Ally Financial wants dealers to put their best Facebook forward

Riley: Dealers know they have to use social media, some just don't know how.

Ally Financial Inc. has a new pilot program that offers dealerships auto finance-related content for their Facebook pages.

About 500 of Ally's top dealership customers, ranked by loan volume, are testing the program, says Andrea Riley, chief marketing officer for Ally's Dealer Financial Services unit.

The content, which includes posts such as Ally's latest incentive offers, is free for now. But there could be a nominal fee down the road, depending on dealership feedback, she says.

Riley discussed Ally's foray into social media with Special Correspondent Jim Henry.

Why are you doing this social media program?

We spent lot of time looking at social media. Obviously, it's relevant to consumers who are shopping online. Social media has become a huge part of it.

There's a lot of secondary research, and primary research we did ourselves.

The statistics are pretty staggering: 30,000 conversations are going on per day, something like 800 percent growth in the last eight years. Seventy percent [of consumers] say they are likely to scan Facebook before they buy.

What do you mean by "conversations"? Is 30,000 a lot?

Those are conversations about car buying; 30,000 conversations per day translate into something like 84 million impressions about car shopping on a daily basis, specifically about the car-shopping process.

About 30 percent talk about purchasing a new vehicle; 19 percent are discussing a recent purchase. About one-third are in the purchase funnel and actively looking. Another big chunk recently purchased, and they're talking about it.

They could be saying, "Hey, I had a great experience," or, conversely, they had a terrible experience. You really have to monitor what's being said about you.

What content are you offering?

The idea is to push out posts -- a combination of engagement posts and informative, useful, kind of nonpromotional posts -- which we would push through our dealer sites. Some promotional posts would be things like a 0 percent offer or a lease pull-ahead program.

I've heard that social media content has to be sort of, well, social. It can't be too transactional, such as a dealerships listing their inventory.

In our research one of the things we found is that when people go into a business page and "like" it, they do it with the expectation they're going to get something from it.

When a customer "likes" a dealer's Facebook page, 77 percent of them say they want discounted prices; 73 percent say they want a way to interface with the dealership; 70 percent say they want lower cost of car ownership; 72 percent say they want exclusive offers and services.

How does the program work?

What happens is that, on a weekly basis, posts are pushed to whomever the dealer designates at their store. There would be, say, three promotional stories and one more, sort of incentive-type post. The dealer has the ability to say, yes, accept all that content, or just some of it, and we automatically populate their site with that content.

It could be something like: "You may qualify for lease pull-ahead. Come in to Smith Chevrolet and let us help you."

Don't dealers do that themselves?

We went out and we spoke to a lot of dealers about social media. They know they have to do it; they're just not always sure they know how to do it. They don't have the time to devote to it, and they don't want to dedicate someone's efforts to it full time.

A big part of our impetus for doing this is that dealerships activate social channels, then they don't have the ability to keep up with amount of content you need to load on social sites on a regular basis. It's important to keep the content fresh and have a reason for customers to "like" them.

You can reach Jim Henry at autonews@crain.com



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