LAS VEGAS – Auto dealers can use Facebook to their advantage but avoid getting egg on their faces by misusing it, social-media experts say.

“With Facebook, if you do it wrong, it’s worse than not doing it at all,” says Tommy McClung, CEO of CarWoo!, an online automotive firm. “If you don’t have a strategy, I’d recommend staying away from it.”

Properly used, Facebook and other social-media websites allow dealers to connect with consumers, keep in touch and enhance credibility, say attendees of a J.D. Power and Associates Internet Roundtable here.

“It is an opportunity for dealers to change old perceptions and build trust,” says Matt Muilenburg, vice president-social media for ADP Digital Marketing/Cobalt.

One dealer temptation is to pitch cars and list inventory on Facebook. But some members of the social-media set see that as a faux pas.

“You have got to be on Facebook, but to add value, not use as a direct-sales tool,” says Roy Bavaro, director-corporate marketing for the DCH Auto Group, a New Jersey-based dealership chain. “People are there for social interaction, not to be sold to.”

However, limited inventory listings on Facebook work for Jeff Kershner, Internet marketing manager for MileOne Automotive, a 4-state dealership chain with 64 stores.

“I don’t jam Facebook with inventory, but I run some listings,” he says at a recent DrivingSales Executive Summit presented with WardsAuto. “The thinking is that Facebook visitors are interested to a degree in what cars we have.”

Dealers’ community service makes for good Facebook content, such as the activities of sponsored youth-sports teams, Muilenburg says. “I think every dealer is involved in his or her community. There is so much dealers can do online to build trust.” 

Social media fosters loyalty, too, Bavaro says. “Loyalty is a dual track for dealers. We need to promote auto makers’ brands, but we also need to focus on our own.

“If we just promote, say, Honda brand loyalty, customers can drive five miles (8 km) down the street and buy from another Honda dealer.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com