Facebook: Fun -- but sells few cars
Kevin Frye: Be realistic
ORLANDO -- Despite the hype, social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube do little to help dealers sell vehicles.
Just 3 percent of 4,005 new and used car buyers polled last summer said social media influenced their purchase decision, according to a survey by market researcher R.L. Polk & Co. and AutoTrader.com, a car shopping Web site.
"It's amazing that we put so much priority on social media when it's not making us a lot of money," said Kevin Frye, eCommerce director for the nine-store Jeff Wyler Automotive Family in Cincinnati.
Frye said he has experimented for four years with social media -- with little success turning that engagement into sales. He's sticking with it, but he's doubtful that direct vehicle sales will result.
Dealers across the country are racking their brains to understand what social media can do and how much money they should spend on it.
Many dealers say that social media are good for building relationships and awareness. Many add that that social media's role in auto sales is bound to grow, so dealers need to jump in. On the social sites, dealers can post videos, pictures, blogs, answer questions and converse with customers on various topics.
And there are modest success stories: For A.J. Maida, director of digital marketing for Papa's Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in New Britain, Conn., the returns on his time and money on social media have been good.
Maida said the dealership has been selling up to five vehicles per month from social media contacts since a year ago, when the store started posting more content on Facebook and other sites and monitoring those sites closely.
But five per month is still only 3 percent of his annual sales. Papa's, in the Hartford area since 1947, sold about 2,000 new and used vehicles in 2010, Maida said.
Evidence that few buyers are influenced by social media is buttressed by another study. Dataium, which monitors auto-shopping habits online, tracked 1.5 million auto shoppers by watching the Web sites that they visited. Of those shoppers, just 9,400 linked to a dealer Web site directly from a social media site.
Just six of those 9,400 shoppers sent a message to the dealer asking for a follow-up, said Jason Ezell, president and co-founder of Dataium.
"The number is almost depressingly small," Ezell said.
Despite the data, Ezell suggests that dealers create presence on Facebook and other social media sites. With 500 million global users as of last July, Facebook is just too big to ignore, Ezell said.
It's like billboard advertising: Lots of people will pass it and a few will notice, he said.
Mark Pauze, a Polk senior solutions consultant, said Web sites of carmakers, dealers and third-party shopping sites overshadow the influence of Facebook and other social media to move metal. Web sites provide customers a wealth of auto information, and they channel shoppers to salespeople.
Frye of the Jeff Wyler group said it's important for dealers to use social media to build friendly relationships with potential buyers and the community. But, at all costs avoid annoying people by posting vehicle inventory, appealing for Facebook friends or using clichés, such as Confucius quotes, he said.
"People will unfriend you," said Frye, speaking at the Digital Dealer Conference & Exposition in April.
Perhaps the main benefit of engaging customers and the community via social media is better search-engine results, Frye said.
Google, which channels nearly two in three online vehicle shoppers to dealer Web sites, picks up on social media chatter, Frye said.
This chatter helps dealer Web sites appear on the first page of a shopper's Google search, he said. Most Google users select businesses from that first page.
From that standpoint, social media have an indirect but significant impact in raising shoppers' awareness of dealers, Frye said.
Maida said results for Papa's have been tangible.
Salespeople are trained at the store to ask buyers how they learned of Papa's and what influenced them to visit. Up to five buyers per month cite social media interaction, such as viewing charity events on Papa's site, responding to a question of the day and seeing a testimonial from a friend, Maida said.
"Social media is like a giant cocktail party," he said. "It's not a place to sell, but it presents an opportunity to let people know what you do and that you're there to help them."
In an example of low-key relationship building, Maida said that he planned to ask the dealer's Facebook friends a question about the royal wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton.
The influence of social media on car-buying decisions is likely to grow as more people tune in to them, said Polk's Pauze.
Many vendors offer to help dealers open social media accounts, provide content to them or monitor them for negative reviews. The small industry of consultants, software companies and others add to the hype of social media.
Frye says dealers just need to be realistic about the return they'll get from social media.
He said each of Jeff Wyler's nine stores has a Facebook page and the overall company has another. They gave up long ago gathering as many Facebook friends as possible and trying to sell directly via social media. He said he realized being a Facebook friend with a dealer wasn't terribly exciting.
Now, they do things like make sure they never miss an opportunity to wish their Facebook friends a happy birthday.
Frye said: "The simplest improvement we made was decide to relax."
-- Posting inventory. People aren't expecting a hard sell.
-- Over-posting. Be friendly and unobtrusive.
-- Posting clichés, such as ‘Confucius says … '
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