Many dealers have used social media to sell replacement parts, after-market accessories, maintenance, repairs and vehicles — basically, everything they offer.

Social media, used correctly, can generate revenue. Here are 10 tips for that:

  1. Expand your definition of social media. The tendency in social media is to focus on the latest and greatest social media platforms (i.e. Twitter and Facebook). While these behemoths should not be ignored, it should be noted that dealers have successfully generated sales on “old-fashioned” forums and blogs for the better part of a decade.
  2. Don't polarize your audience. It might seem obvious, but talking about politics or religion on your favorite social media website is bad business.
  3. Embrace the competition. Believe it or not, competitors often help each other generate business. If a customer is going to buy from someone else, why not recommend a social media-savvy competitor who can reciprocate at some point?
  4. Build a reputation of being helpful. Helping people solve problems — especially in situations where your dealership has no reasonable expectation of generating revenue — is the easiest way to build a positive reputation in an online community. Use your social media presence to reach out to consumers in need of advice or a friendly ear and advertise a standing offer to help consumers in your particular niche.
  5. Leverage official info to build authority. Sharing official information on social media sites is an easy way to build authority with consumers. The good news is that “official information” is easy for a dealership to come by. Anything from specific text in an owner's manual to a copy of an official recall to installation instructions for an accessory can be shared on a social media site and build authority with consumers.
  6. Be active. Social media rewards active participants. Participate daily, even multiple times throughout the day. Consumers are more likely to reach out to your dealership if they believe they'll receive a response quickly.
  7. Be honest about your identity and business goals. If your dealership joins a vehicle enthusiast forum with the intent of selling a few more parts, it's OK to say as much, as long as your dealership's goals also include answering questions and offering assistance. There's more to being a participant than being commercial.
  8. Build a team. Asking one or two over-worked staff members to “work on Twitter” for a few minutes a day is not social media marketing. Ideally, a dealer's social media marketing efforts will be conducted by a team of two or three people who are mature, interested in the effort, trustworthy and given 1-2 hours a day to conduct the task.
  9. Focus on the long term. A dealer's social media marketing efforts doesn't always bear fruit immediately. Sometimes it can take six to 12 months of daily effort to generate significant return. Dealers sometimes abandon social media marketing too quickly.
  10. Approach automation with caution. Automated systems — like a program that automatically Tweets when a vehicle is added to inventory — can be an easy way to boost the effectiveness of your social media presence. However, they can also be viewed as nothing more than spam. If your dealership decides to use automation, recognize that it could be perceived negatively.

Your social-media marketing efforts can be evaluated using one simple test: Whatever it is that you're about to write in your blog, Tweet about, post on a forum, etc., is it something you would say at a formal dinner party?

Would your contribution be interesting or boring? Funny or inappropriate? Useful or condescending?

Jason Lancaster is an auto-industry veteran, Internet marketing expert and founder of Spork Marketing. He is at www.sporkmarketing.com.

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