it’s very likely that they’ll return and buy another car from you because you’ve built an online environment that is extremely friendly and open.

Communities through social media aren’t just meant for new car buyers. That car dealership group that hosts the Cars & Coffee events have customers for life. On the social media level, you can have that same effect. You need to build a long term relationship with these customers. Cars tend to have sentimental value, and if the owner not only enjoys the customer experience your dealership offers, but also loves the car, you potentially have a lifelong business relationship with that customer.

Car Dealerships: Find A Social Media Manager To Run Your Accounts

Having spent a lot of time visiting car dealerships’ Facebook pages, both local and across the country, it’s apparent which dealerships understand the importance of having a social media manager behind the desk and overseeing accounts. I’d say somewhere between 5-10% of dealerships have a sound social media marketing strategy where they’re posting native content on their Facebook and Instagram pages, instead of online ads and photos the car brands supplies. These dealerships are seeing a strong interest in their cars from followers, and are on occasion, asking questions about prices and other details about the cars the dealerships are displaying. For the 90-95% of dealerships who clearly have a person who has no social media marketing experience running the social media accounts, there’s a significant decrease in likes and engagement.

I want to make it clear that it’s not the dealership’s, or the person who is running the social media pages fault. However, by placing people who don’t have any social media experience outside of running their own personal accounts behind the desk, you’re putting them in a position where they can’t thrive and are completely out of their element, costing you followers and strong engagement. Sometimes, it’s almost as if dealerships’ social media pages become that Facebook friend you forgot you had, and after about 8 months, you see them on your friends list and think, “Oh yeah, I remember him!” Social media pages should never be forgotten; they must contain content worth reading and seeing, and always make customers come back for more.

Most of the dealerships that I found across the country have upwards to 10,000 – 20,000 likes on Facebook. This could be due to social media dark posts; which are ads that get sent to specifically targeted audiences, but don’t show up on your Facebook page. These ads will be seen on the side bar and in the news feeds of this targeted audience, and these ads don’t have to contain hard selling copy, a cool picture of your best car in the showroom could be enough to attract followers and likes. Through this, you have the makings of a virtual word of mouth. The people who like your page are real, not fake, and they’ll share any photo or content that’s relevant to them, making your native content go viral. This is already happening on Instagram, just on a smaller scale and without the use of advertising and spent money.

I always felt that the dealerships that are seeing great results from their social media presence, not only hired someone who understands the ins and outs of social media marketing, but also has to some degree, a passion for cars. It’s easy to identify a salesman running a page, due to the high frequency of hard selling content, which is why people are repelled from going to your Facebook page. As with any form of content, whether that be sharing local news events, pictures of your customers getting their new car, or the employees you have, it can get old. There needs to be a well-balanced mix, along with native content that contains pictures of your cars in the showrooms, or out on the lot.

I can’t stress it enough; you have an inventory, use it. While these cars are in someway like holiday decorations, show them off. No one knows you have these cars at your dealership, unless they do research from third party resources. Be that primary resource, and make sure those customers are coming to you, and not the dealership selling the same car brand 15-20 miles away.