There’s no question that social media has changed the auto buying process dramatically. Ten years ago, one might ask a neighbor or a friend where they bought their car. Now they can ask hundreds or even thousands of people for recommendations via Facebook, Twitter, Yelp or dozens of others of sites. And the advice they get — and take — is likely from strangers.
How can auto dealers navigate this brave new world? The first step is to understand what people are saying about their dealerships online. While dealers can never completely control the narrative, there are definitely ways to guide it.
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Step One: Listen.
The first step is to actively listen to what’s being said online. This means searching online for mentions of your dealership — Google News is a good place to start. Run a search and then set up alerts so you are notified whenever there is a new mention online. Often dealers are unaware of negative reviews that are sitting out on the Internet, damaging their brand — and likely driving buyers away. There are tools available that can help with the listening process, alerting you to new reviews so you don’t have to constantly monitor the native sites or comb through dozens of Google Alerts every day.
Step Two: Identify the sites that seem to be the most influential.
You should ask every person who visits your dealership how they heard about you, and many will name social media sites. Several will likely emerge as the most common, such as Yelp, Facebook, Cars.com and Dealer.com. Pay extra attention to the sites that are most influential among your customer base — make them a priority if your time is limited. And make sure Google is one of them. While Google+ never really took off, Google has a new feature you should know about: When customers search for a dealership (for instance, “Chevy dealers in Minneapolis”), search results include a list of dealers with star ratings based on Google customer reviews. If you haven’t Googled your dealership lately, try it now and see what your rating is.
Step Three: Respond to all reviews — good or bad — as quickly as possible.
Especially the bad. And be as specific as possible — a generic response to a bad review may be more damaging than the actual review, so I don’t recommend them.
In the case of a negative review, it’s best not to engage in a “he said/she said” type of response, but rather try to take it offline. You could respond with something like, “I’m very sorry that your car wasn’t ready when promised. I know your time is valuable and I want to make it right. Please call me at your earliest convenience at 555-555-1212 and I’ll do my best to make it up to you. I look forward to speaking with you.” Every dealership gets negative reviews — Yours will too. Whether they affect future buyers’ decisions, however, is entirely based on how you respond.
Responding to positive reviews is, of course, much easier. You can post something like, “I’m so glad you had a great experience. I am very happy to hear Bob was able to quickly resolve your sunroof issue. I will be sure to pass your comments along to him. On behalf of Bob and the entire team, we look forward to serving you again in the future.”
Step Four: Share positive views on multiple sites, including your Website.
Once they are posted online, they are fair game to share publicly.
Step Five: Proactively solicit more positive reviews for those influential sites.
Many dealers are already soliciting reviews for their own Websites, but have not suggested that customers post those reviews to social media sites. They should. Some dealers even provide incentives to customers who share their reviews — for example, discounts on service. Work these requests into all of your normal follow-up messages to customers.
This probably sounds time consuming, and it can be, especially for larger dealerships. However there are software tools available that can help manage and, to some degree, automate the process to save you time — even soliciting reviews and directing customers to the sites most in need of positive content at that time.
According to Pew Research data, 90 percent of people ages 18 to 29 use social media regularly, and even for ages 65+ the number is 46 percent. Don’t underestimate the impact that social media is having on buyers and on your dealership’s reputation — whether you know about it or not.