I recently posed the question of whether or not the motor industry was making the most of social media to engage with customers and promote its products.

Car buyers are doing more research than ever before spending thousands
on a new or used car and that very few people are walking into the car
dealer showroom without already having scoured the net.

Terry Hogan, MD of motoring.co.uk, has been working with both manufacturers and dealers on their social media strategirs, here are some of his tips (I’ve also added one or two of my own) on how they can improve…

Occupy the first page of Google

There are at least seven ways to show your brand in a Google search. The obvious ones are paid search and SEO, and this tends to be where most of the motor industry puts its marketing budgets at the moment.

This can be effective, but if you’ve got many clubs in your golf bag, why use your putter for every single shot? Besides, just bidding for the same search terms as everyone else can become expensive.

By taking a wider view and looking at the different ways you can appear naturally within the main search, you can occupy more of the first page of searches for your brand and related terms. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Google Images – cars are an emotional purchase and looks are as important as substance so you should always carry plenty of images which may be picked up by Google. Note: being able to source originals that are unavailable elsewhere on the web will improve your chances.
  • Google Product Search – this is a service developed by Google to connect shoppers with products, and like all Google services it often crops up in the main search results. This works great for things like accessories or parts, where descriptions are very specific.
  • Google Maps – key in a search for a local dealer or any kind of motor related service and you’ll frequently find a map showing the location in the first couple of results. This is normally a Google map but only because that is all that’s available.

    It’s relatively easy to mash up Google maps to provide more detailed and useful maps of all Audi dealers or all service stations in the North East or whatever matters to your audience. They could be ranked among the top recommendations in Google and would have your brand attached to them.

  • Google News – some enlightened PR people are twigging that press coverage on sites that are indexed highly by Google News is becoming more valuable than coverage in newspapers that have large audiences. Large audiences are great but if they’re not relevant to you and what you’re offering then it’s a waste of time and effort. Google is very astute at pointing the right people to the right content.

    You could also think about creating your own content that Google will direct your audience to. If you’re interested in attracting Audi A4 buyers then producing news content relevant to the Audi A4 will improve your chances. We did exactly that and a recent search for Audi A4 would have led you to stories on the Motoring.co.uk site for picks two, three and four in the search results.

    Becoming a Google news provider appears to be a simple process. There is an online form with step by step instructions for what you need to do. However, apart from the technical side, you obviously need good, unique news content available over a period of at least 12 months.

Syndicate your content

Share what you do with third party sites and gain more visitors. Think of sites that might find your content useful and ask them if they want to show it. Often you can attract visitors free of charge or at a low cost if the third party values your content. This might include offering text based articles, video or branded widgets.

Create unique content every day

It doesn’t have to take long to write an article or blog entry. The search engines love fresh, unique content and will rank your site more highly if you provide them with it. Search engine marketers are often overly keen to post articles stuffed with keywords, which can be important but your objective should be making content that is useful to your audience, which is what Google is truly looking for.

Content that is genuinely useful will inevitably contain the right keywords but make sure what you produce is relevant, unique and will keep people on the site  longer and make it more likely they’ll return later.

Rather then writing for the Googlebot, you need to address the audience that views your websites, and make it as appealing as possible.

Ping the blogosphere

Once you have published your piece, use a free service like Pingomatic to tell everybody you have fresh content. This is important because Google is trawling billions upon billions of web pages and is the speed at which it checks your site for new content to store in its memory will differ according to various criteria.

Allow users to post comments

People will form a stronger relationship if they can take part in your site, and the process of leaving comments and returning to check replies makes for a more engaging experience. You might also learn things about consumer behaviour and the likes and dislikes of your customers that can help to improve your business. Not all the experts work for you!

Don’t ask customers to go elsewhere

You wouldn’t dream of deliberately not having products available in your shop or showroom that you knew your customers wanted and then watching them walk off down the road to get it, so don’t do this online. When people go to buy a car they tend to have done their homework online before they walk in to the showroom.

Make sure your site is the one with all the necessary resources, including the views of other car-buyers, as well as external sources that can back up the claims you are making about your product.

The other thing is to make it easy to leave feedback throughout your site. Don’t make it hard for your customers to tell you things, even bad things. In this day and age they’ll just go somewhere else to say it, making it harder for you to fix and losing you chance to build a longer lasting relationship.

Use social media in your ad campaigns

Ad campaigns for new models of cars tend to be expensive, but there are lower cost alternatives when using social media. Examples include VW’s ‘People’s Reviewer’ campaign for the new Tiguan, and for the Toyota IQ. Both used YouTube, blogs, etc to spread the word and get the audience more engaged.

Use social media for customer service

If customers have complaints about issues such as poor service or reliability problems, they will often vent steam on sites like Twitter and Facebook, where everyone else can read them.

In the first instance, companies should ensure that customers don’t have to complain elsewhere, but if they do, then it is often far better to engage and attempt to solve issues than ignore such comments. There are plenty of examples of how complaints on social media sites can be turned into positives, such as this one.

Monitoring sites like Twitter will help you to become aware of such issues. Even better, having a point of contact on social media sites can provide another channel for such issues.