The State of Social Marketing in the Automotive Industry

Over the past decade I have tried everything in the book to help dealers sell cars with Facebook. I’ve used every aspect of Facebook’s API to capture data and generate leads for dealers.

My first attempt was back in the days of Farmville, if you remember those days. Back when you logged into Facebook and all you would see were people’s new highest score on whatever game they were playing. When every other notification was someone asking for a sheep for their farm.

At that time car dealers were just starting to set up their social profiles. They really had no clue what to do with them. Many of them set up incorrectly. Every vendor seemed to want a piece of the social media buzz. Almost overnight everyone became a "social media expert" in the vendor community.

I was one of those vendors. I, too, wanted a ride on the social media train. Dealers needed help setting up and posting on their pages, which was a fairly simple task…so I helped them with that. Then everyone started to focus on "fans", as they were called back then, because we realized posting content on pages with no fans was pointless.

I was driving home one day, and in my pursuit to dominate this new focus on social media I had the idea to put a game on a car dealer’s page. I noticed the audience on Facebook was playing games and wanted to use a "like gate" to force likes to the dealer’s page. People would play the game, and as they posted their score their friends would come to play and would need to install our app and like the page. All of these people had to provide their email address as well to play the game.

This went gangbusters! Our servers blew up. We had to buy new servers as fast as we could. We were capturing massive amounts of data, and 10s of thousands of people were playing the games overnight. To this day, Walker Toyota in Dayton Ohio has the most fans on Facebook because of one of our games. They currently have 229,000 fans on Facebook!

It was all going well. We were getting fans, capturing data, sending emails, and the reach was fantastic. We still couldn’t track car deals but no one was paying attention because we just smashed everyone at what we were hired to do. Which was to get fans, post content and capture data.

One day I wake up to check Facebook and no one was playing the game. I looked in my news feed and didn’t see any game or updates from any other games. Facebook had decided to change their algorithms. They realized people were getting tired of seeing game updates and made changes to accomidate their audience.

This was a devastating blow but I tried to hold on. Dealers still needed Facebook pages and still needed content. Everyone’s focus started to shift to "engagement" around this time. Everyone started to post fun engaging content that didn’t pertain to the car dealership. They just wanted to get any engagement so that when they posted a sale their post would be seen in the news feed.

So, in true Jason Girdner fashion, I wanted to dominate this as well. Hootsuite was not enough. I wanted more control over the posting process. We built our own posting tool and started posting fun pictures of cats, dogs, zebras, pretty much anything we thought would get engagement. We were posting thousands of posts and images.

We got amazing engagement from all these fans we had generated. The problem was that it wasn’t selling a substantial number of cars. Dealers were paying us a couple hundered per month to manage their account, but I’m driven by car deals, not simple egagement. It drove me crazy to be selling something to dealers that wasn’t resulting in many car deals. The pat on the back from dealers wasn’t happening. We were just another vendor they had to deal with.

With almost 500 dealers signed up and four years of my life invested, I decided it was time to move on to the next idea. I couldn’t continue to sell something I didn’t believe in. I needed to think of another idea and test it. To see if we could pull car deals. I wasn’t ready to give up on social marketing yet.

My second attempt was focused on capturing data from the friends and family of customers. We could then market to them based on their friend purchasing a vehicle. We built an app that allowed you to take pictures of the customer at the time of delivery. That picture would upload to the dealer’s Facebook page and the customer would have their friends come click a button to help them win prizes. As their friends clicked the button we captured their email address and then were able to market to them via email.

In concept this was fantastic! It did yield higher results than just random people liking a page. But the numbers I was hunting weren’t there. As much as I wanted them to be, they just weren’t. Maybe if you had a dealer who patiently waited for a few years, the sales would start to drop out of the tree, but that is not the reality with most dealers. They want results this month, right now. Honestly, so do I!

After 2 years of pushing that concept I decided once again it was time to move on. This is when I threw my hands up in the air and said I quit! I was going to go back to direct mail. I just didn’t want to waste time trying to chase something that didn’t seem to be there and I didn’t want to sell snake oil to dealers. With direct mail, I knew what I would get. I knew the results had dropped off but I could still see a good number of car deals off mailers.

That is when we started TECOBI. It was originally built to let people text message in from direct mail. Our original logo had the tag line "Powering your direct mail". Early on, one of our clients wanted to spend some money on paid Facebook ads. I was pitching him direct mail and he said he would rather me spend it on Facebook. It was $7,500 worth of ads he wanted to run.

This sent me into the paid ads side of Facebook, and boy am I glad it did! Not only did I find what I was looking for, but I found so much more. To date we have generated hundereds of thousand of leads and sold tens of thousands of cars– all from Facebook. We have trackable and measurable results. We have the complete conversations with customers to get them into the store to buy a car! From the click on the ad to their questions and answers.

The leads coming off of Facebook are much different than most digital car shoppers. They are more emotional buyers than transactional. You don’t sell the price of the car…you have to sell the car irself and the idea of owning a new one. When you combine this type of lead generation from Facebook with a relationship selling processs, the results can grow to be astronomical.

We are at a crossroads for social marketing in our industry. Facebook has hidden most organic content from people’s news feeds. Paid ads are a must if you want to get traction on the business side of Facebook. If you have some rockstar sales people embracing social on the organic side you can experience massive growth there. Those rockstars can take the leads and turn them into customers for life.

Let me shoot you straight. If your social marketing company is posting non-sense on your wall or even paying to sponsor it, they are not taking social media seriously and it is going to cost you dearly. Cats, dogs, weather updates– none of that garbage is going to help you sell cars! Two ways to sell cars on Facebook:

  1. Paid Ads
  2. Growing Personal Relationships

People are not on Facebook to build relationships with your business. Trying to manage your business page like a personal page is just foolish and a waste of time and resources, in my opinion. No one tried harder than me to make it work. It just doesn’t work in any scale. Relationships should be built through your sales team. You feed them new customers and relationships through paid ads. Those relationships are fostered through your sales team on social, not through your business.

As more customers are pulled from the market through relationship selling, your ads will start to run dry. The people going to Google will slow down because they have built a relationship with people on social who sell cars. These are people they can trust to be honest and shoot them straight just like I’m shooting you straight.

You know it and you have said it in your head for the past few years. "Social is what I have to do. It’s not selling much but I feel like I have to do something." The results have been minimal at best. You know you are getting some expsure but have no idea what it is doing for your business.

Your Facebook page organic reach is dying. It has droped substantially as Facebook has made changes to drive more businesses to a pay-to-play system. If you feel like you don’t know what to do, like you have tried everything and can’t seem to prove it’s selling cars, our team can help. We will take a quick look and give honest feedback. Click the Text Us button on the bottom right. We are here to help you sell cars on Facebook. And it works.