Dealerships fall into two social-networking ranks, says Jeff Cryder.

One side joins in a half-hearted way because, well, everyone else is. The other group consists of “interesting and remarkable dealers using social media to share who they are,” he says, believing his dealership is one of those. “You want to do more than post pictures of cute pets.”

Cryder joined Lebanon Ford in Lebanon, OH, as its Facebook coordinator two years ago. He now is the marketing and communications manager for the dealership north of Cincinnati.

He is upfront in what he describes as a “tell-all” account, calling it “the confessions of a young social-media manager.” He has learned a lot, sometimes the hard way.

Successful dealership social-networking requires a shift in the “sales mindset,” although the ultimate goal remains selling and serving cars, Cryder says. “Social media isn’t a job, it’s a skill. You are a marketing professional.”

Direct marketing emphasizes ‘buy-now,’ but the “inspirational marketing” of social media takes a more subtle approach in setting the stage for a car sale.

“It’s not either-or; there is a place for both types of marketing,” Cryder says. “I have asked dealers why they’re in business and they’ll say, ‘To make money.’ But that’s the result. You start the process by building and maintaining relationships. Successful dealership social-media does that.”

Lebanon Ford uses Facebook and other forms of social media to connect with customers in various ways. One is to ask people to share online anecdotes of their first driving experiences.

The dealership also posts photos of its community involvement, such as donating money to a local high school band for each customer test drive during a certain period. About $4,000 was raised that way.

The dealership’s Facebook page also directs car consumers to “shop-like-a-pro” apps, fostering the feeling the dealership is on their side.

“Be a content creator,” Cryder says. “If social media is the fire, then content is the fuel.”

But Lebanon Ford’s initial venture into social media was not without flare ups, for a couple of reasons.

“The organization wasn’t at first able to support the initiative,” Cryder says. “Sales people weren’t prepared. They didn’t understand how to nurture the people we were interacting with. We set expectations we couldn’t deliver on.”

Alienating the social-media set comes with risks, he adds. “If you screw up, you are dealing with a powerful group that can reach out to a lot of other people.”

He accepts his share of blame. Looking back at his early social-media work for the dealership, he says, “Do you want a 23-year-old who is slightly immature to be an authentic representative of your dealership? What does it mean to be authentic publicly, and can that have negative effects?”

He has grown up and become more temperate. Among other things, he tries to show self-restraint. “When challenged, I can get belligerent, so I need to check myself there. If not, you can hurt yourself as well as the company and brand you represent.”

Skeptical showroom salespeople may wonder how social media helps sell cars, he says. “Try to convince them that we build relationships in order to sell cars. It can be hard to convince them of that, but it helps a lot if they buy into it.

“We understood what social media can do, but we needed to reshape the dealership culture.”  

Cryder uses technology such as Google Calendar and Evernote to stay organized. “I’m scatterbrained and get distracted easily and I work in bursts. If someone posts me, I need to have technology help so I don’t forget to reply.”

Opinions differ as to whether dealerships should create their own social-media content or turn that job over to an outside contractor. Cryder and social-media consultant David Johnson offer differing opinions on that.

“In a perfect world, people at the dealership handle social media, but we are not in a perfect world,” Johnson says. “Dealerships typically don’t do a good job at social media. Outsourcing can do things a dealership can’t do.”

Cryder rebuts that, saying a dealership is best-suited to tell its own ongoing story. “But don’t use social media as a right,” he says. “Use it as a privilege.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com