Eric Miltsch holds a college degree in communications, which suits him fine as the Internet director of Auction Direct USA, a 4-store chain of self-proclaimed “super stores” selling used cars.

For three years now, he has used his communication skills to connect with people online, using social media in particular to create brand trust, enhance the customer experience and increase the number of consumers ready to buy.

Many franchised dealers, especially big ones, do that, too. But few strictly used-car dealerships run with that pack of innovators.

Auction Direct is using the Internet to help change the pre-owned retail market and the way consumers buy used cars, Miltsch says at the 2010 Automotive Social Media Summit in Los Angeles. “The automobile business will never be the same.”

He blogs, tweets and chats online with customers. He also oversees such Internet activities as website optimization, email marketing and customer-relationship management to systematically keep in touch with buyers and prospects.

Auction Direct has hosted a social-media breakfast at its store in Raleigh, NC.

“We didn't sponsor it; we had it at our store because we have the space,” Miltsch recalls. “It was a great gathering. We sold three cars because of it. Online stuff can translate to offline stuff.”

Here's an example of that. A customer somewhere in the store was on Twitter complaining about Auction Direct.

“We did something to make her mad,” Miltsch recalls. “I tweeted, ‘Where are you? Raise your hand.’ She did. I went over and we resolved the issue.”

In the Internet world, it's important for dealerships to address complaints readily, lest they take on lives of their own.

“The power of the Internet is that instead of someone talking to four people about a bad dealership experience, they are talking to 4,000 on Twitter,” Miltsch says.

In a fun but useful endeavor, he has done hundreds of Twitter interviews in which participants answer 10 auto questions, such as:

  • “What's your favorite car?”
  • “What's parked in your driveway right now?”
  • “What's a must-have car gadget?”
  • “What's your favorite Hollywood movie car?”
  • “What car would you buy if money were no object?”

Miltsch says: “The interviews are a great way to get to know followers and customers. People really get into it. Some of the interviews are reposted.”