Social media now is an essential part of most dealerships’ marketing strategies. Maintaining engaging, up-to-date social media pages can be challenging, but the rewards can be great.

Social media helps you connect with a wider audience of potential customers, allows people to easily share your messages, pictures and contests with the click of a button and builds customer loyalty and engagement.

It also makes it simple to promote your products and services and provides an effective medium for 2-way communication between you and your customers.

Because social media is such a public forum, certain challenges come with the territory. If you're not experienced with social media marketing, you might make some mistakes.

By reviewing these potential issues, you can learn how to avoid them and how to effectively market your dealership using the power of social media:

  • A customer posts a negative comment or a complaint and you're not sure how to respond.

A frustrated or angry reaction to a customer comment on social media can be disastrous for a business. Since the birth of social media, more than one business has suffered severe customer backlash and/or lost many customers due to a poorly worded or improperly thought-out response to a comment. The thing about posting a message on your social media page is that everyone who visits the page can see it. This can be a positive or a negative.

If a customer posts a bad comment or complaint, don't panic. It happens from time to time, and it's a great opportunity to show your customers you respect their opinions and will treat them with patience and professionalism.

Always start by thanking the customer for taking the time to share his comment and giving you a chance to resolve the situation. You can outline how you propose to deal with the issue if it can be dealt with publicly, or you can send him a private message or give him a call if it is more of a private matter.

Just don't get drawn into a social-media confrontation and don't try to defend what happened or write off the complaint.

  • You're not sure if a post or picture should be shared with customers on social media. This can be tricky.

Let's say you have a picture of an automotive event your staff attended, and you want to post it to show that you are keeping up to date with industry trends and your dealership is involved in the business community. But the picture shows a few of your staff members after they had a bit too much to drink.

Should you post? If it potentially could damage your reputation or make your staff seem unprofessional, don't post it. Instead, you can write up a post that highlights your contributions to the event or get quotes from your staff members who attended.

If you're posting pictures of your customers (for example, taking a photo of them with their new car so you can post it to social media), ask for permission to use their image first. If they don't want it posted, don't post it.

The basic rule: if you're questioning whether or not to post it, you probably shouldn't. Think about how you would react to the message or picture if you were a potential customer viewing the dealership's social media page for the first time. If it would make you think twice about taking your business there, don't post it.

  • You created a social-media page because you thought it would be a good idea but you never update it.

Having a stale or out-of-date social-media page is just as bad as not having one. It gives the impression your business doesn't think it's important to provide customers with relevant information, and it might even suggest you're lazy and not engaged.

Don't let your social media pages become a home for tumbleweeds. You will not attract any new customers with pages like that.

An automated social media solution can take care of this problem quickly and easily, and can save time and effort.

You create a set of messages in advance and schedule them to post at different times throughout the month. You can even set up your posts and tweets so that they appear to specific visitors based on their age, gender and location.

Your content stays fresh and engaging and visitors know that your dealership is active. Just don't forget to check your pages regularly for customer comments, questions or messages.

Don't try to create a page on every single social-media site, because you will never keep them all updated. Focus on the big ones, like Facebook and Twitter, and go for quality over quantity. These are the social media pages customers visit most often anyway.

  • You have a social media page and it's great, but you don't know how to promote it.

Don't get discouraged. Everyone starts out small.

Integrate your social-media marketing with other marketing efforts. Advertise your social media pages on your website, encourage your email newsletter subscribers to “like” your Facebook page and follow you on Twitter and send a text message advertising your social-media contests.

Promote your pages everywhere and make all your content shareable on social media by including sharing buttons. It's quick and easy. Customers can help spread your messages, pictures and so on just by clicking a button.

Offer special promotions, contests and interesting information that is available only through your social-media pages. Encourage customers to submit their car's nickname for a chance to win a free set of winter tires, or have them tweet a picture of their car to get a 20%-off service coupon.

Engage your customers’ interest. Customers love contests and special deals, so provide them with lots of opportunities to interact on your social media pages.

Now go get social.

Shawn Ryder is director-business development for simplycast.com, a provider of automated marketing tools to the global automotive dealership marketplace.