Automotive Advertising Agencies Turn To Social Networking Communities To Learn How To Monetize Social Media

Automotive advertising agencies have accepted the Internet as a new media to supplement, if not replace, conventional radio, T.V. and print. However, social media still represents a challenge for many automotive advertising agencies who can't figure out how to monetize it. Philip Zelinger, the host of the popular automotive advertising resource / networking portal AdAgencyOnline.Net and the site's blog talk radio station -- WAAOL, All Automotive Advertising News All The Time -- has focused on cutting edge automotive advertising applications that provide quantifiable R.O.I. using social media coupled with efficiencies in integrating selling processes that blur the line between the real and the online virtual world.

Automotive advertising agencies and auto dealers who recently attended the 8th Digital Dealer Conference in Orlando Florida were treated to an inside look at tomorrow's dealerships today; which was the theme of the conference. Philip Zelinger's session at the conference, titled "Consumers Own The Dealership Of Tomorrow, Today; So ... Get To Know Your New Boss!," was standing room only as he shared best practices to monetize social media and new automotive advertising applications that integrate social networking into proven real world selling systems. Many of the automotive advertising solutions referenced in Mr. Zelinger's session are either preferred automotive advertising vendors on AdAgencyOnline.Net or vendor clients of his full service automotive advertising agency, Ad Agency Online, LLC, (AAOL). AAOL represents auto dealers as well as select automotive advertising vendors in the technology sector.

Auto dealers challenged by reduced sales volume and per unit profits have shifted their advertising messages away from previously valued long term branding and top of the mind awareness investments into short term sales messages with verifiable results and a fast R.O.I. to preserve bottom line profits. Unfortunately, automotive advertising agencies recognize this tactic as a reaction, not an action, to market conditions beyond the auto dealers control that have forced them to reduce their advertising budgets and staff to survive in a shrinking economy. According to Philip Zelinger, "This death spiral has a foreseeable conclusion that social media and its associated viral marketing component can overcome, but only if the automotive advertising agency and auto dealer know how to use it."

A new consumer centric inventory based marketing platform recommended by Philip Zelinger -- ronsmap -- is powered by customer comments in social networking communities like Face Book, My Space and Twitter. Their exhibit at The 8th Digital Dealer Conference was one of the most visited booths at the conference and their application served as the cornerstone of Mr. Zelinger's session. ronsmap relies on customer to customer comments, C2C, in social media vs. more conventional automotive advertising methods that rely on business to customer messaging, B2C.

Their "Ask-a-Friend/Tell-a-Friend" application, vBack, allows a consumer to push vehicles they discover on ronsmap or on the auto dealer's website to their online friends and family to solicit their opinion. The extended reach and frequency of this marketing platform works from the inside of these social networking communities out vs. from the outside in. These customer generated marketing messages are better received by the members of the online community as well as the search engines, like Google, who have added extra value to real time social media in their S.E.O. algorithms and analytics that determine premium positions in their search results.

Of equal value for automotive advertising agencies is the fact that ronsmap provides an R.O.I. analytic tool in their dealer facing application that tracks the viral coefficient of these consumer generated marketing messages in their social networking communities. The ability to provide auto dealers with a quantifiable and verifiable R.O.I. tied to their social media investments in ronsmap evidences the ability of ronsmap to monetize social media for auto dealers.

In addition, ronsmap has enhanced the consumer experience on their site with a user interface that is both intuitive and transparent. They post every vehicle for sale on the Internet in a geo-targeted map configuration that resembles a Google Map with pins representing available new and pre-owned vehicles. Their integrated search engine is powered by a licensed ontology semantic extraction process that, combined with direct inventory feeds from auto dealers, has already posted 2.7 million vehicles on the site; and counting! Their comprehensive onsite search filters and proprietary application allows online shoppers to select multiple vehicles from a variety of dealerships and/or private sellers posted on ronsmap with the ability to compare them all on a single page known as their "Short List."

Perhaps the most game changing feature of ronsmap is their business model that provides free listings and free leads to auto dealers with no contract or obligations. The fact that there are no premium positions or per lead fees allows the site to prioritize the consumers interests with the auto dealers positioned to earn their business when the customer is ready. Mr. Zelinger explained the unique value of ronsmap's business model to automotive advertising agencies and auto dealers while explaining how they generate revenue to support their platform. "Auto dealers often complain that they feel as if they have been held hostage by inventory based marketing platforms like AutoTrader.Com, Cars.Com and others that are auto dealer centric. These vendors require thousands of dollars in premium listings and provide generic leads with minimal market and consumer intelligence to allow the dealer to anticipate the consumers needs before entering negotiations. ronsmap offers free listings and basic leads that mirror the paid listings and leads of other third party marketing platforms and/or lead providers. However, they also offer a subscription service to auto dealers, SellersVantage, that provides competitive market and consumer intelligence in their Intelli-Lead that empowers the dealership to open the negotiation with enough information to differentiate themselves from the competition who has little more than the customer's name, email address and comments on the dealer's own vehicle."

"The viral nature of ronsmap's social networking tools also empowers the consumer who is supported by the opinions of his online family and friends regarding the dealership and their vehicle even before the dealer contacts him. This enhanced shopping process strengthens the relationship between the online shopper and the selling dealer. Relationship based selling systems are a proven process that has survived on the Internet because human nature has. ronsmap puts the customer first and that feature alone is enough to push through the glass wall to make a sale for the auto dealers that support it. After all, what are friends for!"

AdAgencyOnline.Net has other social networking tools offered by the preferred automotive advertising vendors on their portal that were also exhibiting at the 8th Digital Dealer conference with an equally prominent position in Mr. Zelinger's session on monetizing social media. DealerMouth, for example, is a website hosting service and automotive advertising application that allows an auto dealer to offer his sales and service staff the ability to post a personal website to develop their own online marketing plan. Marketing to personal spheres of influence is a proven process that should be part of any auto dealer's marketing plans, however, managing and monitoring the efforts of their staff has proven to be a challenge for auto dealers who might be liable for any abuse in their name.

DealerMouth mitigates this risk by allowing the auto dealer or their automotive advertising agency to moderate material posted on their staff's individual sites to confirm that they meet guidelines listed in their employee manuals regarding the use of the Internet at their facility. DealerMouth also provides an R.O.I. analytic tool that manages and monitors all activity on the sites to maximize the R.O.I. of the dealership's money invested not only in the application but in the time of their staff who might otherwise abuse their social networking activities during working hours. The added value of using the system as a training tool to share best practices in the use of the personalized websites is an example of best practices learned in the field with many more expected to surface as DealerMouth expands into the marketplace.

Philip Zelinger explained how DealerMouth can be used by the affiliated automotive advertising agencies of AAOL to monetize social media for their auto dealer clients. "I invested my own money for 25 plus years as a General manager and Auto Dealer Principal, and for the past 10 years I have been responsible to invest my client's money, so I relate to the need to inspect what you expect while managing risk and demanding an acceptable R.O.I. from every dollar. DealerMouth provides a process that will allow an auto dealer to invest his money and staff in social media while being able to monitor the activity at every level. Automotive advertising agencies have been asking their clients to accept their assurances that social media has value as a branding tool with a long term R.O.I. based on earned relationships in the social networking communities that they influence; and I agree with them. I have always supported the need to develop top of the mind awareness in marketing plans using conventional media with frequency and consistent messages across multiple channels and media delivered to a targeted audience and the Internet is no exception. However, when a dealer is counting pennies to cover payroll and fixed expenses trust isn't part of the process. DealerMouth allows an auto dealer to invest in social media with the same accountability and R.O.I. requirements of his other media with the ability to control the process from a single online application. No trust needed, just results!"

SiSTeR Technologies is another vendor client of AAOL that was referenced by Philip Zelinger in his session on monetizing social media. SiSTeR offers an automated video production platform -- Video CarLot -- that converts pictures on an auto dealer's website into an indexed interactive video with human voice. The videos are posted on the auto dealer's website to enhance their conversion rates and S.E.O. by pushing the videos directly to You Tube with individual URLs linked back to the dealers website. The videos are also pushed to any third party marketing platforms used by the auto dealer.

They leverage social media by applying their vShock platform -- a micro-site that displays similar vehicles from the auto dealer's inventory -- on a tab posted on the auto dealer's Face Book page. This easily accessed link to the auto dealer's inventory operates within Face Book allowing the dealer to introduce their vehicles to the community without posting them individually on the wall. A practice that is often shunned by consumers in social media.

TeleTextSolutions was also included in Mr. Zelinger's session representing the automotive advertising industries first full solutions Opt In Text messaging system. This application was not designed as a social media tool, however, their mobile application allows automotive advertising agencies to embed their short codes into social media messages to track the R.O.I. for their auto dealer clients to source the results from their social media investments in time and money.

TeleTextSolutions uses short codes embedded in all forms of advertising -- including social media. This allows the dealership to communicate via a web based text messaging system that can integrate leads with the dealer’s CRM. They also provide a unique Opt In SMS text messaging system for the Service Department that reduces the time it takes to link up with a customer after they have dropped their vehicle off and then a new problem is found. Phone tag is a major problem for Service departments that text helps to reduce thus increasing work throughput.

A growing number of auto Industry social networking sites have grown to serve as a resource for automotive advertising agencies anxious to listen and learn from auto industry insiders about monetizing social media. Examples include Ralph Paglia's Automotive DigitalMarketing, Brian Pasch's InternetSalesmanager.Org, Jared Hamilton's Driving Sales.Com, Jeff Kershner's DealerRefresh.Com , Chris Saraceno's DealerElite.Net and Jody Devere's AskPatty.com. The common bond of these sites appears to be their shared philosophy that a rising tide floats all boats. Their willingness to share best practices with their online communities evidences that automotive advertising agencies and auto dealers have joined their online customers in their preference to travel the Internet Super Highway for information before they invest in their automotive advertising.

After all, what are friends for!

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Comment by Ron Morrison on April 26, 2010 at 6:06pm
Spectacular as usual Phil. It truly a new dawn in the automotive space. The consumer is in more control then they've ever been and the dealer has more opportunity and access directly to the literal "hearts" and "minds" of their consumers. Empowerment is the lubrication for the wheels of commerce in the automotive market. We're working hard to bring more empowerment to consumers and to dealers. Consumers will be empowered with more information and dealers will be liberated and empowered to do business directly with consumers unencumbered by larger 3rd party sites "trolling" for basic lead fees.

Keep up the great work and keep driving your message.

Michael: THANK YOU so very much for your generous shout out and compliments about ronsmap. Speaking of Very Cool... the Dealer Elite site is "major cool."
Comment by Mike Myers on April 26, 2010 at 5:36pm
Great insight! I very much enjoyed this post and everyone should read it. The Ronsmap stuff is really great too. His site is very cool!

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