LAS VEGAS – The Internet may be global in reach, but car dealers looking to draw new buyers and retain current customers long term also should think local, a social-media expert here says.

Speaking at the DrivingSales Executive Summit, presented with WardsAuto, Aaron Strout, head of location-based marketing for social-media consultant WCG, advises dealers to get active with social-media services such as Foursquare, Yelp and SCVNGR as a way to build loyalty and tap into a large group of potential customers they may be missing.

Foursquare, Yelp and others encourage users to “check in” at various locations to let their friends know where they are, what businesses they’re frequenting or services they are using.

Strout points to a successful deployment of the technology by restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings, which ran a promotion through SCVNGER during the NCAA basketball finals last March that drew in 200,000 people looking for a chance to earn free food and get a shot at attending the NBA basketball finals with former Chicago Bull Scottie Pippen.

A promotion by Disney allowed people checking in at certain amusement-park rides to earn special collector pins.

Auction Direct U.S.A., a used-vehicle superstore, gave free oil changes to people who checked in at a showroom for the first time, helping draw in customers for service, Strout says.

Similar promotions through these location-based social media services could help dealers generate positive chatter on the Internet about their brands and stores, Strout contends, citing data indicating 52% of people say their purchase decisions are influenced by friends.

Location-based marketing is important because people are actively looking for deals, the consultant says.

“What if Target gave people a chance to get 50%-95% off their purchase every time they checked into the store, and then gave all of their friends the same deal if they checked in with the next two hours?” Strout says, pointing to one way a retailer could generate foot traffic.

He offers dealers six tips for using location-based social media:

  • Get started by “claiming” your location on the top service providers. “You should know that people are already checking into your business,” he says. By claiming your location, dealers will be able to see data on whom these customers are and when they are likely to visit their stores.
  • Pick one or two of the services to focus on. “Everybody’s busy,” he says, adding it is possible to maintain a marketing program by “spending just a few minutes per day on this.”
  • Find out who the “biggest influencers” are and get to know them better by studying data provided by the social-media service. These are the people who visit the dealer most often and are willing to tell their friends about it.
  • Set goals. “Are you trying to drive foot traffic? Build loyalty? Sell more cars?” Strout asks, adding it is important to know the endgame and make sure the programs implemented are getting the desired results.
  • kCreate and offer. This doesn’t have to be a discount on services, the consultant says. It could be special recognition at the dealership for the customer considered the “mayor” by the social-media service, meaning he has logged the most check-ins. Dealers could offer a special experience to social-media users, such as a wine tasting at their showrooms, he says.
  • Measure, track and optimize. It’s important to track the health of any program, he says.

“Local is becoming a critical piece of social media,” Strout sums up. “Every market is different. People look at things differently when making buying decisions in different markets. Sometimes a broad offer is good, sometimes a more niche offer (is better).”

dzoia@wardsauto.com