What is your car dealership social media strategy? Have you ever spared a thought to understand how social media fits into the world of the car dealership?

Lately, there has been a proliferation of SMMAs (Social Media Marketing Agencies) sprouting up in South Africa. Most of them merely charge a commission to place retail adverts on social platforms for a fixed fee or a commission on spend. I don’t want them to take your money without providing you with value. It’s therefore important to understand the marketing world of social media as a car dealership, so that you don’t get robbed and are equipped to ask the right questions so that you get value.


The car dealership in South Africa has, like in the rest of the world, long tried to build loyalty with customers. This is because repeat business is more profitable than new business.

In this changing world of the internet, gaining and keeping car buying customers becomes ever more difficult as the internet creates transparency and the ability to comparison shop. Loyalty feels like it flies out of the car window!

Where does the car dealership social media strategy fit in?

Platforms and Consumer Attention

In order to understand where car dealership social media fits in, we first need to talk about the intersection of “platforms” and consumer attention.

The term Social Media is a horrible term but be that as it may, let’s stick with it for now. That said, these are all just Media platforms. Their objective is to make money (the revenue) from giving us access to their consumer audience (the value).

Every media company in the world, from newspapers to magazines to television to radio to billboards to online platforms, work on this one simple premise. It started when adverts were inscribed on rocks for the passerby on horseback.

Whether it’s Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, LinkedIn or even AutoTrader. These are all merely “platforms” on the internet, who have amassed consumer audiences at scale. They all attract consumer attention but here’s the rub. They all attract the same consumer but for different reasons. One consumer will visit Instagram for a different reason to what they would visit LinkedIn or AutoTrader.

Before we continue, let’s agree on a bit of “platform” terminology as this could become confusing otherwise:

  • Social Media platforms – E.g. LinkedIn
  • 3rd Party Platforms – E.g. AutoTrader

Communicating in the context of the consumer

We need to communicate differently on each platform, specific to the context of why the consumer is there. Consumers are not on LinkedIn to buy cars by en-large. They are there to engage and consume content related more closely to the business world. Perhaps learn about leadership. Rerhaps check out a company they are about to interview at. Perhaps look at the latest jobs on the market. Similarly, consumers are not on AutoTrader to check out the latest lunch their friend just had. They are on AutoTrader to search for, compare and buy cars.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use LinkedIn to your advantage as a car dealership, you just need to understand the consumers reasons for being there and communicate with them in that context.

Types of content

Broadly, there are 2 types of content you can put on platforms as you are building your car dealership’s social media and digital strategy:

  • Non-retail content (i.e. you’re not trying to sell a car or product)
  • Retail content (listings or cars with prices or deals)

Non-retail related content builds your brand and reputation. Brand building is in essence future revenue. Brand building as a car dealership is vital in the world of the internet as transparency causes the commoditization of prices. Which will accelerate as demand and supply data becomes transparent.

So, in a world where price is no longer a competitive advantage, your car dealerships brand online and in the physical showroom, will win or lose you the car buyer every time, not the ability to discount.

Where social media fits into the car buying journey

It is really difficult for social media to compete with 3rd party platforms. For the simple reason that the consumer is on each platform for a very different reason. Therefore, the quality of engagement (quality of lead) with a retail advert on social media will rarely trump a 3rd party platform like AutoTrader.

What can social media be used for as a car dealership? 

The car dealership can capture the consumers attention on social media platforms, but should be primarily focused on building brand affinity. Capturing the consumers attention on social media platforms in this way is then part of the car dealership broader marketing strategy that extends to 3rd party platforms like AutoTrader

If the car dealership brand affinity is built consistently over time, then when the car buying consumer (in-market-car-shopper) comes to 3rd party platforms like AutoTrader, they are more likely to choose you over another dealership with lower brand affinity.

Should a car dealership advertise on traditional media like TV?

The same principle exists with marketing your dealership on TV. While TV is a great place to build a brand, TV is currently overpriced as a result of the advent of the internet. One has to spend an ungodly amount of money to get through the clutter, which money can be spent more efficiently online to get similar branding results.

When Television prices (outdoor billboards fall into the same bucket here) align to online media, then it’s still a great tool for branding. The big difference between TV and online advertising though is the ability to target. You can already advertise on YouTube, and Netflix will follow suit in South Africa. Advertising money is already shifting from traditional TV to these platforms for branding unless these platforms re-invent themselves like AutoTrader did.

Where do you start as a car dealership that wants a well rounded marketing strategy that delivers efficiently?

Car dealerships and OEMs focus on retail sales adverts way too much. Not that retail sales shouldn’t be focused on. But, retail sales focus, and the need for the short term sale, has created a world where car dealerships and OEMs try and use price as the competitive advantage. Focusing too much on immediate retail sales in dealership marketing is a negative branding signal to consumers. Called – the race to the bottom. Because the consumer will come to expect price discounts over value and service from your dealership. And continually discounting means your car dealership will battle to fund great service and brand affinity.

In the world of the internet, price is going to become a commodity. Car dealerships will battle to compete on price in the future. Therefore, building a brand now is important to those car dealerships who want to be relevant in the future.

  1. Start with slow organic and consistent non-retail type communication with the out of market car shopper and build a brand. This could be on social media, TV, outdoor or even print where relevant audiences exist and prices are representative of reaching that audience.
  2. Document your dealership, don’t create content: Take what you’re already doing & capture it e.g. capture a delivery of a car in creative ways.
  3. Don’t abandon retail advertising as this will keep you in business in the short term. AutoTrader is mainly a retail platform with the ability to drive brand using display media and other products.
  4. 1 & 2 will strengthen your brand affinity when the car buying consumer sees your retail advert on 3.

Each platform has a purpose, and you can’t communicate in the same way from one to the next e.g:

  • LinkedIn is a professional business platform that links businesses & professionals
  • Twitter, on the other hand is a news platform, it shouldn’t be looked at to drive any kind of learning
  • AutoTrader is a retail sales platform (classified listings) but can also help drive your car dealerships brand affinity through display and other products.

Tips on what to do

  • First prize is to hire a team. Not everyone has the money or know how to hire and build an internal marketing team. But if you do, building an internal dealership marketing team will always be the best and most cost effective long term move.
  • As the owner of your car dealership, engaging on your business platforms yourself is important, at least some of the time. Your car dealership needs to set a unique “tone”. You need to set that tone. Find personal idle periods of time to start engaging with your audiences sometimes.
  • Engage online in your personal capacity as Dealer Principal, Owner or Entrepreneur.
  • Get your staff, particularly Sales Managers and Sales Reps, to engage online with your brand content. Ask them to share the content to reach their audiences. The network effect will help to build your dealership brand.
  • Engage with industry influencers. You never know when that influencer may share your content and give you more reach and free brand marketing.

 As always, reach out to me here if you have any questions!