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Can Social Media Sell Cars?

A car dealer discusses what social media optimization means in the automotive business -- and whether it helps move vehicles off the lot.

Facebook's 2012 Highs And Lows
Facebook's 2012 Highs And Lows
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It seems just about every business, from tax prep firms to doctors' offices to gas stations, has some form of social media presence these days. But there's little consensus on how it affects the bottom line of those companies, if at all. Ask 10 different organizations how they measure their social efforts, you're liable to get 10 different responses.

Ask Brian Benstock, general manager of Paragon Auto Group, if social media helps move Hondas and Acuras off the lot, and his answer is pretty clear cut.

"Are you kidding me? Absolutely," Benstock said in an interview. Benstock began investigating the business uses of various social and review sites in 2009, which in his view made him "late to the party." Benstock considered social to be "a blind spot," so he hired an outside marketing firm to take a look at Paragon's reputation online.

[ Ready to delve more deeply into social strategies? Read Top 5 Social Struggles For SMBs. ]

"It was horrible," Benstock said. "It wasn't horrible because we're bad dealers. It was horrible because the only customers that were having a voice on social media platforms were the customers that were dissatisfied. We had no policy, procedure, or way to address that."

Solving that problem entailed encouraging happy customers to share their stories online, too. Paragon's approval ratings are in the 90s, according to Benstock, meaning at least nine out of every 10 of the dealership's customers leave happy with their transaction. Likewise, it was incumbent on Paragon, which has around 300 employees and sells roughly 1,000 vehicles each month, to spread the word about its involvement in its New York-area communities, such as sponsoring local Little League teams.

Doing so involves a mix of process and technology. For the latter, Paragon is using Digital Air Strike, a social media and reputation management platform built specifically for auto dealers. The process side relies on actually being social -- you know, interacting with other human beings -- and on how Paragon sets up its operations. All of the vehicles Paragon sells are handed over to their new owners by "delivery coordinators" rather than the salespeople, who get to focus on sales rather than everything that occurs after the sale.

Benstock called these highly trained delivery coordinators "black-belt experts" in customer service and satisfaction. Part of their role is to ask every customer if they're satisfied before driving off the lot; if the answer is anything short of "yes," the coordinator's job is to resolve the issue. "If the customer is satisfied, then we want to encourage [them] to let other people know," Benstock said.

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