Social media: You don't have to be everywhere, says Brad Cannon

Publish Date: 
May 23, 2012

Off-road enthusiast and Powersports Marketing’s VP of operations Brad Cannon knows a thing or two about online activity — and dealers seem to agree. At Dealer Expo, his seminars on “Social Media and Mobile Marketing” were often standing-room only. We asked Cannon what retailers should do next.

Dealernews: What are some of the newer social media trends of use to dealers?
Brad Cannon: There are a lot of new sites/trends that a dealer can get caught up in, but newest doesn’t always equal best. Having been a GM in dealerships, my approach is one of what is realistic, and delivers the biggest impact with the least investment of time and money. Social media is so broad a topic, and there are hundreds of ways to engage. A dealer can easily get distracted in many different directions, getting no real traction.

G+ is Google’s answer to Facebook. It’s less than a year old, and has grown very quickly. What I have discovered is that while for some industries like photography, computer programming, and writing it is great, there’s very little moto-involvement at this point. My suggestion to dealers at this point is wait and see with G+ for now.

The new Facebook timeline setup is also worth a mention. It’s a major change in appearance, and opinions are mixed on it. While I reserve my opinion on the change, I believe Facebook is really the force to be reckoned with in the social media world. It’s a proven winner. There are also secondary types of sites like FourSquare and some other location based-social sites, but I don’t really recommend them. I have seldom seen dealers get any traction with them, and that time and energy is better spent elsewhere.

What about Pinterest?
Cannon: Pinterest is more of a fad than anything. It caught a lot of attention at the end of last year, but its traffic has dropped 25 percent in the last four months. If you look at industry statistics, 6 percent of people ride motorcycles — and that’s in the best markets. If you’re marketing and casting a wide net, 94 percent of people you come in contact with aren’t going to be interested in what you offer. So of that 6 percent, what percentage are males? Ninety percent. And what is the main composition of Pinterest? Eighty percent female. So for this particular market, investment and time in Pinterest is not going to be profitable. It’s just not a fit, demographically speaking.

If I’m a dealer, I have a very limited amount of time and money to experiment. I’m going to invest both of those things in social media methods that are proven winners and foundational elements. If I’m a dealer, I’m not looking hard at Pinterest.

What are the absolute crucial sites, then, for dealers?
Cannon: Facebook, and the online review sites like Yelp and Google Places. Make sure you’re paying attention to your review sites, and you definitely want to work with Facebook, with a splash of Twitter. With Twitter, I’d set it up so that my Facebook posts automatically went to my Twitter account.

The review sites also fall under the social media umbrella. Yelp and Google Places, these are the “tier one” sites. Then you have “tier twos,” like Citysearch and Merchant Circle. Though these review sites have been around for a while, there is a new understanding of them in the industry — within the past year, even. We’re starting to hear people say, “Wait a minute, I was online, saw that someone raked my dealership over the coals, and what do I do to tackle this?”

Having a good reputation on these sites is critical. More than 80 percent of people research a company online prior to doing business with them these days, and there is a nearly 90 percent chance that they will land on a site other than or in addition to your site in the process. What other people say about you is always more compelling than what you say about yourself, so it’s easy to see that reputation matters a lot. I have seen dealers who spend a lot of money in offline advertising only to have people research them online and get a negative impression.

What’s lacking in most dealer websites? What features do they absolutely need to have?
Cannon: Your website needs to be a silent salesman. One of the biggest things dealers are doing is they’re not completely finishing their websites. Part of that goes back to how busy dealers are — but this is your electronic storefront. Some dealers have an About Us page, and all it says is “coming soon.”

The job of a web site is to generate bona fide sales opportunities. To do that, there are a couple of key must-haves that should be available on every site: E-mail list sign-up, A contact form, a quote request form, and a credit application. Some dealers also have service appointment forms available, which is also a good idea. These are huge opportunities.

And I can’t tell you how many sites I’ve been to where it’s just like reading an online brochure. I can read about all the models available, but there’s no way for a potential customer to begin the sales process. In the dealership, we always teach salespeople to ask for the order. Web sites have to do the same.

So does every dealership need a designated, full-time or part-time employee devoted to social networking?
Cannon: Short answer: no, not every dealership. If you put a system in place, you can be successful without needing a specific individual to just do social networking. In smaller dealerships, everyone wears more than one hat. So it can just be another hat — like someone posting on Facebook three times a week.

In the larger dealerships, there’s usually an in-house marketing person who handles events as well as social networking. That’s actually a natural fit. And you can outsource as well, to companies that will help you with that kind of thing. Sometimes it’s easier to outsource rather than to monitor someone in-house.

This story recently appeared in the Dealernews June 2012 issue.