LAS VEGAS –  Google and Facebook, the Internet’s juggernaut search-engine and social-media websites, respectively, with more than 1 billion users combined, actively court dealers gathered for a conference who are starving for new customer bases and wondering how best to connect with online shoppers.

Acting as salesmen themselves, top marketing agents from both online companies present their latest features during a presentation at the DrivingSales Executive Summit here. Although Facebook and Google often are pitted as bitter rivals, one common theme is shared: Car owners want to share their favorite driving moments online.

The memory dealers most favor, particularly with Millennial-aged customers, is the purchase of a first car or an upgrade to a newer model. But instead of waiting for the next family gathering to show it off, car buyers today can post a photo of their car online the same day.

Before and after the share is when the dealer can play a greater role, the agents say.

“Everyone and everything is online. Our auto shopper is getting (his) research processed online,” says Kate Balingit, Google’s dealer-industry strategist, noting 76% of vehicle shoppers consult dealer websites prior to visiting the lot.

Today’s consumers live in a 4-screen world: television, smartphone, laptop and, increasingly, tablets, she says. When a buyer arrives at a lot, he generally checks for better prices on the same model from his phone. A dealer’s ad on TV might lead to a quick search on his tablet.

“Auto shoppers love online video,” Balingit adds. “They consider online video to be the most useful form of advertising.” An endorsement from a relative or friend after sharing the online video is a vote of confidence in the product.

The dealer’s role isn’t complete after the sale, says Doug Frisbie, Facebook’s chief of automotive vertical marketing. If a driver posts a photo of his new car to his Facebook timeline, the dealer should share that on his own Facebook page.

“Social technologies are going to give businesses all kinds of tools to build digital experiences around people,” he says.

Facebook has multiple ways for dealers to reach out to customers, including sponsored advertising called “Facebook Offers,” which are coupons on a business page, and “Facebook Custom Audiences,” which allows dealers to take their customer-relationship management database and find those customers on Facebook.

“At Facebook, we think people are the organizing factor of the Internet,” Frisbie says.

Google encourages dealers to try selling vehicles through Google Hangout, the search engine’s face-to-face video tool. Balangit says a handful of dealers have used the technology with success.

Both Frisbie and Balangit agree data is key to reaching customers, but sales will increase only if it is used successfully.

Dealers should not fear intrusion, as apps from both companies are secure and pose little risk of revealing a customer’s identity to strangers. Younger car buyers become more comfortable with a tech-centric world, the two executives say: It’s to be expected.

“As an advertising professional, I don’t think you have to pretend you’re not an advertiser to fit in (with social media),” Balingit says. “I would not want marketers to focus too much on blending in, (but) instead embrace great technology that allows people to create moments (that marketers) want to be a part of.”

afoley@wardsauto.com