Now, Ehrling is getting some help from IMN, the same firm that produces the firm's email newsletters. Its new product, IMN Social Driver, provides feeds of content for the Hillside Honda pages on Facebook and Twitter--car care tips, links to feature articles, photos, videos, and so on.
"It's been very good for bringing referrals to the website, and we're getting a lot more engagement from our current Facebook fans," said Ehrling, who was an early test user prior to the product's launch in May. "So far, so good. I'm very happy with the things they've done."
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The content she gets from IMN helps her keep a steady pace of posts, but that doesn't mean she can let her social media presence run on autopilot. "I monitor the page, and if a customer asks a question, I like to respond and put a little personality into it. I do like to respond because people are often asking specific questions about the business that only someone internally could answer," Ehrling said.
While there are general-purpose social content services like Scribit and Curata, with material for any industry, IMN is trying to capitalize on years of experience as a marketing service bureau to the auto industry.
"We already handle 27 million auto newsletters monthly," said Bill Pena, executive director and chief architect at IMN. The offer is similar. Just as dealerships that lack the time or sophistication to produce their own polished email newsletters can have IMN do it for them, with a mix of standard content and material tailored to a particular market, now those dealerships can have IMN assist with social media content that will keep people coming back.
"We allow them to make the transition from what we've traditionally been doing to managing their social media presence, which is a much more complex thing to do," Pena said.
One thing that's different is that the email newsletters are usually subsidized by the automakers and distribute the manufacturers' official corporate content as part of the package. IMN has yet to forge a similar relationship for its social marketing service, Pena said. In addition to supporting Facebook and Twitter, Social Driver provides a blogging platform for the dealerships, where they can republish content such as posts from bloggers at the Detroit Auto Show, he said.
One of the most important characteristics of posts on any of these platforms is frequency, Pena said. "I believe in really having a regular cadence to the posts to keep people engaged between long buying cycles. It ought to be pretty much daily: car care content, tax saving tips, a variety of different kinds of content."
IMN CEO Ben Levitan said the mix can also stray from serious and topical posts. "We get tremendous uptake on things like, 'What's your favorite driving music?' Or if there's going to be a local concert appearance, information about the performance," he said. The most valuable characteristics include, "authenticity, timeliness, and relevancy to the local market," he said.
The value of social marketing to the auto industry was called into question recently by General Motors' decision to stop advertising on Facebook, which raised broader questions about whether Facebook is effective as an advertising platform.
However, Levitan noted that advertising and content marketing are two different things. "General Motors spends $30 million a year on content marketing, and $10 million a year on Facebook [advertising]," he said. "They're still going to spend the $40 million; they're just going to spend it on the part that works best."
Social posts, photos, videos, and links to articles are part of the natural flow on Facebook, whereas ads are distractions people tend to filter out, Levitan said. Facebook itself is recognizing that by offering new programs to promote posts in the social stream as an alternative to ads in the page margin, he said.
Ehrling said she originally signed up with IMN because it did a good job of helping her maintain a clean email list and avoid spam filters. Those skills seem to be transferring to social media, she said. "Our engagement is up, which is obviously beneficial, and the things we post are getting interaction."
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