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Outsourced or in-house? Social media strategy for car dealers

By Debbie Kirlew

The battle to be noticed in the social media domain starts behind the scenes – before a tweet is made, a Facebook status is updated or a blog post written.

With the phenomenal proliferation of content, it is more challenging than ever to be heard, making a highly focused process critical. Social media management covers a spectrum of processes from individual ‘champions’ controlling timing and content to guidelines for all staff. Broadly speaking, dealers can manage their social media in-house, out-source it or work in conjunction with the manufacturer, although most are likely to operate a mixed approach.


1: The in-house approach

Mark King, group digital sales and marketing manager at Benfield Motor Group, decided to bring all digital communications, including web development, in-house and created a centralised and specialist team.


♦  Dealers’ social media strategies vary between in-house, outsourced and jointly with manufacturers
♦  Consistently engaging and useful content is key

Benfield has achieved an impressive presence with a well thought-out and managed strategy which has evolved over time and includes “brand champions” posting and tweeting interesting content and engaging in discussions with customers and followers while adhering to group guidelines.

The Benfield Motor Group blog launched in December 2012 and now has 3,000 views a week. Although King said: “I still feel we have a lot to learn with regards to our blog, but I am confident we’ll see engagement grow as we learn more about our readers and the content that engages them.”

A central team allows Benfield to be fluid and quick-thinking and try new ideas.

When it comes to engagement and content that is more likely to resonate with followers, King believes simpler is often better.

“We gave away some tickets to a local event, which was very popular and had a tweet reach of over 39,000. Also a simple wash and vac giveaway can be popular,” he said.

“It was all about followers and likes when we first started out. I didn’t really understand any other measurement.  We still try and grow our fan base, but reach and engagement is the measurement I now use.”

Similarly, at Ridgeway, marketing manager Philip J. Deacon’s success is the result of a centrally managed structure, which also provides the opportunity to try new platforms, such as Vine.

Continual measurement means Deacon’s team can identify the content that works. For example, their experience with YouTube reflects the growth of video consumption with year-on-year rises – up 184% in 2011 compared with 2010; an incredible 395% viewing rise in 2012 and slowing to a still impressive 83% increase last year.

“All of Ridgeway’s social posts and interactions are administered through the centralised marketing team,” said Deacon.

“Content is produced in collaboration with the CEO, group operations director, brand directors and departmental managers. Statistics, engagement and content are reviewed brand-by-brand on a monthly basis for improvement.

“We also capture and analyse data from social media channels to monitor our represented brands, site locations and identify key communities and influencers, address any customer service issues and generate new sales and service leads.

“We have been very successful ensuring any detractors or advocates are contacted appropriately. All direct tweets and customer concerns are answered seven days a week – and followed up by our board of directors regarding their outcome.”

Content has been vital to Ridgeway’s social media success and comes in a number of forms, including making use of  commercial partnerships with the likes of London Irish Rugby Football Club, local Championship football clubs, golf clubs, health clubs and charities plus celebrity advocates.

Ridgeway’s wider content sources make use of corporate information, dealership and manufacturer news including new car live streaming and events as well as world and automotive news. But it also includes competitions, features such as ‘ask the tech a question’, sharing customer experiences and photos and a look at automotive ads through the ages.

The breadth of content illustrates how social media can be much more than a stand-alone activity and, to maximise its effectiveness, needs to be joined up with all marketing efforts.

At Ridgeway, the social media processes are just as important as the medium itself and since 2010 it has incorporated social media training into the induction programme for all new staff.

This includes screening a film (below) about the impact of social media on a business, ‘Socialnomics’ (by Erik Qualman). This year, the group introduced its own version called ‘Ridgewaynomics’.

It also provides employees with a copy of its ‘social media policy document’ which includes individual responsibilities and explains how a seemingly innocent comment or post can pose a risk to the group’s confidentiality, harm its reputation and even jeopardise compliance with legal obligations. 

2: The outsourced approach

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  • Jason Moorhouse - 30/06/2014 12:43

    Great article and a valuable insight for motor groups stepping out into the world of Social media. During the past year of handing the Social Media output of Dews Motor Group I have learned a lot about engagement with our customers, and how important the right kind of Social Media content can change the perception of the company as a whole. As many of you will know, sell, sell, sell doesn't work on this kind of platform, all you are going to do is switch off your audience with either a 'unfollow' or a 'unlike'. People have adverts thrown at them all day long and the last bastion of personal on-line leisure time lies within Social Media, this is their time to relax and look at things that interest them. Give your company a name and a face to engage with, some light hearted content with a dusting of information about your latest offers in the right balance then you in turn create opportunities for people to approach you. I agree with Anna's comments, but I feel that to be able to engage effectively within a small or even medium sized company you need to have the in-house ability to react fast and be able to capitalise on opportunities presented. The new wave of Social media now gets people closer than ever to the brand they want to engage with, be it for a positive outcome or to air their views about a negative experience. So I would argue that the statement on the position of SME’s not being able to make provision for a Social Media Strategy should be contested, I feel that in the changing shape of communications with brands and the increased customer expectations you simply can’t afford to ignore this. Speed, Response and Trust expected from the modern customer is on the up and doesn't look set to plateau or go into decline any time soon and the best and most effective way of providing this is to man your Social Media stations. At the recent Car Dealer Magazine conference I was lucky enough to experience the new wave of small franchise/independent motor retailers paving the way on Social Media platforms. Proving that you don’t necessarily need big budgets and teams of marketing professionals to make an impact, just great content, charismatic people and the ability to personify your brand.