Digital and Social Media for Car Dealers Part 1: The Digital Landscape

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Digital for Dealers

This article is the first in a series on the use of digital and social media for automotive retail managers in an increasingly dynamic world. This post is freely available. The rest in the series are Pay To View


Aren’t all motor dealers being disrupted byNewspapers disrupted by digital and social media digital and social media? They’re not alone. Take newspapers. According to the 2016 Carat Ad Spend Report, more than 2.7 Billion people read newspapers last year – up on the year before – but fewer companies spend their advertising budgets in them and, those that do, spend less of the available money, which is the trend since 2005. Apart from a few regions such as south-east Asia and parts of the US the result is declining newsprint profitability, job cuts and a frantic search by newspapers to generate income online. Taking the UK as an example, in 2016 the national advertising spend was around £20 Billion with over half going to digital media. Print media took just over £1 Billion, and is declining by 10% (‘quality’ press) – 15% (tabloids) each year. The continuing closure of local newspapers makes year-on-year comparison impossible, but the trend is similar to the nationals. Advertisers aren’t spending because readers are declining and fewer readers means lower response to advertising. And that includes dealer ads.

For car sales managers, both new and used, accustomed to press advertising and classified listings generating a reliable stream of enquiries, the problems faced by newspapers has become theirs. They have to learn how to invest and manage in the fast-changing digital media space but, few are convinced that it works for independent or small group franchisees. “Facebook doesn’t sell cars”. Mostly true. However, digital and social media is about selling your business values, awareness of its location and generating positive attitudes and opinion. That does sell cars.

This series of posts looks at these issues and devotes each post to one of four key topics for car retailers: the first is finding precisely where and how potential buyers now get their information. The second is deciding what digital channels to use. The third is deciding what content to develop. The final post is what metrics to monitor.

Where have the buyers gone?

Group M, WPP’s worldwide media buying operation, identified that the impact of digital is regional not national. In the UK, they point out thatDigital & Social Media Ad Spend “Digital media is huge but clustered in London, bolstered by UK consumers’ love of online shopping and mobiles – the British are the biggest online shoppers in the world, with the highest per capita spend of about £1,700 per internet user”. So, the focus on digital may not be so great outside the UK’s south-east and may not be uniform across all age groups. Wherever in the world you’re based the WPP research suggests that deeper knowledge of local market trends is critical. More importantly, even when ’digital’ is the media of choice, it has three large sectors – each performing differently in different countries. In the US, for example, the Carat Ad Spend Report shows that Online Video, Social Media and Mobile are the fastest growing platforms. In the UK, its Online Video, Social Media and Paid Search (often via Mobile). The conclusion is that each manager needs to respond to their own local and regional market

Globally, digital is the clear winner, TV Advertising remains robust and newspapers are in decline. But, if newspapers are investing in digital why not spend your budget on a quality newspaper’s digital platform? Sadly, users keep away from them in droves preferring Google or Facebook to search for content. For example, the world’s biggest newspaper website is Mail Online. With well over 200 million monthly users it should be an attractive buy for advertisers, yet it has seen ad revenue growth slow to single digits. The company reports that it missed its 2015 £80m digital revenue target and its 2016 £100m target. Its experience is typical across national newspapers who have tried to create a presence online.  But, where there are losers, there are also winners. The 155 years old US based magazine ‘The Atlantic’ has bankrolled seven digital media platform spin-offs and gathered a 30 million regular audience. They’re not all making money but they are all surviving on their ad revenue.

Digital and Social Media as main news sourceReuters, the international news agency, analysed the switch to digital sources and noted four key trends in their 2016 “Digital News Report”. First off, the growth of social media is accelerating, rather than online itself, which is growing more slowly. Websites are the ‘go-to’ source for content but social media is the trigger. It’s tweets, Facebook comments and Instagram that stimulate users to visit a news web site. Even in the US, where local newspapers are in good health, Social Media as US main news source46% of users reported social media as their main news source. Rates are a little higher across the EU. Second, social media is emerging as a main source of news for a small but growing segment. Within the EU (10%) and the United States (14%), at least one in ten now say social media is their MAIN source of news, with even higher figures in Australia (18%) and Greece (27%). Third, women are more likely to use social media to find news and less likely to go to a website or app. Social media in general – and Facebook, in particular – are the only media that appeal more to women than men. It’s the Women use social media for news mostreverse for newspapers which are read by more men than women in almost all cases. Fourth, the difference is generational. For every age group under 45, online news is now more important than television news. For 18–24’s social media (28%) comes out ahead of TV (24%) for the first time with print lagging behind at just 6%.

Retail is Detail!

According to the ‘Digital in 2017’ report from WeAreSocial there are around 7.5BN people on the planet. 37% use social media and most use it on their mobile. We all recognise that the ‘Top 5’ social media platforms are well-established and stable from year to year. But, these platforms vary substantially in their usage and social demographics from country to country as WeAreSocial point out. Just as important, the audience a dealer or car brand may want might not be using one of the Top 5 or, at least,  not often. As a consequence, automotive sales managers have to dig deeper to get the demographics of the digital and social media platforms in their region for their audience. How is that done? To begin with they access the social media stats pages of the main platforms of interest. Then, they go to one of the analytical Global Users of Top Digital and Social Media Platform sites, Top Digital and Social Media Platformssuch as WeAreSocial (, SocialBakers ( or Sprout Social (, to download reports for their specific country. WeAreSocial provide free data underlining the digital growth rates in different countries and regions, such as Africa, Middle East and Asia-Pacific (APAC). SocialBakers will give you access to a free report on your country of choice. Read carefully, these two sources alone can start a sales manager on a journey to clarify and refine their social media plans for their audience in their country of interest.

Where have the buyers gone?

Cap Gemini’s annual car buyer survey since 1999  surveyed 10,000 active car buyers for their Cars Online Report in 2014. They found that dealer websites, web searching and the automotive news media as the main sources of information for buyers, all above social media at that time. But, even then, most said that they used social media to research cars, planned to post something about their buying experience and expected dealers to have an active social media presence.

By the publication date of their 2017 report they said, “When looking for a car, today’s consumers want real information. And they’re getting it from industry experts, independent critics, and large networks of connected groups with common interests. OEMs and dealers have to stay in the loop by using their websites and social media sites to share the right information, to respond quickly and accurately to questions, and to reach out to interested (or even just curious) consumers.” Their survey recognizes that within three years buyers were accessing an even wider array of online sources and influencers. That is where the buyer has gone.

More next time where the focus is on which channels to use – text, photo, video or…?

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