Social media is changing how we talk to our customers and how our customers talk to — and about — us. The tools offer tremendous opportunities for your dealership, are fairly easy to use, and many are even free. In fact, you could begin posting updates on Facebook, sending tweets on Twitter and writing blogs today. But, don’t.

“Shouting marketing messages is one of the ways to lose your audience,” says Sara Steever, vice president of interactive and digital strategist for Paulsen Marketing ( Instead, focus on finding your rural lifestyle community online and providing them with useful information. You’ll earn credibility as an expert – and a reputation as a good dealership to do business with.

Ten Steps

These 10 must-do steps can help turn your online social media efforts into real-life customers.

1. Set goals with measurable results.

Sara Steever

“There is a certain amount of fear where people think ‘am I missing the boat?’ and then go in ill-prepared,” says Steever.

Set the tools aside for now and think about what your dealership wants to accomplish. Do you need to build stronger relationships with your customers or increase your market share? Do you want to promote awareness of your parts or service department?

Back up those goals by setting measurable results for your social media program – and a timeframe for when you hope to achieve them. Track your “likes” on Facebook or followers on Twitter, but also how much discussion is generated. Strive to gain customers who are acting as online advocates for you and recommending your dealership.

2. Know your dealership’s identity.

Your planning session should also focus on identifying who you are as a dealership. For

example, are you known for your service department, the types of equipment you carry or your history in the community? Those dealership strengths can help you guide your social media conversations.

Be consistent with your dealership’s “personality” and don’t reinvent yourself.

“It can be a challenge to keep up with social media, if you’re trying to be something you’re not,” says Steever. “Transparency is really important.”

3. Know what your customers need.

“Social media is about listening,” says Steever. “Part of community building is listening.”

Use keyword searches to learn about discussions and information already occurring on topics related to your dealership. Research other dealers and brands on social media to follow those conversations and see where you might fit in.

“Think of social media as a focus group online, 24x7. You can learn a lot about what customers are thinking and then apply that to your messages,” Steever says.

4. Choose the right tools.

There are a lot of choices, so where should you start?

Steever suggests a weekly blog post could be an excellent way to reach goals. These posts, which can range from several hundred words to about 1,000 words, can help establish you as an expert. Also, they can help improve search engine ranking based on how you incorporate key words. Or, Facebook’s shorter posts may be a better fit for your schedule or writing style.

How often do you need to update?

“If you have something interesting to say, you can’t post too much. If you don’t have something interesting to say, you’ve already posted too much,” Steever says.

As a general guideline, plan to post on Twitter daily and on Facebook several times a week. That may change based on what information you have to share.

5. Develop social media policies.

You don’t want to stifle the conversation on social media, but you do need to avoid posts and conversations you may regret later. Some guidelines are easy, such as not using profanity and not arguing with a customer. Others may be more difficult, such as how and when to escalate a potential issue.

You don’t have to start from scratch. Steever says to turn to those companies who are successful with social media, such as Ford Motor Co. View Ford’s “digital participation” guidelines.

6. Develop your social media infrastructure

Next, establish the infrastructure for your program. Identify those who can best represent you in the social media world:

  • Who are my customers turning to in my dealership for information?
  • Who has the time?
  • What has the writing skills?
  • Who has shown the ability to use good judgment and be creative?

It may turn out to be you alone or several individuals who share responsibilities.

Then, develop a calendar regarding content topics. You can start with seasonal tips, such as helping rural lifestylers prepare for winter, or sharing safety advice. Ask your team what kinds of questions they get in the field. Be flexible and tie in to current events, such as equipment that can help your customers clean up their acreages after a major storm.

Be sure to identify a person who will review content before it is posted to make sure the dealership is represented well.

7. Develop content that is interesting and relevant.

Steever advises an 80:20 approach, 80% of a company’s social media messages should be about information and 20% percent should be product- or service-focused.

“Don’t just broadcast. Dive into other people’s conversation,” she says. And, offer opportunities for conversation. Ask and answer questions. Participate in discussions. Comment on other people or companies’ blogs or accounts. View negative comments as a way to identify possible issues and win back a customer.

Be sure to integrate your social media messages with other marketing efforts, such as direct mail or advertising. And, you may want to consider paid opportunities, such as targeted marketing through Facebook ads.

8. Track results.

Check in regularly to see if you’re achieving your goals. See if your new conversations have helped with relationship-building. In addition to follower measurements, you may be able to report anecdotal successes, such as a conversation that averted a crisis or helped you uncover an idea for in-store marketing.

9. Turn to an expert.

Don’t struggle alone if your social media program is not coming together as you had hoped. Steever says they often consult with clients to help them set goals, identify who can lead the effort and uncover content ideas. She says not to be sidetracked so much by obstacles that you stay off of social media altogether.

“The conversations will go on without you,” she warns.

10. Have fun.

Social media can give your dealership a boost in many areas.

“Once you get past the trepidation of the technology, you’re just sharing what your company is like and what you offer your customers. It can open a window into the personality of your dealership that is invigorating,” Steever says.