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Nine ways car dealers can succeed at social media

There is more to standing out on social media than posting an image to a dozen channels. Debbie Kirlew tracks down best-practice advice from the experts.

Gather perspectives from outside the sector

Dealers often look outside the automotive sector for inspiration, with many drawing on the experience of other retailers to improve areas such as customer care and digital. According to Adobe and Econsultancy’s 2017 ‘Digital Intelligence Briefing’, 28% of marketers surveyed rated social media as a top priority, placing it second in the list after content marketing (prioritised by 29%). With social media continuing to play a central role, taking a leaf out of the books of others can prove advantageous.


Know what you want to achieve

Julia Hutchison, client partner at content marketing agency Headstream, whose clients include WKD, Maybelline, B&Q, Google, Heathrow, the National Trust and Paramount, identifies strategy as the starting point.

She said: “Strategic thinking will inform the ability to build a solid social platform that will lay the foundation for brand growth and ultimately sales.”

Lynne Goddard, managing director of consumer PR agency Escapade, advised setting out objectives first. She said: “The question businesses embarking on a social media campaign need to answer is – what are you hoping to achieve? It’s not about getting people to see something, but to do something about it.”


Know your audience

Identifying the demographics of the target audience is all well and good, but businesses also need to understand how they interact with and utilise particular platforms.

Hutchison said: “At the heart of the strategy is your audience. It is best practise to begin by identifying and understanding all potential audience groups for social. This insight can establish an audience focus through the development of detailed personas of priority customer segments, using both demographic and psychographic data.

“You will need to identify the primary social platforms based on target audience data, and produce associated platform plans based on these insights.”

Anne-Marie Payne, the director of marketing communications agency, Nobull Comms, said: “Social media is a rich source of information and insight that can benefit your business. Apply the right techniques and you can use these most voyeuristic of communication tools to learn a huge amount about your audience, thus reducing the need to make assumptions about them. Armed with this fresh new insight, you can then go on to develop the kind of tightly targeted campaign messages, which are most likely to convert into actual sales.”

Goddard added: “It’s vital to know who you want to speak to and why and how that is aligned with business objectives.” Then you can work out how social media fits.”


Don’t use social media in isolation

The emphasis is very much on integrating social media with the wider marketing mix and business objectives to increase the likelihood that a desired outcome is achieved, such as visiting a web page or boosting sales.

Among Escapade’s clients are pomegranate juice drink Pom Wonderful and the team enlisted award-winning trainer and The Apprentice candidate Katie Bulmer-Cooke to create four ‘wonderful workouts’. The short videos were shared on various social media platforms and achieved 145,700 impressions across Facebook, Twitter and Vimeo. The corresponding retail promotion resulted in 22,000 direct redemptions of its offer.

Goddard said: “Social media doesn’t work in isolation, it has to be part of the bigger picture and you need to understand how everything fits together and how different elements influence each other.”



“Seeing the bigger picture is so important,” said Payne. “Social media is not just about how many people are following your channel, but whether you are reaching the right people and engaging them with your brand, products and services. Are you successfully leading them to your website and propelling them to buy? Are they saying the right things about your brand and recommending you? Are they on track to becoming long-term customers?”

However, as Hutchison said: “The majority of brands do not have a rigorous approach to measuring social media content.”

With most measurements looking only at channel-based objectives, such as reach, community size and number of shares, Headstream developed its own framework of metrics and KPIs.

She added: “Having KPIs in place encourages marketers to implement processes to ensure social media content continues to reflect changing platform and audience behaviours and ultimately delivers for the brand.”

While Thomas Power, chief digital officer of Electric Dog, insists that social media content should be driven by entertainment and engagement, the end objective is still sales: “You should be focused on sales, but you won’t achieve that until you have built up your followers.”


Content still rules

Audience research also enables an effective content proposition to be developed, according to Hutchison.

She said: “It guides, creates focus, and ensures you are creating content relevant to your audience themes and goals.”

Payne said: “Sharing the same content across all channels simultaneously is no longer good enough. You can share the same message across all channels, but it’s the way you deliver that message, with the use of images and language, that needs to be different. On Twitter, succinctness is a virtue, for example. On Facebook, a good image goes a long way, as does a more friendly tone, whilst over at Instagram, it’s all about the image and the hashtag strategy. While LinkedIn is seeing an increase in more visual posts, it‘s still the ‘professional channel’.”

Goddard said: “You need to identify the right content to get people to that page and link to that page from social. You need to think about content constantly and continually review your material to ensure you are keeping customers engaged.

“We would advise businesses to trial different approaches. You can see very quickly what works and what doesn’t.”


Listen, learn and understand

Payne recommends taking the time to understand and listen.

 “Social media is like any other conversation space, so there needs to be give and take,” she said. “There is a time to ‘speak’, or in social media terms, post or tweet, and a time to ‘listen’. Understanding the common ground alongside a diversity of interests is essential for an engaging campaign.

“All industries have their jargon. However, the way you want to talk about your product could differ to the way your audiences need to hear about it. Jargon may cause them to switch off, so you need to talk on their level.”


Don’t be ‘Derek’!

Forget the sales pitch and one-way broadcasts. Social, by its very nature, is social and content has to draw people in, while brands should involve themselves in conversations.

Payne sums it up with an excellent analogy: “We all have that ‘friend’ or acquaintance – let’s call him Derek - who, when you see them make you groan inwardly because you know they’re going to talk about themselves incessantly for an hour. Derek never asks questions and he likes to repeat the same story over and over again. By bleating on about himself and what he thinks is relevant, without stopping to think about you might like to talk about, Derek makes it very clear that he’s not interested in you. In time, you will do your best to avoid him. No one wants to be a Derek. Brands need to work hard to mix it up, listen and respond if they want to extend their reach.”


Tell a story

Creating the content in a form of a story or narrative is much more likely to prompt responses. When research showed  Post-it that people use its sticky notes to write down positive affirmations in the hope that they would happen, Escapade partnered with philanthropist Katie Piper, well known for charting her recovery after a horrific acid attack, and undertook a survey to find out what people believe would make them happy.

The survey found the answer was earning £80,840 a year, living in a £443k house with two children and working 27 hours and 20 minutes a week. Piper, on the other hand, advocated that people take responsibility for their own happiness. The campaign resulted in 63,000,000 opportunities to see the story across the major social media channels, while Twitter received 6.6 million impressions.

“You can’t just broadcast an offer, you need a narrative, such as telling the story behind the product or highlighting a feature which will make lives easier,” said Goddard.

Power said: “Believing that content is king is a flaw in thinking. Too many people think content is about getting a sale, but social media is not a sales channel, it’s a TV channel. You need to tell a story, not deliver a sales pitch, and a lot of people struggle with that concept. The goal isn’t to sell your products or services, but to entertain.”

Identifying and owning a theme can also help to engage an audience. Nobull has successfully done this for Charnos Hosiery. The brand has run its National Stockings Day in support of the Breast Cancer Care charity for several years,  providing new slants each time to reach new people and re-engage the existing audience.

Payne said: “Using experiential techniques to provide content on this one day in the year, we regularly reach over one million timelines for each event. It’s this kind of shareable material that can make a campaign absolutely fly in terms of reach, impressions and engagement.”

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