Building an Online Community

online community

Referrals. That’s the goal of developing an online community. But a vehicle dealership is vastly different from other types of businesses that have online communities. Copying what they do online won’t work well for you.

The Frequency of Purchase Determines Consumer Behavior

The typical family might be in the market to buy a vehicle every three years, and maybe much less frequently than that. Perhaps they will buy parts or service from you sporadically, but certainly not as often as they buy meals out, purchase dry-cleaning services or shop for pet supplies or movie tickets. Those are frequent purchases, so people welcome coupons, sales announcements and marketing emails about them, maybe even on a weekly basis. See the difference between those businesses and your dealership?

Face it, your customers might like you, but they don’t want to receive a sales message from you every week. Neither do your customers want a way to socialize online with your other customers. And they don’t look for ways to ‘meet up’ with your other clients face to face. Therefore, the car business does not lend itself to marketing methods that work for many other types of businesses.

Get Yourself Invited into Your Customers’ Networks

Despite what we’d like to think, there is not a lot of brand loyalty nowadays. Cheer up. That’s an opportunity for you to ask for referrals.

While most of your satisfied customers won’t be needing another car from you anytime soon, they certainly know people who will be in the market a lot sooner. How soon? Use your imagination and then put some numbers to the thought. The typical person who holds a job probably comes into frequent contact with a dozen people on a regular basis. Do you agree, or do you think their number of routine acquaintances is much higher? If you stay with the dozen figure, then 12 of their routine acquaintances will be in the car market long before your satisfied customers will be shopping again.

And most of those 12 people have no brand loyalty, so they would be happy to buy their next vehicle, service or replacement parts from you.

Can you ask for 12 referrals from each of your customers? Of course, you can. Stay in touch, but do it the right way. Not too often, be polite, be brief, make yourself helpful, and don’t be pushy. That’s how you like to be treated, right?

What Will Make Them Invite You?

Simple. Have you ever seen a recipe online that you liked, or read something funny, or come across an article you knew would be helpful (and timely) to one of your routine acquaintances? Chances are you clicked on it and forwarded it to them.

Or maybe you merely clicked a ‘like’ response to a post you saw on Facebook, without realizing that Facebook automatically told your network that you ‘liked’ that post. In doing so, you gave ‘instant referrals’ to the company that put up the helpful post. See how simple the concept of getting community referrals is, but at the same time how difficult it can be to master?

Write Posts that Help People

Sales is the only goal, but if you talk about sales, people will ignore you. Instead, put up posts about helpful tips that relate to what you sell. Try to help people be better consumers of your product.

What Could You Write About?

The list of topics that any number of people would find timely and relevant is limited only by your imagination. Think about it. What are the most common complaints you’ve heard about the car business? Address those concerns in writing. Here are some ideas for topics you could give advice on:

  • How long will your car last before you should shop for a new one?
  • Should you buy or lease your next car?
  • Looking for a good deal? Does it really matter what time of the year, or month, you buy a car?
  • Weekend, evening or daytime, when is the best time to shop at a car dealership?
  • Car, SUV, minivan, crossover or station wagon – what’s best for you?
  • Extended warranties – how do they work?
  • Should you trade in your car or sell it yourself?
  • Tips for selling your car fast, easy, safely and for the best price.
  • How to avoid big repair bills.
  • How to avoid disagreements with your service department – avoid these common mistakes people make.
  • Working on your own car? Should you buy factory parts?

These articles should be in the form of short stories and helpful tips. For more ideas, ask your staff to come up with suggestions, and to perhaps write some posts themselves. Keep them below 400 words each, as most people will not read much more than that on cell phones as they breeze through Facebook.

Avoid This Mistake

Remember, this is totally different from traditional advertising, where you try to sell something to the person who reads your ad. With online community building, though, you are fishing for referrals, so your goal is for your readers to like and share your posts.

Measure Your Progress

Write some posts, then count how many times they get liked and shared on Facebook. That will give you an idea what attracts people’s attention.

Go Where They Are

LinkedIn is for business networking, and people don’t go there looking to buy what you sell. Among the other dozens of social media platforms, Facebook is the undisputed leader for reaching consumers. Be sure to start a Facebook business page (it’s free), not a personal account. What’s the difference?

People merely ‘like’ a business page if they want to receive posts from it. They can’t see who else likes it. But they ‘friend’ personal pages and can readily see the person’s other friends. For that reason, (protecting your client’s privacy), be aware that Facebook can close a personal page if it is being used to promote a business. Do it right; start a business page.

Besides, when you get good at attracting people to like your page, it’s easy to move into paid Facebook advertising. Then you can direct your ads directly to people who have liked your competitors’’ pages.