For car dealers, Facebook draws fans, but not sales

Mark Millevoi of Millevoi Bros. Auto Sales & Service in Northeast Philadelphia joined Facebook to reach out to clients. "I'm very unhappy with Facebook," he said recently, having sold only one car through it.
Mark Millevoi of Millevoi Bros. Auto Sales & Service in Northeast Philadelphia joined Facebook to reach out to clients. "I'm very unhappy with Facebook," he said recently, having sold only one car through it. (SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 02, 2011

Who "likes" a car dealership on Facebook?

Well, 415 people do, according to Millevoi Bros. Auto Sales & Service's fan page.

Mark Millevoi, the owner of the dealership in Northeast Philadelphia, joined the 750-million-member social media site in hopes that it would help sales. So far, Millevoi is disappointed.

"I'm very unhappy with Facebook," Millevoi repeated - for the fourth time. He sold 400 to 500 cars in 2010, but only one through Facebook.

Millevoi constructed the fan page in January 2010 and slowly gathered a legion of 415 fans composed of relatives, friends, friends of friends, customers, and strangers. The page is visible to the public and contains links and photos to cars in his inventory. The links connect to his dealership website, which contains additional photos and information on prices, mileage, transmissions, etc.

The dealership fan page got 400 to 600 impressions a month, Millevoi said. Whether anyone paid real attention is another matter.

"I wouldn't get questions from anybody," Millevoi said. Except for one or two people who "liked" each update, there was no interaction between the dealer and his fans.

Frustrated, Millevoi changed strategies in March. Now he just posts inventory updates on his personal "Mark Millevoi" Facebook page, where he has 267 friends.

He gets more questions and comments, but still not nearly as many as he would like. The change has not been any kind of difference-maker for him and his business.

CNW Marketing Research Inc. estimates that 43 percent of U.S. car dealers were using Facebook as of 2010. But, car dealers are reevaluating the worth of Facebook, said John Giamalvo, director of dealer sales at Edmunds.com, an online car-finder.

He said there are four tiers of dealers using Facebook. The first tier are dealers who put up a Facebook page because they've heard that they need to be on Facebook. Yet, they do not update or monitor the page. Thus, when a customer contacts them through Facebook, they do not respond, therefore Facebook is hurting them rather than helping.

The second tier garners fans to improve their search results on Google. The third tier adds promotions and uses Facebook like a mass-marketing tool, similar to a TV-advertising spot. The fourth tier also tries to make its sales team expand the dealership name through having its own personal pages, hoping to expand name recognition beyond the dealership page.

So far, Facebook has been poor in improving sales.

"I think it's something that's going to take longevity. The people in the last tier are the ones that are going to reap those rewards," Giamalvo said.

Facebook is called a social-media site for a reason, said John Curtis, senior social media and search-engine optimization strategist at L2T Media, which advises car dealers on using social media effectively. People go on Facebook to connect with their friends, not to buy cars, so selling cars on Facebook will not be as easy as selling on Craigslist or eBay, Curtis said.

Facebook helps a dealer build trust with potential customers, Curtis said. The first step is to use Facebook to provide value to the masses, meaning inventory updates are not enough. A person may buy a car every couple of years, but they get an oil change every couple of months, so dealerships should provide service coupons to their fans.

More people will "like" a fan page just for those coupons, and if they use it and are satisfied with the service, the dealer just moved "a couple levels up in the trust ladder," Curtis said. When one of those folks is looking to buy a car, he will remember the dealership that gave him a discount on an oil change.

Facebook also allows businesses to listen in on conversations about their own business, Curtis said. When a dealer finds a relevant conversation, he should join in, Curtis said. A car dealer should offer his expertise, give advice on buying cars, do something to provide value to the conversation. A dealer should also create conversations with his fans by posting articles about cars, asking questions, and conducting polls.

Stephen Wade Nissan, one of nine Utah car dealerships owned by Stephen Wade, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, tells a different Facebook story.

Two-and-a-half years ago, the Nissan dealership started a Facebook page that yielded no results. But two months ago, the Nissan outlet began an aggressive Facebook campaign. Since then, fans grew from 170 to 579 as of late last month.

A professional ad company constructed some features on the page, but, "The big difference comes when you get everybody in the dealership involved," said Matt Muir, Internet sales director of Stephen Wade Automotive Group. Multiple people in the dealership have access to the Facebook account so that they can respond to questions and give quotes as soon as possible.

Last month, the number of fans grew by 279 in five days. The cause: A sweepstakes contest posted on its wall that said if the number of fans exceeds 500, the dealership group will give one fan a GPS system. If fans top 750, then he'd give some fan a Kindle, and if the count climbs above 1,200, a $300 gas card would be awarded to a fan.

The "Stephen Wade Nissan" Facebook page includes digital brochures, quick quotes, inventory, photos of its employees, free car washes, links to its blog, and newspaper articles about cars.

According to Muir, it is too early to have concrete data linking Facebook to car sales in the Nissan dealership, but Facebook has definitely generated more traffic, and sales associates have been getting more calls.

"It's a noticeable difference when you walk from store to store," Muir said. The Nissan dealership "is upbeat and friendly."


Contact staff writer Jingwen Hu at 215-854-2625 or jhu@philly.com.

 

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