As one of the most rapidly growing automotive brands for social media presence, Nissan sees the increased use of Facebook from its customers for sending complaints and praise as a sign of the times. AutoTrader and Automotive News reported on the shift Nissan has been experiencing from questions posed to their 1-800 number to their Facebook page.

The widespread growth in consumer reviews moving to social media rather than just specific review sites may be part of the issue, but regardless of customer motivation, as Facebook use grows, call centers may shrink in favor of larger social media teams.

“People are less inclined to pick up a telephone and call you for information. They don’t want to wait. They don’t want to be told that an operator will be with you shortly,” said Erich Marx, Nissan’s director of marketing communications, responsible for social media. “They just want to send you an e-mail. Or they send you a text, or they post something on Facebook.”

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This revolution of social media for customer interaction and customer service, as well as reputation management, is why many brands are turning to software solutions to help manage their customer service needs on these broader levels.

All Facebook offers some advice for increasing success with Facebook customer service. For instance, always reply, whether to thank praises or resolve complaints. Always respond to customers on your own page rather than theirs. Monitor your page regularly, as the attention you give customers on social media should be equal to what you give calls and emails. And be sure to add some personality to your responses so that customers understand they are dealing with a person and not an automated response.

Facebook and other social media sites could very well replace or at least highly compete with the amount of calls coming into call centers for customer service. Are you ready with your social media team?

Jon Friedman of MarketWatch recently commented on the newest social media craze Google+ and how easy obsession with the site is why “Google+ scares me.” Real fear might be warranted for those who fail to use the platform as the unique new tool it is.

Google+ takes some of the key elements of Facebook and Twitter and makes the experience less cluttered, said Friedman. To start, users can categorize their contacts by ‘Circles’ so that every update they make doesn’t go to every person. Google+ also sports a unique feature called ‘Hangout’, allowing users to have a conversation with up to 10 people at the same time, a potentially useful tool for meetings across great distances. With over 25 million users gained in a month, some wonder if Facebook should be more concerned about their new competitor’s growth rate, despite remaining top dog with upwards of 750 million users.

Google+ is also elitist, only allowing users if they are invited by existing users, though that could soon change. The lack of games like Farmville is a nice feature, since much of Facebook has been bombarded with online games that are not useful for businesses or most fan pages. Of course, makers of online games are poised to launch Google + games within weeks, says VentureBeat, maybe even days. Google + takes after Twitter in its otherwise simplicity, focused on status updates but without the restriction of 140 characters.

What might have seemed like a novelty on Google’s part is clearly here to stay and could win out its competition.

The problem for businesses doesn’t come from not being involved in social media this time, but in how they choose to engage in the over-saturation of social media sites. Google+ could be an unprecedented resource for businesses and business professionals, but as Chris Brogan noted in an article about “Social Media Fatigue” most people are tired of the process of signing up and ‘friending’ their contacts all over again to make the experience worthwhile.

Many marketers have said that simple cross-posting is enough to utilize Facebook and Twitter effectively. Simply write a blog entry and then post the link to all of your followers and fans. But thinking of Google+ as just another carbon copy of that process would be a waste of the new approach to social media that Google is trying to give us. Brogan urges users of Google+ to use the site as a chance to do something different and start conversations for different reasons.

“The thing is this: we’re using these tools to enable new connections. We’re using them to make different kinds of business happen. We’re using these tools to help causes that matter, and so much more.”

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So for dealers and automotive professionals already involved with or looking to get invited to Google+, keep in mind that this is not the same old social media site. Do something different this time around and find new innovations to make your brand stand out.

Consumer reviews are becoming more and more of a challenge and source of fear for most dealers with widespread use of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter frequented by potential customers before they buy. While these reviews were once only found on Google Places or specific automotive websites, consumers are often doing their praising and complaining where the most of their friends and family can see it. Rather than see this as a negative aspect of the digital revolution, dealers need to start taking advantage.

Dealer reviews online are the new word of mouth, and this word of mouth can reach far more prospects that much faster. Jillian Ney of Social Media Today recently gave dealers three main reasons to love the phenomenon: brand perception, innovation, and competitive advantage.

Since reviews are everywhere a dealer might think to communicate with their customers, brand perception is everywhere too, and how your brand is perceived by current and potential customers is important.

“Why wouldn’t you want to know what your customers think of you? You then have the opportunity to use positive reviews and build relationships and possibly overcome any negative reviews,” said Ney.

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Staying ahead of your reputation management is key, and can also show you where you might improve and what your customers want and expect from you. Keeping track of what customers are saying also offers insight into your competition, because as easy as it is to find reviews for your dealership, the same is true for every one of your competitors.

DrivingSales looked at how reviews can best be leveraged using examples from Prestige Volvo, rated the #1 Volvo dealer in the country. Prestige Volvo strives to ask 100% of their customers for a review after purchase or service, even for a possible video review, so that potential customers can see the videos and positive feedback about their dealership wherever they go. You can see the full video interview with Prestige Volvo here.

Some new challenges have arisen lately for monitoring reviews and keeping ahead of brand perception. Google Places dropped third-party reviews the other week from the main page of Google Maps. Dealers that had some 100+ reviews now only list a few, since only reviews posted directly to Google are being displayed.

DrivingSales and dealerELITE reported on the loss of this additional review aggregation. The important thing to remember in the fallout of the development is that Google Places is best used for its direct reviews anyway, and the loss of third-party reviews shouldn’t be discouraging so much as an incentive to ask satisfied customers to go to Google Places and review for themselves.

That being said, don’t ignore reviews from third-party sites. Make sure you are on top of your reputation management, especially when it comes to social media sites where people tend to speak more freely. Embrace your reviews online, because that is where your brand is taking shape in the minds of consumers.

Outsell Announces Continued Strong Performance & Upcoming Major Platform Upgrades

Minneapolis, MN, July 25, 2011 – www.outsell.com – Outsell, one of the leading digital marketing software and services providers, announced continued strong performance in Q2, 2011 as well as major upgrades to the Outsell Digital Engagement Platform to be announced in Q3. In 2011 Outsell continued to experience strong growth, with year-to-date revenues up 64% over 2010.

“Outsell’s Digital Engagement Platform has proven to be a definitive digital marketing solution for some of the major players in the American automotive industry,” said Outsell CEO Mike Wethington. “In Q3 we’re going to take the platform to the next level with a new intuitive interface and extended functionality that will be really exciting for our clients.”

In major highlights for Q2, 2011:

— Outsell continued to roll out the Digital Engagement Platform to Toyota & Chevrolet dealers in conjunction with Saatchi & Saatchi and Agency 720 respectively. The Outsell Digital Engagement Platform is available via exclusive agreement with select manufacturers and their advertising agencies of record.

— Outsell’s Campaign Operations sent 31.2 million messages to automotive consumers in the Q2 of 2011, communicating with over 10 million American consumers a month. The Outsell Live Chat service continued to maintain a lead capture rate in excess of 50%, and Outsell executed SMS campaigns to over 16 thousand consumers for a select group of client dealers, doubling the number of opt-in subscribers from Q1.

— Outsell rolled out a proprietary Strategic Alliance Framework methodology called “The Outsell Success Framework”. This methodology is a seamless, forward-looking framework designed to manage the relationship between Outsell and its partners, clients and dealers. The framework supports rapid scaling and streamlining to improve sales and results from Outsell’s distributed marketing platform network.

— Outsell augmented the Leadership Team with Former IBM Executive Richard Scheig joining the organization as Vice President of Sales & Marketing. Scheig has a strong track record of leading world-class technology sales teams in the software industry with some of the world’s largest organizations. Prior to Outsell, he was a Vice President at Unica, and a key player when it was acquired by IBM (NYSE:IBM). Scheig was responsible for revenue generating activities, including the development of selling and field marketing strategies in some of largest and most strategic company wins including Cisco, Wal-Mart, Hilton, Schwab, Visa and Best Buy. Click Here to learn more.

About Outsell LLC

Outsell (www.outsell.com) is a digital marketing software and services company that is transforming the way that brands engage with consumers. The Outsell Digital Engagement Platform offers clients the ability to consistently engage with consumers across distributed sales networks from the national to local level. The intuitive, easy to use platform leverages advanced and actionable analytics to optimize communications with intelligent campaigns across all channels. Working with leading organizations like ADP, Omnicom and Saatchi & Saatchi, Outsell’s platform has created the fastest path to drive measurable incremental sales for over 1,500 dealers from leading automotive brands.

Auto Remarketing recently posted an article on a study by CarGurus and what consumers are looking for in an appealing automotive dealership. The study found that “poor communication and deceptive business practices were the dominant themes in the negative reviews,” and this should come as no surprise. While the top themes for customer complaints mentioned lack of communication and wasting time, it really all comes down to bad customer service.

Well into the Summer months now, dealerships across the country are excited by the buzz and sales warm weather brings, but the time of year and potential for the Summer rush is not enough to sell cars. Good customer service is what keeps a potential customer interested enough to buy, and loyal enough to come back.

CarGurus also found that what consumers want in a dealership and enjoy most about the dealerships they love isn’t just fast forthright responses and friendly faces, but also a clean and organized dealership inside and out, and of course, fair prices.

For many consumers, however, the buying process begins online before they even step foot in the dealership. Dealer websites are no longer static sources of advertising with listed inventory, as explained by a Dealer Marketing Magazine article, “Is Your Website Ready for the Summer Selling Season?” Now dealer websites are about interaction. They need to be a resource for consumer research during their buying process, and have live chat to accommodate buyers looking for immediate answers or looking to complete the sales process entirely online.

Also, don’t forget about reputation management and dealer reviews, found extensively across the web. To combat the negative effects of possible poor reviews online, encourage loyal customers to give reviews after a positive buying experience, so that future customers can read for themselves why your dealership fulfills what they are looking for.

Langley Steinert, founder and chief executive officer of CarGurus said:

“In this age of online information transparency, reputation matters more than ever. The dealers that have embraced this new online paradigm are winning customers.”

Ford CEO Alan Mulally

Memorial Day approached with a warning of less consumer travel due to gas prices, and therefore less holiday spending across industries. 4th of July weekend was no exception to this holiday trend. While some are still worrying that summer automotive sales are declining, the season is far from lost according to Rhonda Wilson, Vice President and General Manager of AAA Texas.

“High gas prices this spring have started to impact travel, but the good news for consumers is that gas prices are continuing to drop and more vacation bargains are being offered this summer because travel providers have available space they need to fill.”

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Moreover, a recent article from the International Business Times went out of its way to call out Ford Motor Company as the one business truly embodying what freedom and the American way of life is about. Times are still tough for many industries recovering from economic troubles, especially for the automotive industry that has dealt with setback after setback, but ever since 2006 when Alan Mulally was hired as CEO of Ford, the automotive giant has made an impressive turnaround that many thought impossible.

David Magee, author of the International Business Times article, “How Alan Mulally Saved Ford,” came to the following conclusion that can be an inspiration to all as we head off from this most recent Independence Day toward the rest of the summer and 2011:

“Focusing on key elements required for turning around a company including cost-cutting, product design, lean operations, and one synergistic vision, Mulally shed distractions like Volvo and Jaguar, and preached the passion of One Ford to everybody who would listen. Those inside the company that didn’t listen found themselves another job.

For, despite Mulally’s affability, it was one way or the highway.

Many believed, however, and they are now getting the job done for all to see and experience. Ford did not file bankruptcy, and the company did not take government bailout assistance. Ford Motor Company did it the old-fashioned way – the American way. By leveraging the company’s future and working hard to get the job done, Ford gets the Freedom Award this Fourth of July holiday, representing lessons we can all learn and take into the future.”

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Photo By: Jessica Renaldi / Reuters-Corbis

Internet Marketing, Media, and Ads

Agencies are spending more on online media every day, as well as on internet marketing and advertizing. A recent Mashable infographic shows this progression very effectively and shines further insight on how agencies are allocating their online media budgets.

Digital agencies are finally being considered as worthy of budgeted spending as their traditional media counterparts, and just in time as digital is poised to take the lead.

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Purchase Behavior is Key

J.D. Power and Associates published a white paper in April about “The Death of Demographics: Why Targeting by Purchase Behavior is Most Effective in Automotive Marketing.” This comes as no surprise to those within the digital marketing field, because the onset of so much new technology has shifted the way marketing power is focused.

Looking at demographics such as gender, age, and income are no longer enough for informing on the best marketing and advertizing practices. We need data on the consumer lifecycle. We need to be able to look at and measure the consumer’s buying behavior to predict how and when they are going to buy in the future.

“Demographics, more so than many other tools, has proven to be a much less effective tool in the automotive space, particularly with regard to new-vehicle buyers. The most popular models overall are typically the most popular regardless of the particular demographic.”

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Seasoned Software & Technology Executive Scheig to Lead Outsell’s Sales & Marketing Team

Minneapolis, MN, June 14, 2011 – www.outsell.com – Outsell, a leading digital marketing software and services provider, announced today that Software & Technology Executive Richard Scheig has joined the Outsell team as Vice President of Sales & Marketing. Scheig is a seasoned sales & marketing executive with over 20 years of experience in the fields of technology and enterprise software.

Scheig is a pioneer in the field of digital marketing software and services. He has a strong track record of leading world-class technology sales teams in the software industry with both public and small/entrepreneurial companies and cultivating strong relationships with senior executive leadership with some of the world’s largest organizations. Prior to Outsell, Scheig was a Vice President at Unica, and a key player when it was acquired by IBM (NYSE:IBM). Scheig was responsible for revenue generating activities, including the development of selling and field marketing strategies in some of largest and most strategic company wins including Cisco, Wal-Mart, Hilton, Schwab, Visa and Best Buy.

Scheig has a unique perspective in an evolving market in the area of digital marketing software and services, having worked with major brands and strategic alliances to drive marketing automation and analytics to drive sales. He will help Outsell to strategically align with major brands, providing them with a simple to use, distributed software platform that will extend their brand message all the way through to franchisees and distributors.

“We are very excited to have Richard on board with us at Outsell,” said Outsell CEO Mike Wethington. “Given his experience and record of success, he is the perfect person to take the company to the next level by building new strategic alliances and positioning our sales and marketing departments to achieve the key strategic goals of the company.”

“The Digital Engagement Platform that Outsell has brought to the market comes at precisely the right time in this space,” commented Scheig. “The industry is crying out for a coherent and interconnected digital marketing solution that effectively leverages consumer data and ties it to digital communication channels. I’m excited to be part of an organization that is able to answer the complex needs of the distributed sellers and marketers in this industry in a really simple and easy to use way, empowering those who are closest to the customer.”

About Outsell LLC

Outsell (www.outsell.com)is revolutionizing the way consumers engage with brands. The Outsell Digital Engagement Platform makes it easy to manage consumer relationships more profitably.

What Makes A Good Facebook Fan Page?

The Audi USA Facebook fan page has been called one of the best on the web. A recent study found their fans to be even more engaged than that of world famous teenage heartthrob and pop star Justin Bieber.

Among pages with more than 100,000 fans, Audi had the highest number of “Likes” for any given status update. Usually, brands that have a higher number of fans have lower engagement on what they post from day to day. Some think their high scores could be the result of recent Like-gating, when people have to “Like” the brand in order to participate in special offers, but that only accounts for overall fans, not “Likes” on individual posts.

While Audi was not listed among the 35 Creative Facebook Fan Page Photo Strips from Social Fresh, many other automotive brands were, with very similar looks and feels to the Audi page. Among those listed were GMC, Buick, and Lexus.

So what makes those pages successful? What makes them visually appealing and ripe for consumer engagement?

Simple steps like having a clever and eye-catching photo strip (the line of five photos across the top of the Wall page) can help intrigue potential fans, and keep current fans interested in updates. Most fan pages start on the Wall page, so the photo strip is the first thing a browser sees when they click your page. Other successful Facebook pages differentiate themselves by having a Welcome page instead of going straight to the Wall.

Using Audi as the example, one thing they do right is content. They supply Livestream video, product information, and even an interactive app looking at stories of the Audi Quattro from real customers. This allows for them as a brand to interact with customers almost as personally as a dealer does.

Another tactic for maintaining a great Facebook fan page is to make use of the Discussion app. Get your customers talking about you. Get them talking with each other. What does Audi and other popular automotive industry Facebook fan pages have in common? Their usage of unique apps, as well as creative use of the apps Facebook offers naturally, like a regularly updated Wall with status updates customers are compelled to “Like”.

This can be done with interesting news as well as offers, so keep your posts fresh. At the end of the day the reason for Facebook fan page success is the same no matter the tactic you choose.

Engagement.