By Karin Gelschus
A Denver European dealership uses it as a way to generate more Web site traffic.
A Canadian dealership uses it as a way to generate immediate feedback on new product releases.
Social networking Web sites originally created so young adults could converse online and share interests have turned into valuable tools for powersports dealerships.
Developed for high school and college students, the sites’ popularity has exploded in the past few years. Now people of all ages and companies are creating profiles and videos of themselves on YouTube, Facebook and other such social sites.
Dealers, meanwhile, are creating videos/commercials for these sites as well as expanding their online presence.
Facebook and Myspace are similar in that users create profiles depicting any information they’d like about themselves. Dealers can post information about the store, pictures, upcoming events, links to their main Web pages or any other information.
These pages allow users to get information about another person or company without interaction. They can be basic or incredibly personal with photos, information and on Myspace, music.
One note of caution for these sites: People can post comments about the dealership. So if a customer is dissatisfied, other people will be able to read it.
YouTube is different from the other two sites in the fact that it’s only videos. Dealers can create professional commercials or just shoot something at the dealership. Either way, “hits”, or views, on videos can get in the thousands.
Sterling Doak, creative director of Turn 2 Powersports, says the sites and videos are free to set up and, depending on how much time a dealership puts into it, can be successful.
“A good example is there’s a golf course here in Lake Tahoe. They’ve been very aggressive in the Facebook space,” he said. “They have a person who’s in charge of that Facebook site. They post reviews of the restaurant, golf course and photos on there. People write in to them, and they get back to those people in like 15-20 minutes. I wrote in saying the greens were fantastic. They wrote me back in 15 minutes saying, ‘Hey, be sure to check us out next week. We have a special going on Sunday.’ I ended up going that next Sunday because they gave me that information. There’s a way that you can use those online sites to get customers immediately involved. It’s just another sales channel basically.
“The point of the matter is you have people out there interested in powersports and different products and services. They may not necessarily be interested in coming into your store right then and there. There are ways that people want to interact with a dealer’s brand, and you can get back to those people right away and really get them involved in the sales process without having them at the store.”
Generating Web traffic
These sites, Doak says, can direct more visitors to dealers’ Web sites.
“If you have ‘x’ amount of customers going to your Web site, how are they finding your Web site? Well it’s through your marketing activities that link people to your Web site,” he said. “There are all these other opportunities out there to get people not aware of your products or services that are online in different spaces like Facebook or they’re searching YouTube on motorcycles. It’s a good opportunity to capture that traffic.”
One dealer taking advantage of the Facebook site is H&S Outdoor Equipment, a Yamaha dealer in Ontario, Canada. Owner Jeff Hunter created the page about a year ago.
“My intent was to be able to have a more relaxed way of getting through to my customers, primarily the younger crowd, to inform them of things going on here at my store,” he said. “The response has actually been excellent. Any time I get new/exciting product, I make sure to send out a mass message to those in my group to let them know. What I like about the site is people can message me with their questions and I have them on file at all times. A lot of people lately seem to want to message questions as opposed to calling or stopping in, and I wanted the Facebook site to be an arena in which they could do just that.”
Hunter says he’s constantly updating the site with pictures and messaging those in the dealership’s group.
“I also put things up there to test the market to see if people are interested enough in something I would like to bring into the store before I actually order it in,” he said, “and I have found that to work out quite well.”
YouTube is another way to attract online traffic, but it’s purely videos that tend to be only a few minutes long.
Dealers can create commercials for specific brands, focus solely on their dealership or do both. Erico Motorsports in Denver has done numerous such videos, including a commercial for both Triumph Motorcycles and the dealership.
“Our videos have received over 13,000 views,” said Tai Beldock, marketing director of Erico Motorsports. “These videos are either footage that we just shot in-house with a video camera or professional footage taken when we shoot our television commercials.”
The dealership hasn’t spent any additional money to create the footage specifically for YouTube, she says.
“We just used the existing footage to gain more free exposure for Erico Motorsports,” she noted. “I am currently working on the creative for our 2009 television spots that will air in Denver as well as be posted on our Web site, Myspace page, Facebook page and on YouTube. The Internet can be a tough nut to crack in terms of free exposure, and to this end, we are always looking for ways to promote the Erico brand.”
While Erico Motorsports has delved into the social networking sites, Bay Cycle Sales in Bay City, Mich., is just starting to get its feet wet. Lynette Curler, co-owner, says they did a video for YouTube in September but weren’t sure what kind of response they received.
“The intent was to be one of the first in line in yellowpages.com for Honda motorcycle dealers in Michigan,” she said. “It took one whole day to do the video. I feel there will be a need for us to do it again.”
Despite the growing popularity of the networking sites, some companies aren’t interested in exploring this marketing avenue.
A survey done by Epsilon, a marketing services firm, revealed 55 percent of the chief marketing officers at leading brands outside the powersports industry say they’re either “not too interested” or “not interested at all” in incorporating the social networking sites into their marketing strategies.
It also showed only 10 percent of the chief marketing officer respondents are currently using the social sites in their marketing plans.
“These sites narrowly appeal to college and high school students, providing a challenge as far as measuring results and yielding a limited amount of actionable data,” Steve Cone, chief marketing officer of Epsilon, said in the survey.
On the other hand, 27 percent of marketing executives identified social networking and word of mouth as the tool they most want to introduce to their marketing mix to compensate for anticipated budget cuts, ahead of all other elements of traditional or digital marketing.