A subject came up recently in an article on DealerRefresh by Kyle Suss about the future of the dealership web presence. It brought up some interesting other points beyond the Kyle’s message I thought were worth exploring.
The article and comments led down a path focused on the dealership website as the online centerpiece for auto dealers, but things have really changed with social media in the mix and although critically important, a dealer’s website is not the only important web presence nowadays.
The Cul-de-sac Effect
Auto industry veteran Brian Hoecht has the best description (IMO) of what a dealer site really is. He calls it a cul-de-sac. There is nothing to do on it but leave the way you entered, unless of course you are prepared to dish out your increasingly ever-important contact info, to which Hoecht also explains is something dealers do that is self-defeating when they always want to get married on the first date. This is the curse of all retail though so I personally do not hold dealers accountable for that.
One of the first objectives for dealers to overcome when taking their websites to the next level of commerce is their “cul-de-sac” for a website. This might be inevitable with an out-of-the-box solution, but with the right effort to offer alternative forms of engagement people can eventually find something purposeful to do with a dealer on the web other than “get married”.
Trust and Influence
This is where social media comes into play. Dealers can turn in-house and to third parties nowadays for help interfacing with customers in ways that are not possible on their websites. It may take more time than we would like for customers to change how they look at dealers and handle the car buying process and ownership experience online, but as tools continue to be introduced that change what is possible, people and dealers will adapt as we have proven to do so for almost two decades.
Bloggers like Kathi Kruse who write tenaciously about topics such as the highest return on relationships occurring through repeat customers explain, however theoretical, how social media can be leveraged by auto dealers to engage with new and old customers to build trust and grow a dealer’s influence on the web. I am completely on board with a message like this despite the seemingly impossible challenge of convincing dealers that success online is not measured strictly by comparing website traffic to the number of leads and the number of sales. It’s also not measured by the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers you have.
Measuring Online Success
Online success is more a reflection of a dealer’s overall success. The challenge for dealers with today’s digital media is less about numbers and volume and more about consistency and integrity. A thousand Facebook fans means little if you are not engaging them. Much like a thousand leads mean little if you aren’t engaging them either.
While serving as a resource for customers and potential customers interested in your products and services, your online presence must also reflect the culture of your dealership. It must represent its people which includes employees and customers. It should serve as a tool people can count on for making a purchase decision and owning what they purchase, not a trap or cul-de-sac.
Ultimately your online success is measured by the depth of trust it can establish and the amount of influence it has in the marketplace. The effect of these things can be detected in your sales, in your service business, and in your customers’ willingness to say and share positive things about your dealership with others. That’s the real power of the social web. It has the potential to give you exposure that in decades past was only possible through traditional mass media.
As website providers adapt to existing and coming technologies designed to interface with dealers in multiple ways beyond contact info and a purchase transaction, the dealer-customer relationship can continue to expand. For right now, social media is serving needs that a dealer’s website does not, and that is ok. It isn’t realistic to expect your dealership website to be its own social media site. That’s not its role.