Richard Bustillo, general manager of Rick Case Honda in Davie, Fla., believes Facebook has finally cracked the code to help dealerships sell vehicles and service.
Marketers have long viewed Facebook as an online cocktail party -- fine for socializing but weak for selling cars.
Now that's changing. Rick Case Honda and other dealerships are starting to take advantage of Facebook's huge potential to reach customers on the users' digital home turf, by putting ads directly into their customers' news feeds.
Technical improvements introduced in September allow dealerships to take their customer lists -- with just names and e-mail addresses -- and find those people on Facebook. The "custom audience" feature allows dealerships to push ads directly to Facebook users' news feeds, the must-see center column of the home page that consists of a constantly updated list of posts by a user's Facebook friends.
Facebook users are more likely to look at news-feed ads than those in the more common ad location, the right side of a Facebook page, the social media giant says.
"Facebook is starting to understand what we need to sell cars," Bustillo said.
In June at Rick Case Honda, an employee-pricing-for-all promotion on Facebook contributed to a strong month -- 615 new vehicles sold -- the most of any Honda store nationally for the month, Bustillo said.
Facebook played a key role in the campaign's success, he said. The store took its customer list with thousands of names and e-mail addresses and identified who were Facebook users. It then delivered to their news feeds the employee-pricing offer, Bustillo said.
Facebook also has improved the ability of dealerships and the factories to put promotional videos in front of car shoppers, Bustillo said. Facebook users are three to four times more likely to click on a video than a static ad, the company has found.
Rick Case Honda in 2012 has sold 4,238 new Hondas through Oct. 23, the third most of any Honda store nationally, the dealership said.
The knock on Facebook, from a marketer's standpoint, is that although the huge social media site has been useful for automakers to promote brand awareness, it has been nearly irrelevant in the shopping process.
As recently as May, Dataium, a consulting company that monitors online vehicle shopping behavior, found that of 20 million visitors to dealership Web sites, just 120 arrived there directly from a Facebook link. Of that microscopic number, only a handful left contact information to become sales leads, Dataium found.
On the other hand, automakers have been building huge banks of friends and sending them soft sells, such as sponsored stories, that talk about topics such as the environment without a direct pitch for vehicle sales. Jeep, for instance, has more than 2 million Facebook fans.