By now, everyone has realized that social media marketing is the new word of mouth, and it can’t be ignored. What you may not realize is that launching a social media strategy requires a huge time investment, and the effectiveness of the campaign cannot be measured in the number of sales. It also requires patience and dedication. This particular form of customer communication requires a well-formulated plan and constant attention.

There is a right way and a wrong way to utilize social media. The wrong way is to use it as a form of advertising. The right way is to use it as a tool to connect, engage, inform and entertain your customer base. The main goal of social media is to engage your dealership’s brand advocates. That, in turn, will put you on more customers’ radars. The first brand advocates a dealer should turn to are its employees, including, but not limited to, the person tasked with managing your social media strategy. 

Try this step-by-step approach to an effective social media campaign:

Assess Needs, Goals and Brand Manager

There are three questions one needs to answer before a social media account is created:

• What is your dealership’s brand image?

• What market is your dealership trying to reach and what is that market interested

• What sets your dealership apart from the competition?

The answers to those questions will help a dealer assess the feasibility of engaging in social media. Additionally, the dealership will need to determine what resources are available to create and run a social media campaign, which includes identifying the employee best suited to take on the required tasks.

Now, the person or persons best suited to manage the dealership’s social media campaign may not be the IT person. Sure, he or she may know a lot about computers, but do they know about marketing and social media interaction? The best person for the job is someone who has a keen understanding of the dealership’s image, is a social butterfly, and is in the proper position to spend adequate time managing the dealership’s social media sites. Keep in mind that social media is not a one-person job. It takes a team effort to be truly successful.

Social media can also be a real morale booster. Making it work can become a personal goal for those involved. So, if an employee makes a positive comment about the dealership on Twitter that’s in line with its brand strategy, don’t be afraid to “re-Tweet” it. Not only does it make for good content, it can be empowering to the employee who wrote the original Tweet.

Researching Content and Customers

When it comes to social networking, content is critical. It has to be engaging. The best place to find that content is among the dealership’s employees. Find out what they’re into, and determine which of those activities fit the dealership’s brand image. One might also want to consider getting involved in community events, sports leagues and local charities.

Conducting this type of research will also help the dealership determine what resources are available. It will also help to formulate a timeline for how those resources will be allocated. Just remember that your employees will be the driving force behind this word-of-mouth marketing — online and offline — so be sure to listen to what they have to say. And because one’s employees work and live in the dealership’s communities, they are most likely to have a better connection with the events and organizations the dealership needs to be involved in. If anything, it will get employees to turn current and potential customers into brand advocates, which is the name of the social networking game.

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Now, supporting the organization via a social media site can be as simple as announcing the dealership’s backing of the group. And if the dealer takes its support of an organization a step further by staging a fundraising event, the dealership’s Facebook page or Twitter account is the perfect place to promote that.

It’s also a good idea to study what other dealers are doing in regards to social networking to see what they do well and what they don’t. Doing so can also be a good source of content. It’s also important that dealers keep up with social media trends. Mashable.com is a good site to start with. It’s not specifically dedicated to social media, but its articles provide a wide variety of information on online trends.

Build the Page

Content is king and variety is the king’s palace. Through research, a dealership should be able to identify several topics that not only fit its brand image, but also draw interest from the dealership’s customer base. Just remember to present whatever topics you’ve identified in different ways, whether that’s through posting photos, videos, links, quips, quotes, re-quotes, re-Tweets or announcements.

Now, before building your fan base, make sure to become a fan of other people and organizations that align with the dealership’s brand values. It’s also important to make updating one’s page a daily occurrence, and to have the page filled with content before building its fan base.

Marketing One’s Profile

After content has been added and after the page gains a few followers, start thinking about ways to market the dealership’s profiles online and offline. Making sure the dealership’s Website provides links to the dealership’s Twitter and Facebook accounts is a good starting point. Including that information on business cards and other marketing materials is also a good idea. Also make sure to include that information in the dealership’s radio spots, TV commercials and newspaper ads. Asking customers for their Twitter and Facebook accounts when attaining their phone numbers and e-mail addresses is also recommended. And make sure a link to your dealership’s Website is included in your social networking pages.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun

Remember, the more fun you have experimenting and getting creative with your message, the more fun fans will have following the dealership. This not only helps build brand value, but also provides support to the dealership’s other marketing activities.

Following the steps provided is not only a good start to creating a social media campaign, but it’ll provide an edge over the competition. Just keep in mind that social media is continuously evolving and that the current landscape can change at any moment. Market saturation will be a big factor in future changes to social media, so the longer your dealership waits to get involved, the harder it will be to gain market share.

Jordan Denham is the chief operating officer of Auto Search Technologies Inc., a provider of online solutions to the automotive industry. E-mail him at [email protected]

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