In New Orleans in January, SOCIALDEALER Vice President Ryan Gerardi was stationed at Ally Financial’s booth on the show floor of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)’s annual convention. He was there to offer dealers demos of Connect4Content, a program that is currently in its pilot stage and is slated to be bundled with the finance source’s Relationship Management Center (RMC) product.
Dealers who stopped by the booth could sign up for Connect4Content simply by logging in with their Facebook credentials at a computer station in the booth and giving Ally permission to post to their profile. Enrolled dealers receive one email a week containing a piece of content they can post to their Facebook profile with the click of a button.
“Dealers are struggling to find content for their social media sites,” Gerardi tells F&I and Showroom. “There were over 16 million cars sold in 2013 … and over 80% of those car buyers are actually using Facebook.”
The RMC, of which Connect4Content will eventually be a part, now allows dealers to send customers firm offers of credit. Both tools, Gerardi says, will help dealers drive business while sending an Ally-branded message.
“Ally has an important message for consumers. They help finance cars, so Ally needs to get that message out,” he explains. “They can do that through their own channels, but what they couldn’t necessarily do before is do that through their dealer channels — which is where those transactions occur.”
The number of conversations about car buying taking place on social media has increased 800% over the past eight years, with 30,000 such conversations now occurring daily. This amounts to around 84 million impressions about car shopping each day — a finding that led Ally Financial to launch its own Ally Auto social media channels last year. Six months ago, the finance source partnered with SOCIALDEALER on its Connect4Content program, the reputation-management firm’s content syndication solution.
“There’s really a huge social revolution going on in our business,” explains Andrea Riley, Ally Financial’s chief marketing officer for dealer financial services. “And what we’re finding is that a lot of dealers have set up social media sites — maybe a Facebook page or a Twitter account — but then they really don’t have dedicated personnel in the dealership to keep the content fresh.”
Ally made its Connect4Content program available to 500 of its Ally Champions Club dealers on Nov. 27. In the first month of the pilot, the program reached 30,000 people through dealers’ Facebook pages, a number SOCIALDEALER’s Founder and CEO Joe Castle says will “just keep compounding and growing.”
Subscribers receive two types of content from Ally through the program: engagement posts and promotional posts. The engagement posts, Riley explains, are usually articles from a third-party source containing educational information that is relevant to customers. Promotional posts include special manufacturer incentives that are often regional offers. “We have access to inside information from the OEM so it would be targeted to that specific geographic area,” Riley says.
SOCIALDEALER launched its first Connect4Content program a year and a half ago in partnership with Carfax. There are currently more than 800 dealer subscribers to the Carfax program, Castle says. The company’s end game is to create a network of content partners.
“We created the Connect4Content program because dealers don’t have access to consistent powerful content that they need for their social media channels,” Castle explains, noting that dealers must subscribe to each program separately. “Ally is our first content partner that’s in the automotive finance space.”
Currently, dealerships that are signed up for Ally’s program, such as Michigan-based LaFontaine Automotive Group’s Chevrolet store, receive a weekly email from Ally. They can approve the content directly from the email by clicking on a button in the body of the message. An “auto-approve” option is also available.
“I started out by manually approving the first couple posts, just so I could keep my eyeballs on what was going to be posted before it was done,” says LaFontaine’s Jason Stum. “But after I saw the first few, I was confident that they wouldn’t post something that wasn’t going to speak to our audience, so I put it on autopilot.”
The LaFontaine Automotive Group consists of 18 franchises in nine locations across Michigan. Stum, who previously served as a salesperson, pitched the group’s ecommerce director on letting him launch social media pages for the group’s Nissan store back in 2010. Shortly thereafter, he became the group’s digital marketing manager.
Stum now manages a team of three that oversees the group’s 48 social profiles on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google+. Facebook fans for the group’s most popular stores number in the thousands.
“For the Chevrolet store, what we were looking for is to fill some gaps,” Stum explains. “We focus a lot of our social media on showing off our people and showing off what makes our dealership special, but what I like about the content Ally’s providing is that it’s more of that educational content [about] things you should look for when shopping for a vehicle.”
Ally has stayed true to its roots in terms of the content it provides through the Connect4Content program, sticking with more auto finance-related topics. Riley says the company found that customers were looking for overall car ownership costs and information about pricing.
She adds that Ally is trying to push out content about maintaining good credit, and “what you might need in terms of a down payment, what negative equity is and why should you care, what’s a vehicle service contract and should you consider getting one — all the things that customers, when they go into a dealership, kind of turn into Jello once they get to that point,” she says.
Riley is skeptical about the industry moving to an entirely online car-buying process, but she does think today’s Internet-savvy shoppers could benefit from financial information. “I think a lot of people still want to go into a dealership, test drive a vehicle and kick the tires, so to speak,” she notes.
“The place where there’s still the most opportunity is really around trying to understand the finance process and what’s important in it, and what’s not important in it,” Riley adds. “[Car shoppers] do a good job of building a vehicle and knowing what they want, but beyond that, once they get into the dealership, they’re a little bit lost.”
The Connect4Content program currently only allows dealers to post to Facebook, but SOCIALDEALER is looking to expand that connection to Twitter, Google+ and even Instagram later this year. Castle, however, says that Facebook is a great place to start.
“Facebook is the biggest player and you need to focus there first and really get good at getting content out consistently,” Castle says.
Earlier this year, the social media giant initiated a study of five major automotive campaigns that were launched on Facebook in 2013. ComScore, the firm selected to conduct the study, found that Facebook ads increased brand searches by 11% and reduced searches for competing brands by 3%.
“You’ve got to see what content is engaging and then work with Facebook ads to drive even more business,” Castle says. “Facebook ads are the key to targeting the right content for the right audience.”
At LaFontaine, Facebook has become a great source of leads as well. In February, for instance, Stum received a message from a customer on the group’s Chrysler store profile. He wanted more information on the dealership’s inventory. “He just threw a stock number in there, skipped the whole website experience and went right to Facebook and sent our brand page for our Chrysler store a direct message,” Stum says. “I forwarded it to a salesperson and they’re handling it. Hopefully we’ll have him in a car soon.”
Back on the convention’s expo floor, Gerardi shares SOCIALDEALER’s vision for the Connect4Content program. In the weeks following the show, the company plans to launch a mobile app version of the tool, which will allow dealers to approve content right from their smartphones.
“It will be push notifications which will allow us to increase the frequency of content,” Gerardi explains. “We’ll be able to send multiple pieces a day if we want.”
At present, the company provides Ally with a content syndication report that shows how many pieces of content were approved for publishing by dealers, as well as how many shares, likes, comments and impressions the content captured once it was posted.
“We roll that all out not only on an individual post-by-post basis so partners like Ally can see and constantly work on providing better content, but on a dealer-by-dealer basis as well so the dealers can see how that content is performing for them,” explains SOCIALDEALER’s Castle.
Dealers enrolled in the program don’t yet have direct access to those reports, but when the program is rolled out in its entirety, Castle says, dealers will receive post-performance reports on the content that’s coming from their syndicated partners.
LaFontaine’s Stum says his team can’t wait. “We’re not yet seeing the engagement level that we’d want out of [Connect4Content],” he notes. “I think Ally is hamstrung a little bit by the type of content that they want to get out there right now. But I think if they could jazz it up, it will definitely be a home run.”