Spotlight on Social Media

Recently, Outsell had the opportunity to speak with Stephen Higgins, Social Media Manager for AutoNation. You can listen to the audio file or read the transcript of our chat below.

AM: I’m here today with Stephen Higgins, Social Media Manager for AutoNation, discussing social media and the role it can play in the automotive industry. Stephen, you’ve been working with AutoNation for several years now in web design and marketing, and of course social media. How long has AutoNation been using social media in its marketing and customer service, and how crucial do you feel the use of social media is for success in those areas?

SH: Well, we started in July 2009. We first started in the AutoWay market and we slowly rolled that right across our organization. I think that it is vitally important that we continue to be part of the conversation, and as more consumers start to use social media, especially using it for recommendations and things like that, I feel that it’s very important for us to be in that space and communicate in the manner that they feel most comfortable. So right now we definitely think that this is a very important role and we have to continue to make sure that we’re in the conversation.

AM: I know that AutoNation uses social media more as a tool for reaching and assisting their customers rather than only for marketing the company brand. How do you feel that approach is most beneficial for you in the long run?

SH: I think that is definitely important for us in the long run because a higher percentage of the customers trust in peer recommendations on social sites than they really do in advertising. And, again, I just keep expressing that it’s really important for us to be in there early, to be understanding of what the customer’s needs are, and to be in the spaces where they’re active talking back and forth with their friends, and being able to gain that trust over the long run. So having that approach and continually doing that as more people look to those areas for recommendations on where to buy their vehicle or to get their vehicle serviced will only continue to grow.

AM: I think it’s really great that you use that approach with social media by focusing on the customer, because I don’t think it’s always the case with some other companies. Along with that, where do you think the future of social media and its role, especially with the automotive industry, might be going from here as people begin to use it more and more?

SH: Where I personally see this going over the next couple of years is I think that more stores are going to start to really embrace social media. And where I think they’re going is it’s going to be inserted into more parts of the stores, so it’s going to be used a lot more within the sales process. So, for example, if you deliver a vehicle to the customer instead of just having them fill out a CSI card where they give a score, what will happen is we’ll ask, “Hey, did you enjoy your experience? Do you mind if we do a quick video just talking about the first place you’re going to take your car, what features you like about the car?” So it’s going to be things like that where the stores are going to be a lot more active in each area of the departments, and it’s really going to start to be integrated in every area as customers definitely start to expect more of those things.

AM: I completely agree that listening to customer responses is one of the most important things with this. Finally, I just wanted to ask if you could give maybe 3 or so top tips for fellow dealers in regards to using social media that you think is most helpful for improving sales and in general with every day business, especially as we’re in the holiday season now.

SH: If you don’t have a social media presence, do not jump in without some form of plan. We’ve noticed that some dealers just jump in and they’re expecting to get 1000 followers right off the bat, but you really have to embrace it from all levels within the store and come up with some form of plan about how you are going to communicate with the customer and how you’re going to listen to their needs. And once you decide to get into social media you can’t just turn it off, it’s going to continue, the customers are going to expect a response if there’s an issue. So definitely have a plan. Another suggestion I would say is to try and get help from every area within the store, especially from the GM, because it definitely is a team effort. And remember that it’s not primarily a selling tool. We look at it as building a relationship over the long run, and if you look at it from that aspect then the sales will eventually come from that once you’ve gained their trust. So those are some of the tips that I would especially give.

AM: Thank you so much. I think those are some really wonderful bits of advice for using social media today, and thank you so much again for your time. That was Stephen Higgins, Social Media Manager for AutoNation. For more useful tips and info that could better help your business with media and marketing tools, please join us next time.

Stephen also recommended Radian6, a platform for listening, measuring and engaging with customers across the spectrum of social media. You can check out the services available with Radian6 here. And for those in the automotive space, the best tool hands down is GOSO, which has some similarities to Radian6 but is more tailored to the automotive industry.

Thanks again to Stephen for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with us. You can keep up to date on further tips and news from AutoNation on Twitter.