Cars.com recently rolled out a Facebook Marketplace page. Among prospects that seek out information through a new Facebook messenger bot, 40% of them convert to leadsthat want to connect with client dealers.
More than 218,000 chats via Facebook Messenger have taken place between car shoppers and dealers since launch, and the number of chats and lead conversions are increasing every week. Cars.com CMO Brooke Skinner Ricketts has her finger on the pulse of how social media is changing the more traditional media-buying auto industry.
Question: Why have car dealers been slower to take advantage of social media?
Answer: Just like every category, we see some very progressive advertisers using social in interesting and innovative ways, and others who are taking a more conservative approach. I actually see social catching up to automotive, finally offering advertising products that meet the unique needs of the category to really help dealers sell. This is a new dynamic which is surfacing as shoppers become more willing to shop for and buy cars in new ways, including social.
Social selling is a growing category for auto. Before there were actual commerce platforms on social media, people were using social media to sell their cars. We know more than 800 million people come to Facebook to buy and sell things each month.
We saw an opportunity to help our dealer customers strengthen connections with this vast audience and capitalize on this platform. In the past it has been a challenge to manage and upload inventory to social sites because most of the work was manual, and many dealerships are not set up to handle the influx of social leads/conversations coming in.
Q: How is social media spending for car dealers expected to change in 2019?
A: Social is a must-have for automotive retailers with the increasing amount of time people spend on social media.We anticipate continued investment in the space in 2019 and expect to see a shift from using social platforms only as organic marketing tools with some paid display to a true selling tool.
We recently conducted a survey with our dealer panel to learn more about advertising plans for 2019 and found 77% of dealers plan to invest in social media in 2019. Just over half of dealers (52%) expect to increase their spend in social media, while only 1.5% plan to decrease their spend.
Of the 77% that plan to invest in social media, 100% plan to invest in Facebook while 59% plan to invest in Instagram.
According to Borrell’s 2018 Automotive Advertising Outlook, 99% of car dealers are using social media in some capacity today.
Q: What role is AI / chat bots playing on social media -- Facebook Messenger in particular?
A: AI-powered chatbots are helping dealers connect with more shoppers and helping to provide more convenience for shoppers. A key feature of Social Sales Drive is our AI-powered chat tool that embeds into Facebook Messenger for easy communication between car shoppers and dealers. This feature helps dealers move beyond their standard 9-5 operations to reach and respond to more shoppers when they are shopping.
During our beta, we learned that 55% of Facebook Marketplace car shoppers are connecting with dealerships during off-hours between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. Our chat tool includes our proprietary A.I. powered chatbot “Ana Bot,” along with 24/7managed-chat support to ensure shoppers receive real-time answers to their vehicle inquiries and dealers do not miss an opportunity to connect with consumers after hours to sell more cars.
Q: One lot insight from Cars.com showed consumers are opting to swing by car dealers to look at cars after hour or even on Sundays when the dealer is closed. Is social media meeting a “hands-off” self-driven mindset here?
A: Through our Lot Insights reporting, which involves geo-fencing technology to map every dealership in the U.S. and help inform dealers about Cars.com user behavior on their lots, we have seen an interesting trend of shoppers showing up on dealership lots on Sundays. Laws vary at the state level, but many dealerships are closed on Sunday, so this signals that a small number of people are heading to dealership lots to shop unbothered.
This is not surprising, as many consumers avoid spending unnecessary time in the dealership and want a convenient, fast and frictionless retail experience. Today, all their research and most of their decisions can be made on marketplaces like Cars.com, which not only feature millions of vehicle listings but also expert articles, millions of consumer reviews about dealerships and individual salespeople, pricing tools built from machine learning technology and more. Social media is one more tool that car shoppers can now use to view inventory and connect with dealers on their terms.