In This Issue:
Look! We're Engaged! I, Dealer Take You Twitter...
Social Media Avalanche
In The News
Google has rekindled discussions to buy Yelp. The initial offer of $500 million was rejected by Yelp and other suitors have apparently entered the bidding. Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL are the names being bantered about with the price for Yelp possibly reaching $750 million.
Also in recent news, the Federal Trade Commission has begun investigating Google's acquisition of AdMob, the top mobile ad service. Concerns range from privacy issues to app developers' revenue-sharing deals being curtailed.
Whatever the ultimate resolutions of these events, the importance of their existence cannot be ignored. If you see Google as a leader, the possible acquisition of these two properties, along with the YouTube purchase a while back, speaks volumes about ratings and reviews, mobile application convergence, video, and the nexus of the three to come.
As mentioned in the last newsletter, the ratings and reviews space is moving at a blazing speed. From the early "thumbs up/thumbs down" system, and the 5-Star System with a few characters for text, to the more complex, open text review platforms, Internet sites are nowtrying to provide an aggregated look at reviews. As the quantity of consumer reviews grows exponentially, the need for an aggregated snapshot of REASONS behind the star ratings has arrived. The reviews themselves are now rated on some sites, (was this review helpful to you?) with a thumbs up/thumbs down vote, such that the reader can determine if others who have read the review found it helpful before they read on. We're talking a review of the review.
LOL = Laughing Out Loud
In 1996 I was mesmerized by the first commercial Instant Messenger, ICQ, and looked for business applications. eCommerce sites quickly followed and started using online chat to help customers answer questions about products, shipping status, return policies, etc. At the same time, GeoCities, Angelfire and Tripod started the first online communities. Today, these are the social networking ancestors. Soon after, AOL bought ICQ, (and it became AOL's most successful tool), Yahoo bought GeoCities and Lycos gobbled up Tripod and Angelfire.
These virtual neighborhoods attracted MILLIONS of users with HUNDREDS of Millions of visits. Soon after came texting and blogging. Within those beginnings came the first user-generated content and therein laid the seeds for product and seller reviews.
The evolution continued. Higher access speeds made it easier to add content, photos and video. This in turn helped pave the way for the birth of MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter, which afforded REAL info, addresses, photos and easier ways to network. The numbers are staggering. In December '08 Facebook overtook MySpace. In a stretch of just 9 months, Facebook added 100,000,000 users! It is expected that in 2010 Internet and on-demand video will surpass broadcast for the 18 to 25- year-old demographic!
Get off Your Computer!
Yes, to traditional management, employees spending time on social networking sites can seem disturbing. However, 80% of consumers express more trust with user-generated content compared to commercially generated content (14%). Why are we setting up "dealership" profiles when it's clear that consumers will respond better to personal, user-generated content?
I'm not suggesting doing away with the dealership profiles; but I think the tactic of a multilevel social networking campaign will reap more rewards. I would be more likely to interact with a personal Facebook friend to help me buy a car than a corporate one. Instead of scolding employees for being online during downtime, train and direct them to use the space to promote their sales business and build a client base. Properly using your human resources to reach into the social networking space can create a deeper, multidimensional reach.
The Social Networking Landscape
It is a very busy arena right now. I'm sure the cream will rise to the top and there will be a consolidation in the space, just as there was in the early 2000's with search engines. However, with as many as 100 sites, the task of keeping up-to-date with your online social presence can seem daunting. Consultants are even now suggesting that dealerships consider creating their OWN social networking site for their employees, customers, friends and family.
Some, myself included, have tried to reconcile all the work needed to properly populate social networking sites with respect to a tangible increase in sales and gross profit. I have yet to be presented with any data that definitively proves that having a robust social networking presence significantly moves the needle to justify the effort. But it has almost become the new cost-of-doing-business. You almost can't afford to NOT play in this arena. But beware, on the flip side, not having a freshly updated presence can portray a worse image than not having one at all.
There are tools that manage content to multiple sites and platforms simultaneously. These can be invaluable. Also, Bing and others can help you create a networking site for your store and get you on the way to a community of your customers and employees.
Specific URLs pointing to a piece of inventory, an image or a video can be very useful, however, those URLs tend to run long and clumsy and sometimes difficult to click through on the user end. Sites like TinyURL! And bit.ly will translate a long cumbersome URL into a manageable one for you at no charge.
Internet/BDC managers are using more video at the local dealer level, and it can be very compelling. With Internet users starting to watch more video online than reading text, these efforts get noticed. Video does wonders for SEO if properly tagged and submitted. In my previous life as a BDC manager, I e-mailed potential customers Edmunds' reviews and videos, and that helped moved the needle in competitive situations. So, keep in mind the value of having your store associated with a branded, well known, trusted third-party site.
It occurred to me, ISMs run out to take pictures and a 30-second walk-around video of a new trade the moment it is cleaned up, perhaps before it's cleaned up! But, have they missed the best opportunity to sell that car, hold gross profit and enhance the dealership's reputation?
Sounds like an old car joke, but indulge me. A guy comes into a dealership with a trade-in:
- Why not have the customer trading the car give a one-minute testimonial about the car? They might be the only owner and will most likely speak highly of it as he is trying to sell it to you! "Bought the car 3 years ago, maintained it regularly, never a problem. We're non-smokers and the car was always garage-kept. Should provide years of problem-free driving" Even I would weigh that video heavily in my consideration if I came across that car.
- Why not ask them to give a video review of their purchase right there? "Here's why we bought the new XYZ SUV. Gas mileage is better than XYZ SUV and it rode great on the test drive."
- Why not append a 30-second review of the dealership at that time? "We bought at ABC Motors because the sales people were great and they followed up with the best deal online."
- Why not offer them their first maintenance for the time and video the first time in the service area? "Service area was clean, coffee was fresh and I was out in a jiffy!"
Now, submit this content to the dealership's social networking profiles, to the salesperson's profiles, perhaps to the sales manager's profiles and of course, ask your customers to post their content to their own social networking profile. The penetration is wide; it covers multiple auto transactions, and will most likely glean consideration as personal, user-generated content.
Automotive dealers will transact with literally millions of customers, many times in all departments.
Customers are talking. I feel strongly that this is the year that the percentage of automotive transactions reviewed will explode. Go beyond just e-mailing a link to a review site. Think of creative ways to elicit positive reviews from happy customers as quickly as possible. Monitor your reviews online and use them as a management tool. Angry customers are quick to name the employees that handled them improperly. Train, retrain, and get ahead of the curve. My guess is that your factories will eventually wisen up and start looking at the ratings and reviews, particularly on Edmunds.com, as the new barometer of performance, becoming the new CSI. Consider your online rating as the proxy for your CSI index in the new decade.
Edmunds will be adding prominence to its Dealer Ratings and Reviews. Your ratings on Edmunds may very well sit beside your name very soon in the Dealer Locator and the revamped New Car Inventory Listings. Stay on top of it.
With Edmunds' New Car Inventory Listings program, customers can contact you directly on your new inventory. Early results have shown engagement rates as much as five times higher than the standard Dealer Locator. Closing rates are also substantially better and even a bit quicker.
John Giamalvo, Director, Strategic Marketing