You know, I’m still not completely sold on the need for auto dealers to create Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. There just aren’t enough case studies showing the business impact. Sure, there are plenty of anecdotes, but there’s nothing that points to a sustained impact.

The one verifiable response I’ve heard is that search engines will pull up your Facebook page if someone runs a search. Invest all that time and manpower and that’s your return? Besides, I think I’d want people going to my Website, not my Facebook page.

That’s why I was excited to talk to a marketing expert about findings in a recent Deloitte survey on how the auto industry is connecting with Gen Y. Apparently, his view of social networking is similar to mine.

“It’s a challenge for anybody right now to figure out how exactly to tap into the social networking phenomenon,” said Sameer Desai, president of Marketing Associates. “The reason why everyone wants to do it is because they’re thinking, ‘This might be a cheaper way to get to people.’ But how do you tap into it without being overtly marketing oriented?”

Buying attention with banner ads on these sites doesn’t work either, according to Desai. He found that click-through rates for these ads are pretty low. So what is it, then? How can a business substantiate the time and money needed to manage this new medium?

Well, while the Deloitte study found that Gen Y doesn’t rely on blogs and social networking when selecting a product to purchase, it did show that the age group does look at dealer reviews when deciding where to buy.

“When they do their research and have selected the vehicles, they do go to their community to find out where to buy it,” said Desai. “I think dealers have a real opportunity here.”

The opportunity Desai is referring to is the chance for a dealer to know what’s being said about his or her brand. Some businesses pay tons of money for market research firms to get that information. But in this real-time medium, it won’t take six to eight weeks to get an answer.

So, there you have it. It’s not how social networking will impact sales; it’s about what social networking can tell you about your business. And there’s tons of software out there that can help you track this information down.

Now, the tricky part to all of this is how you respond to the negative. See, in this world, it pays to have thick skin, as responses need to center on swaying what’s out there in your favor. And this is not a place to defame whoever is complaining about your service.

“When you react to the negative, you need to offer a solution,” said Desai. “And if you’re successful, it could get to the point where you’re getting a 10-to-one return. Not only are you addressing that one person’s concern, but there are 10, 15, 20 other people who are reading that strand.”

And if you’re lucky, your positive handling of a negative situation might even make you the centerpiece of a magazine editor’s column.

See, over the holidays, a cousin of mine told me about an incident involving her husband and his Samsung Digital Light Processing (DLP) TV. Well, the expensive light that runs that TV went out four months after the warranty expired. Her husband called Samsung’s customer support line about the problem and they said they could send out a technician for a fee. Not satisfied with that response, he Tweeted about his dissatisfaction.

“Very disappointed that my 15-month-old DLP TV’s color wheel would go out! Spend less than 10hrs/wk with it on, too …” he wrote.

It took exactly 27 minutes for a Samsung service rep to Tweet back: “I’m sorry to hear that you’re having problems with your DLP. Please DM (direct message) me your contact information so we can help.”

The rep immediately called my cousin’s husband once he had his contact info and asked him to explain the situation. He also asked him to fax over the sales receipt. The rep ended the conversation by saying he could not promise a positive result. Well, a day later, my cousin and her husband received an e-mail stating that Samsung would send out a repair person at no cost, which saved them $800.

“Once everything was fixed, we both posted positive Tweets about Samsung’s products and services,” my cousin wrote in an e-mail.

That example demonstrates the true value of social networking. If there’s something negative being said about you, social media provides your dealership with an opportunity to tackle what’s said head-on. And the more you can address problems in a timely and professional manner, the more you can sway public opinion.