Social media is hot these days, but it's not just another trend. It will be with us as long as the Internet, which means forever, or until the collapse of modern civilization.
With that in mind, let's take a look at a few good ways to use social media to boost sales.
Facebook and Twitter are probably the two most-used social media sites for businesses, and building a presence on those sites is imperative. Not only can you use social media as another form of advertising, but you can talk directly with customers. This makes your business seem more open and accessible, and it allows to you to receive direct feedback regarding your business (if customers are saying bad things about you, you'll know and have a chance to respond).
There are several Web sites that brand themselves as social-media. At a minimum, you'll need to create a Facebook fan page for your business, along with a Twitter account. Both will be used in similar methods, but there are slight differences.
We'll start with Facebook. A fan page is a page or site withing Facebook that promotes a company or product. Creating a fan page means that you, as the page's owner, will be able to post status updates, photos, videos, and links on the site's "wall." A dealership would want to post upcoming sales as status updates, for example, and adding videos of employees working happily with customers could also boost engagement. So, too, could posting links to positive news regarding the automotive industry or to local community events.
Posting videos of commercials that were used by the dealership could also help drive fans to the site. A supplier might use similar tactics. The main focus would be to make your brand stand out in a positive manner while also giving customers a reason to buy your product.
One other Facebook marketing trick is to get users to "like" your product in return for a free item or discount coupon. This can drive social-media engagement and showroom traffic, but it can also annoy customers, so be careful.
As for Twitter, the so-called "microblogging" platform allows you to send out messages in 140 characters or less, called "tweets." Users "follow" other users in order to see their tweets, and they can also publicly reply to messages, repeat the messages (retweet), or privately reply to messages
Like with Facebook, Twitter can be a useful way to spread the message about promotions and sales, and to get the message out about a new product. You can also share third-party articles that help build positive brand about your company or product. If your dealership gets a positive write-up in the local newspaper, you'd retweet that to your followers. Same goes if a model of car that you sell gets a positive review: You can re-tweet that as well, with a message reminding local customers that you sell that model at your store.
Other types of social-media services you can utilize include YouTube (for posting videos), MySpace (sort of like Facebook, with slightly different tools) and Four Square (consumers use this to show when they are visiting a local business). Which types work best will be something you need to determine for yourself.
Using social media isn't free, of course. While the sites themselves are free, you'll likely need to have an employee monitor the sites to make sure you're being represented in a professional and positive manner, and to make sure your account isn't hacked by spammers. You must also be careful not to overuse social media, too many updates can annoy those who follow. So can updates that provide little value to your followers or your business.
It also pays to be careful when responding to negative feedback--using unprofessional language or trying to ignore problems can create negative perceptions in the consumer's mind, which could hurt your business.
Social media is a valuable tool that can help grow your business if used correctly. If used improperly, it is at best a waste of time and resources and at worst can harm your business.
That said, it is likely far better to use social media than to not. The goal is to reach more customers, and with that in mind, using all available tools seems to make the most sense.