Should Social Media Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy?
Should Social Media Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy?

Social media is everywhere these days. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn are vying for everyone’s time and attention. They can be powerful tools to connect with your network, follow news and trends, and build relationships with agents and dealers. But many providers aren’t using social media at all, or if they are, the usage is more personal.

For F&I product providers and administrators, using social media to grow the business is admittedly a tricky thing. First and foremost, whom are you trying to reach? The first thought, that social media is for connecting to the ultimate end user — the car buyer — doesn’t work here. But agents and dealers are using social media as well, and there is an opportunity to become their go-to contact by building relationships with them online.

Making Contact

How do you go about introducing your company to agents? How to you educate them on the products and services you offer? How do you maintain and build that relationship over time? On the dealer side, how do you grow the relationship after they’ve started selling your product line?

These are areas where social media can help. Online networking can be almost as effective as in-person events, such as trade shows, to gain the attention of new agents or agencies — and then keep them interested beyond the initial contact. Many agents we’ve spoken to noted that before they even begin to consider selling products from a new provider, they first do extensive research on the company behind them. What better way to build a presence for them to learn about you than through social media?

“We use LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube to connect with our agents and dealers,” said Kristi Whitaker, client relations manager, NAC. “Facebook allows us to connect with our agents and dealers on a personal level, while we use LinkedIn for recruiting new partnerships and YouTube for training.”

Each platform, she noted, is geared toward connecting in a slightly different way, but the overall strategy is to build and maintain relationships and partnerships with both current and prospective clients. And having a defined strategy of what you want to accomplish is one of the top best practices any company looking to use social media should employ.

“What’s your ‘main thing?’” asked social media expert and author, Paul Castain. “’Main thing’ in this context is: What do you want to be known for? Stand for? Be synonymous with? What is it, exactly, that you want people to say about you behind your back? This is so important, because it will serve as your map for your online activities.”

Castain pointed out that knowing your ultimate goal before you start using social media is key to being successful at it. If you go onto the sites and post comments about football or politics, for example, then you’ll become known for that, rather than being known for your company and products. The trick is to define the end result you want, and then structure your strategies around that. In many cases, your end result should be, like NAC, to connect with new clients and build deeper relationships with new ones.

“The biggest piece of advice for others is to really decide on a strategy first, and then figure out which sites will help you reach your goals and will benefit your strategy,” Whitaker said. “Each social media platform serves a different purpose. There is no need to join a site if it will not help you reach your end goals.”

As she pointed out, each type of social media — defined by the sites themselves and how they are structured — dictates how to proceed. You don’t want to post the same type of information on Facebook and LinkedIn, for example. “On LinkedIn, we mainly post job opportunities and changes within the organization,” said Whitaker. “We have created a group specifically for NAC agents where they can talk about products and best practices. On Facebook, we post fun facts, not only in the auto industry, but just in general, and pictures from company events. We also use the ‘Events’ function to invite people to training.”

Responsibility and Accountability

But it’s not enough simply to have a strategy, Castain pointed out. It’s also about consistency. To be effective, you can’t simply create an account and then check in every now and then. There has to be an effort to engage in the conversation on a regular basis. “It begins with an understanding that there is way too much going on in this world for people ever to have you on the brain,” he noted. “You need to get on the radar screen, and you can’t get on the radar screen if you are inconsistent in the ‘showing up’ department; meaning, showing up hot and heavy for a few days and then disappearing for a few weeks; or showing up every now and again.”

One way to build consistency is to designate someone in your organization as your social media expert. Give them the responsibility to stay on top of posting content and managing your online presence. “We have one person in the marketing department managing our accounts and making all of the posts,” Whitaker said. “We do ask for input from other departments so that we can get a broad perspective and many different types of information to post.”

She also pointed out that just posting items isn’t enough; you need to have a strategy in place for handling feedback — both good and bad. She noted that handling negative feedback can sometimes be more valuable than simply collecting positive reviews, since it shows the character of your organization, and your willingness to engage and fix problems — both important traits agents look for in their providers.

“We’ve come to find out that it is best to reply directly [to negative comments] and keep the post on the site rather than deleting the post,” Whitaker noted. “We’ve found that two things happen by keeping the post on the site: One, other clients, customers and partners will come to your rescue. The majority of the time, if a customer posts about a negative experience, someone will reply back with their positive experience. Two, if posts are just deleted, it is like you are trying to hide something. By leaving the post and replying back, you acknowledge the customer’s bad experience but explain your stance. Most of the time, issues can be resolved right away.”

She went on to note an important fact for every company out there: Even if you aren’t present on social media sites, your agents are, and they are going to talk about you either way. “Customers are talking with negative comments whether you are on social media or not,” she said. “Our company’s belief is that it is better to be exposed to the negative comments and be able to defend yourself rather than be oblivious and not know they are out there.”

As a P&A provider, do you use social media? We would love to talk to you and hear more about your strategies for the various social networks. Email [email protected] to share your story.