With Facebook reaching a milestone of 500 million users, there is little doubt of social media's impact on business. Where people go, so go business opportunities. And dealers are naturally poised for social-media excellence.

At its core, social media is simply the self-grouping of people with similar interests for efficient information sharing. Facebook didn't create a community of half a billion users, it just gave those people a new place to hang out and share information in an easier and better way than existed before.

In other words, Facebook didn't create the relationships between you and most of your friends, it allows you to connect with those relationships online and facilitates your information sharing. Once you became an active member of the Facebook community, you likely “met” new people, and that has led to new relationships.

All social networks follow a similar path. Linkedin didn't create business networking, it just brought business networking online. DrivingSales.com didn't create dealership networking or collaboration, it just gave dealers a place to collaborate more efficiently than they had before. These examples and others show that social networks mirror what happens in the physical world.

The concept of social media simply mirroring the real world is incredibly important because it lays the foundation for how one should act on social networks.

Just like the real world, these online communities develop a series of social norms that everyone must adhere to in order to be “accepted.”

A dealer sponsoring a youth sports team wouldn't attend a Little League game and go around shaking hands, saying, “F-150 pickups are $10,000 off.” This simply wouldn't be acceptable social behavior, given the environment.

Rather, you would walk around building relationships. You have your moment to offer your deal when someone asks (and sooner or later they always do), “What kind of deals are happening on trucks?”

This is exactly how we should behave on social networks. Build relationships first, create transactions second. If you lead with the transaction, you will never get to the relationship, and the real value is lost.

A common social-media mistake is blasting inventory on Facebook or Twitter. This is rude, and others will consider you a spammer. Blasting inventory simply is not acceptable social-media behavior. Nor is it accepted in the real world.

Social Media Best Practices

The foundation of a successful social-media strategy is simple. Set social-media goals. Social media is not a silver bullet. It can't do everything. Define success so you know when you have arrived.

Decide what social-media assets to use. Not all assets achieve the same results. Learn when to use a blog, YouTube, Twitter and other online communication channels. Invest time in the assets that play strongest to your goals.

Execute a content strategy to attract and engage your users. Content is the future of marketing. Content creation must become a core competency of all progressive dealerships going forward. Fresh content attracts search engines. Creative content engages users. Both search and social-media marketing depend on quality content.

Participate in the networks according to their social norms. Ask yourself if your behavior would be accepted in the real world. If it would be, you are probably fine online. If it would create an awkward social experience in a meeting, chances are that it would be bad to do online.

Remember, social media is less about transaction, and more about relationships.

Dealers' Advantage

The car business has always been a people business and social media is all about strengthening relationships.

Dealers are relationship experts. So use this expertise online. Furthermore, dealers have a huge amount of valuable knowledge that customers are looking for. Think of all the questions your service advisors and finance managers get daily. Their answers can become valuable online content that is shared with your customers and searched out by the general population.

Dealers are pillars in their physical communities and should easily become pillars in their online communities. The investment in the social web is human capital. Put your best foot forward and network like you always have. You'll likely find you already are a social media expert.

Jared Hamilton is the founder of DrivingSales.com, the largest dealership social network in the industry. To learn more about creating measurable ROI using social media and other progressive strategies, attend the DrivingSales Executive Summit presented with WardsAuto Oct. 18-20 in Las Vegas. It's an exclusive event for progressive dealers focused on tackling the forward-thinking opportunities facing dealerships today. See www.wardsauto.com/drivingsales/ for more info.