Cover Interview for Dealer Marketing Magazine

October 2010; Dealer Marketing Magazine.

Here are the actual interview questions and our responses from our front page cover story in the October issue of Dealer Marketing Magazine. You can read the final edited article at http://preview.tinyurl.com/6dwn3fc

Why is it important for dealers to be involved with social media?
Steenman: You need to be where people are and more than 500 million of them are utilizing social media on a regular basis.

How has social media changed consumer buying behavior?

Steenman: Social media has changed consumer buying behavior significantly. One example is the level to which customer generated information about your dealership is now being shared. The experience a customer had with your business, and how they felt about it (huge) is now almost a standard part of the next customers buying process. It used to be these types of reviews were sometimes suspect, but the standards and level of transparency required by social media sites have trained customers that it’s okay to use their real identity in these types of postings.

Which forms of social media (facebook, blogs, reviews, chat, etc.) have the most benefit for auto dealers and which forms have the least?
Steenman: These days, it’s becoming more about what others say about you than what you say about yourself. From a consumer point of view they want both sides of the story; yours, and what other customers have to say about you. If you don’t actively participate in the social media, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to be a part of the second conversation.

Can dealers benefit from partnering with social media experts?
Steenman: This is fast moving landscape and not one you can embrace on a casual basis. There’s just too much at stake. Someone outside the dealership has a much broader and more consumer driver perspective as well as a better understanding of how to grow and protect the dealership ‘brand’. Contrast the example of an employee who’s objective is to ‘just sell cars’against having professional ‘brand ambassador’. One is (rightly from their perspective) focused only on ‘making car deals’ while the other sees the value in talking about the dealership involvement in the community, or the service specials the dealership is offering that month, or about a new vehicle the manufacture is developing that is of interest to enthusiasts, or reputation management. It’s a completely different perspective. And then there’s the legal stuff. Sites like facebook make fairly dramatic rule changes on what you can and can’t do with your site and if you’re not actively following this, your site can get shut down quickly.

How do you see social media marketing integrating with internet marketing and traditional marketing?
Steenman: It’s absolutely crucial to integrate them and this is unfortunately an area of disconnect with a lot of dealers. Face it, the consumer is going to use multiple platforms (traditional media, mobile media, social media) in their interaction and information gathering phases of their buying cycle so your message needs to be consistent across multiple platforms.

What kind of content, and how much of it, should dealers post to their social media sites?
Steenman: While we’ve seen a variety of approaches, probably the biggest mistake a dealership can make is to treat social media like another ‘push’ media and acting as if it’s like a newspaper ad with a listing of cars. The thing to remember above all is that this is ‘opt in’ media the consumer has chosen to be there, and can just as easily chose to hide your feed or opt back out. The content needs to engage the end user, not the dealer who is posting it.

What is the best use of online chat technology?
Steenman: We don’t have a lot of experience with real time chat – yet, but rule number one would be to make sure that you are clear in your communication to the consumer about it’s availability and response time. There is nothing more frustrating that clicking the ‘chat online now’ button only to have the ‘not available now’ response occur.