The small town I grew up in had two new car dealerships. My grandfather owned one of them and his brother owned the other. Their mostly-friendly rivalry in our “two horse town” made for interesting family gatherings. The two of them could talk –loudly and passionately– for hours on the subject of cars. Mostly they talked about selling cars.

Each had their own loyal customers and they knew those customers’ intimately such as what cars the customer had driven through the years, their families, personal work histories, etc. Like clockwork, when it came time to trade cars, those customers would return back to “their” dealer, whether it was my grandfather or his brother/competitor.

As an automobile dealer today, you have the opportunity to develop a sense of community through social media marketing. Done right, social media marketing will directly help acquire new customers, transform existing customers into raving fans and create an ongoing stream of referral business. One of the keys to successfully engaging customers through social media marketing is properly integrating it into your dealerships’ other marketing and advertising channels.

It starts with the proper targeting of your message. The center of power for your marketing is no longer the dealership; it’s the customer. It’s not what you say to prospective customers that matters most — it’s what your existing customers are saying about your dealership and to one another.

Proper targeting with the right message and providing a forum for customers to give feedback provides qualitative insight into the thoughts and feelings customers have toward your dealership. Qualitative information is more powerful than traditional demographic data and often can be a good indicator of a customer’s true interests and intentions. J.D. Power and Associates in “The Death of Demographics: Why Targeting by Purchase Behavior is Most Effective in Automobile Marketing” said, “auto marketers must embrace those new technologies and methods that better and more effectively allow them to target customers– using old methodologies simply won’t suffice.”

My grandfather and his younger brother could get quite loud when they were each trying to talk over the other and of course, neither could be heard through the noise. Effective social media isn’t like traditional media, where competitors compete to out-shout each other. Social media marketing is a dialogue where the customer is the central focus.

Integrating social media means the customer should see consistency in all your traditional and digital marketing. Brand messaging should be related through all the channels. Otherwise you risk confusing your customer and we all know that a confused customer makes no decision.

Think of the car’s drivetrain: the engine, transmission, driveshaft and differential may all function independently, but it’s only when they work together in harmony that the wheels move, the car finds traction and moves forward. That’s the power of integrating social media – it’s like adding a turbo charger to an already powerful engine.

Customers should see your social media channels in your advertising and be encouraged to join the conversation. The sheer number of social media users today, when properly drawn to your online presence, provides an opportunity to really stand out in your market and give your customers a voice.

My uncle used to say, “the only “be backs” (the customer who says they’ll be back tomorrow to buy a car) are the ones you’ve made good friends with”. Social media is creating showrooms of “be backs.”