This is Part II of an interview with Richard Valenta, CEO of TK Carsites, an automotive internet marketing firm. You should read Part I: Social Media for Car Dealers first.

“The simple fact is companies no longer control their brand. People control their brand.”

Car Dealer BrandingThere’s no better way to start this second part of the interview than with a statement like that. It’s true. Very few people trust advertising anymore, while a huge percentage do trust consumer reviews and opinions. With sites like RipOffReport and DealerRater offering venues for people to vent about their bad experience, it makes sense that car dealers should start taking social media seriously.

“The customers control their brand,” Valenta said. “And the faster they can get themselves into the social media sphere or social networking sphere, the better it’s going to be for them long-term.”

Having the ability to let people discuss their experiences, both good and bad, openly in public areas such as Facebook, Twitter, and dealership blogs allows dealers the opportunity to respond and potentially remedy bad situations. Otherwise, people will find places to “vent” where the dealer has no control or method of response.

“This is not going to change; it’s a new revolution.”

At one time, many business owners, car dealers included, would avoid the Internet, claiming that it was a fad that would go away eventually. As hard as that is to imagine now, just a few years ago many car dealer websites we simple billboards that told gave visitors and address and telephone number. No inventory. No lead forms. No method of contact or incentive to surf. If you wanted to contact them, pick up the phone or come in.

Social media is being followed by the same perceptions by many, and as with the Internet, search engines, and other ‘fads” that were destined to die for many, social media will continue to grow until dealers are forced in. The difference between social media and other forms of marketing is that time is important – the sooner you get involved, the better your chances are for success.

“The people that do business with you, the people that want to do business with you, the people that are considering you, are going to control your brand and whether it be through sites that you don’t control such as DealerRater and the different review sites, or sites you do control, such as setting up your own MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, what have you, blogs, that sort of thing, one way or another that brand is going to be controlled by your customers.”

This is important, not just from an engagement perspective, but also from a search engine reputation management perspective.

“Advertising and branding used to be a one-way street.”

“You controlled your brand; it was a one-way street,” Valenta continued. “Now it’s a two-way street. Now customers can come back and let the world know their experience with you. That’s where the Internet can either be your worst enemy or your best friend. And by getting involved with your customers through social media and other avenues on the Internet, you now can protect your brand and actually use it to your benefit.”

“The dealers that aren’t going to embrace this; the dealers that still think that their brand is a one-way street for their advertising and marketing are the ones who are going to end up losing, especially if they get customer complaints and that sort of thing, such as people going on and posting a negative review on a site such as DealerRater and it ends up being ranked number two for their name on Google. Those kinds of things will kill a brand.”

As car dealers learn to integrate social media into their current marketing, branding, and reputation management efforts, or whether they begin to dedicate individuals or departments to handle it for them, they will learn that there are pitfalls. Frankly, it’s not as easy as most other forms of marketing, which makes it challenging to do right. When asked, what car dealers should do, Valenta finished with:

“Take advantage of it, get entrenched, learn it and utilize it to your advantage. They need to be doing it, and they need to do it right. Social media is not simply a place to go advertise; it doesn’t work. Interactive communication in a social setting.”

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Read more about Automotive Social Media on this Social Media Blog.

Social Media for Car Dealers: An Interview with Richard Valenta

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