There has been a promising trend in the automotive industry over the last couple of years. Dealers are starting to pay a good amount of attention to their online reputation, something that simply wasn’t a priority not too long ago. Today, it’s at the top of mind for most dealers. The only challenge is that many are taking action towards improving their reviews on sites like Yelp, Google, and Dealer Rater, but are not focusing at all on the other components of their reputation.
These components are arguably much more important than what Yelp says about your dealership.
This is not to say that reviews are not important. We’re working on what we consider to be the most cutting-edge online review management system in the industry. However, it is only a slice of the reputation pie. The other parts can not only help protect your dealership from the negatives out there. They can actually help to proactively drive more business. Here’s how.
“Skin in the Game” Social media
Facebook has started being more aggressive with their push to get people to use their location review feature. Google Local has been integrated with Google+ for a while and is arguably the most prominent review site in the automotive industry simply because of their biased placement on searches. Twitter is turning around again to be more involved with review sites. All of this is important, but it’s not the most important part of social media from a reputation management perspective.
Unlike standard review sites, there’s skin in the game for those who post about you on their social profiles. When they go to leave a review on Yelp, Dealer Rater, or any of the other sites, there is very little chance that anyone who knows them or trusts their opinion will actually see the review. They are willing to leave these reviews as a semi-public dialogue between them and the dealership. I used the term “semi-public” because while most review sites identify the name of the person leaving the review, their identity is not of any real importance. People who look to review sites are trying to get a general sentiment. They may be looking for dirt, of course, but it’s a check box in the overall buying experience.
More and more press is coming out about fake reviews on these sites as well. Those of us who understand the industry or have been delving into reputation management for some time are well aware that many of the reviews are encouraged. Some are downright fake. Ours isn’t the only industry that knows this which is why fewer people are as trusting of review sites as they once were.
When people post about you on social media, they’re involved. They are now part of the conversation in a way that their friends can and will see. If they say something good about your dealership on Facebook, more local people that know and trust them will see the positive sentiment. It will register to them now and influence them whether they’re in the market today or thinking back six months in the future. The opposite is true as well. A negative review on Dealer Rater will hurt your overall score and a scathing writeup will be written by some who are very curious about the way you do business, but in reality the damage is not that great. If they post a hateful message about you on Facebook, however, you’re now exposed. If the user is active on Facebook, then the negative sentiment will definitely register.
There’s two primary takeaways to this point. First, we’re very proactive as an industry when it comes to getting reviews on review sites, but we’re not taking advantage of the conversation and trust-factor potential of social media as a reputation component. Second, people will vent on their social media profiles when they have no other course of action. Some will do it anyway regardless of what a dealership does, but some can be prevented by giving a direct line of communication to the customer. The scariest part about negative social media posts is that you’re probably completely unaware that they happen. They do. That much is certain. unfortunately, they’re not all consolidated to a single venue like they are with the review sites. Bad word of mouth is amplified when it’s posted to Facebook.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of social media as it pertains to reputation is that it has anything to do with your dealership’s pages and profiles. It doesn’t, at least not from this perspective (though I’ll cover the other perspective shortly). They don’t have to post negative feedback to your page for it to be out there. The sooner that a dealership understands the dynamic between social media and reputation, the closer they’ll be to being able to use social media to drive traffic and referrals to their dealership.
How You Appear on Searches for Your Name
Contrary to popular belief, people don’t normally find your reviews by going to DealerRater.com or Yelp.com directly. They get there through search, in particular searches for your dealership by name. It’s important to understand that controlling as much of the Google search results pages as possible when people search for you is of the utmost importance. By properly controlling what people are able to find when they search for you, you’ll have a much better chance of keeping them interested before they even fill out a lead form or come into the dealership.
In the example above, a person searching for “Lebanon Ford” will find the dealership-controlled websites, of course, but they’ll also find the dealership’s social media presence. In this case, it’s Facebook and Twitter. Avid users of these and other social media sites will want to see what you’re portraying on your social media pages. They can get a better understanding of the humanity behind this presence by visiting these pages. What will they find when they visit yours?
Will they find the type of activity that they want to find? Will they see relevant posts that pertain to the automotive industry, the local community, and the dealership itself, or will they see memes and funny cat pictures. Despite a dangerous belief held by many that posting irrelevant images is the way to go with your social media presence, the reality is that these types of posts, though “likeable” by some, are a turnoff to many. Average people don’t want any businesses posting irrelevant content. It’s insincere. It makes a dealership look like they’re trying too hard to fit into to the community as an individual by being frivolous. That’s not the way to handle social media in 2013.
Today, people that are willing to interact with companies through social media (and that number is growing every day) want to know that a business is on-target. They want to know that you’re not spamming, that you’re engaging, and that you’re staying true to your business and community. They don’t want memes. They don’t want cats. They want to know that you are willing to be the authority on your brand in the local area.
Of course, review sites play a big role when it comes to search. It’s important that you focus your efforts on the review sites that people can find. If they want to know what others are saying about your dealership, the most likely search terms they’ll type in will be either your name or your name plus the word “reviews”. Do those searches and see what’s on the front page of Google and Bing. Are you scoring well? Do you need to get more positive reviews to those sites?
Keep in mind that if a review site cannot be seen in on the front page of Google or Bing for either of those two search variations, the review site really doesn’t exist. It will be rare that a single person will ever see that 5-star rating you have on Superpages if it’s buried on page 3 on Google and Bing searches. Reviews aren’t just about what people are saying about you. They’re also about what other people can find. If a review is posted on a review site and nobody ever visits it, did that review have any affect on your business?
How You Appear in Other Searches
Earlier this year, I posted an article about how SEO is becoming a PR tool. This cannot be stressed enough. People trust that search engines are able to give them good options from which to choose. Most do not understand exactly how the search engines rank sites, but they do believe that there’s some sort of authority factor. When you’re able to rank at the top of the searches for generic terms such as the one displayed above, the person doing the search knows that it happened for a reason.
In the very localized market, this isn’t as much at play. If you’re the Chevrolet dealership in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, then appearing at the top for “Fond du Lac Chevrolet” isn’t going to help you from a reputation perspective. You’re the one in that city, so ranking at the top is expected. If, however, your Fond du Lac Chevrolet dealer is able to rank at the top of the searches for “Milwaukee Chevrolet Dealers” ahead of Chevrolet dealerships that are in Milwaukee, there must be a reason. It’s amazing publicity and a strong play for your dealership’s reputation when you’re able to start ranking well outside of your immediate area.
That doesn’t mean that a Fond du Lac dealer should start trying to rank for “Dallas Chevrolet”. It has to make sense.
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Reputation is an important defense. However, it can be used on the other side of the ball as well. Don’t just pick up a reputation management solution and call it a day. Take a long look at what your potential customers are seeing and make an effort to improve your overall reputation, not just what appears on Yelp.