Social media that sells

Social media strategies that bring people into your dealership and deliver great ROI

Any smart business is looking for a good return on its investment, but in the nebulous world of social media, that’s a tall order.

There still isn’t a great way to measure how those likes turn into leads or those shares turn into sales, but just having a brand out there is essential to sales.

Ultimately, getting people in the door and on the sales floor is the end goal for a social media strategy. But the first part of any social media strategy is being social with your potential customers.

“You can’t sell without engagement,” said Lauren DeVlaming, social media manager at Dominion Marine Media.  “Especially if you’re starting from scratch building a following, laying that groundwork of engagement is really important. That’s kind of one leg of the stool. Without that, you can’t sell.”

DeVlaming said that no matter the platform, just engaging with potential customers is the foundation for selling online.

“The most obvious thing is you have to start promoting yourself,” said DeVlaming. “Typically we tell people you should only be selling yourself about 20 percent of the time, and the other 80 percent you should be engaging.”

(Click image to view larger)

(Click image to view larger)

Engaging with people on Facebook and Twitter is no secret: Keep the content flowing and give the fans something to look at or discuss. Giving potential customers that glimpse into the business is the most important part of traditional social media platforms.

Marty Finklestine at Complete Marine in Pompano Beach, Fla., says its Facebook fan base of more than 54,000 people was built almost solely on good engagement practices in conjunction with a little advertising on Facebook. He said the company’s goal is more about brand recognition than straight sales.

“The main thing is just keeping the name in front of people,” said Finklestine, noting that engagement eventually leads to business. “Once that’s in front of people’s face a couple times a day, it generates a lot of activity for service, sales – everything.”

Making an engagement plan and sticking with it is vital to social media. But managers and owners should take note, it’s a long road to social media success and one without any guarantee of a clear return on the investment of time or energy.

“For a lot of really successful people on social media, they might be on Facebook or Twitter for two years before they ask anyone to buy anything,” said DeVlaming.

Finklestine said Complete Marine very rarely posts anything specific to its sales despite its large fan base.

“We like to ask questions, ‘What do you think of this picture? What do you think of this boat?’ It creates a lot of activity,” said Finklestine. “It’s not like we’re actually trying to sell anything on Facebook, but we’re creating a lot of activity.”

Even businesses that are incredibly successful on social media fail at the “selling yourself” part of the 80-20 formula. The messaging is either too common and drives potential customers away or the messaging just doesn’t resonate.

“The first thing is — which sounds so basic but is worth saying because I see people not do this — don’t act like you’re a marketer from the 1990s when you’re selling things,” said DeVlaming.

Take a moment and think back to the ubiquitous local car dealer commercials – the bad toupees, the plaid suits and dollar signs everywhere. Don’t be that guy.

“What I see a lot of times are posts that say, ‘COME ON DOWN TO OUR DEALERSHIP. ACT NOW!!!!’” said DeVlaming. “This is horrible marketing. I tell people just to talk to people like you would talk to your best friend — talk to people like you would normally talk to someone.”

Do, however, show your enthusiasm about that new boat or fresh used arrival.

“Tell them why it’s great, why you’re excited about it – if you’re not excited about it, your customers won’t be passionate about it,” said DeVlaming.

Getting people in the door

Traditional platforms and new social media stars like Instagram and Pinterest are great for branding and keeping engaged – essential marketing tasks in their own right – but they might not give the best flat ROI.

In conjunction with good engagement, coupons, deal announcements, boat listings and sale invites posted on social media can bring people into the dealership.

But what platform or tactic brings the most people in people in and deliver the best bang for the buck? The answer might surprise you.

“This is my most asked question of all time. I don’t have a straight answer, but I’ll try to be as clear as possible,” said DeVlaming. “If I were strictly trying to drive sales and it wasn’t really about necessarily building a following or anything else. If it was about sales and maybe search engine optimization, I would look at YouTube and Google Plus.”

That’s right, Google Plus isn’t the butt of social media jokes anymore for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s the second largest social network among English speakers. It’s far behind Facebook of course, and reaps the benefits of every Gmail user being forced to have a Google Plus page. The demographics skew toward the boat-buying population as well, without all the noise of Facebook or Twitter.

“Google Plus is kind of a stripped down version of Facebook. There’s no Farmville, there’s no Candy Crush, the audience is slightly older, slightly more educated and slightly wealthier,” said DeVlaming. “All that stuff is right up our alley in our industry — we’re not catering to 18 year olds.”

(Click image to view larger)

(Click image to view larger)

The roughly 300 million monthly users actually reading and posting on the platform is just one part of the network’s value. The real value of Google Plus is that it’s connected to the all-powerful Google.

“Google Plus is very, very powerful for SEO. So if you’re talking about trying to rank higher in search and stay there, you should be on Google Plus,” said DeVlaming.

Google Plus makes your content easier to find in several ways. On the site, you can use hashtags to add your post content to the conversation. And unlike Twitter, those hashtags are smart, so tagging #BostonWhaler will organically add your post to the #Boats hashtag so users can find your posts easily.

Off the network is where the platform really shines. Google Plus posts actually show up in search engine results pages or SERPs. That means every post behaves more like a blog posting; it’s indexed, it has a ranking and it’s easy to find without getting on Google Plus. No other mainstream social media platform works like that – one handy perk of being part of the Google powerhouse.

And because those posts have a ranking, they pass along that link value. So unlike a standard social signal, Google Plus posts actually pass the link juice, credibility, authority — whatever you want to call it — to the original source.

But here is where using any social network for SEO gets murky. While the search juggernaut is mum on exactly how social signals (all the likes, shares, +1s and favorites) actually affect search, evidence shows a strong correlation between social activity and better SEO. Evidence from SEO investigators like KISSetrics, Moz and others shows that social signals from Google Plus are especially valuable.

Google, of course, will stay vague on the topic and tell users that great content makes people want to link and share that content; driving SEO through good content. So businesses that don’t want to learn any more Internet acronyms can just continue making great content – but be sure to link it on Google Plus just in case.

Selling via video

Video has been an action item for many dealers for years, but new tools and a growing audience has the medium poised for major growth in the recreational boating industry.  A large body of evidence also shows that video provides a great ROI, which has many business owners thinking seriously about a video strategy.

“One thing that I think a lot of people are starting to realize in the marine industry is that YouTube actually drives more sales than any other platform,” said DeVlaming.

The sheer numbers of people using YouTube are astounding and it’s not just teens and tweens anymore. According to YouTube’s internal statistics, the site reaches more than 1 billion people each month.

SocialMedia-LeadAccording to Neilson, the site reaches more people aged 18-34 than any cable network. While that skews younger than the industry’s typical boat-buying demographic, the numbers are astounding. And within the recreational boating world, video is hugely popular.

“There are over 2 million boat searches on YouTube every month,” said DeVlamming. “That’s quite a large number. It’s actually the second largest search engine behind Google.”

By now, most businesses know the value of search rankings. So shying away from YouTube is akin to ignoring SEO altogether: not wise.

Boating is an incredibly visual pastime so it’s no wonder that there are that many searches each month. YouTube is especially valuable for new boats.

“It leads in new product introduction, so if you sell new boats that’s a great place for you to be. It also leads in converting consumers to purchase,” said DeVlaming. “In the last six months to a year I’ve seen people in marine start to realize this.”

Finklestine said that they have done some video work in the past but will be ramping up those efforts in 2015.

“We’re going to do a lot more with YouTube this year,” said Finklestine.

Because of Complete Marine’s wide customer base, video can also help make sales to far-flung customers who might not be able to make the trip for an in-person test drive. He said their success with private videos fueled their drive to make public videos on YouTube.

“We do a lot of exporting, so the clients like to see a live video of the boat rather than pictures,” said Finklestine. “We send them videos now via email, but we’re going to be uploading those to YouTube so everyone can see them.”

Businesses who are already on YouTube are reporting some great results.

“We had a story from a while back from a customer who had paid $250 to get a videographer out to his dealership and do video of all his boats,” said DeVlaming. “He got 35 videos out of that and ended up selling 25 boats. If you do the ROI there, that’s about $10 a boat – that’s incredible!”

She said those kind of stories are becoming the norm – an exciting development in the notoriously immeasurable field of social media.

“It’s starting to happen, we’re actually starting to drive sales through social and YouTube is an incredible vehicle for that,” said DeVlaming.

There are two key components of a great boating video: a boat and some information. Some on the water shots are nice but a trailer walkthrough is still a great video. According to the Pew Internet Project, the most-watched videos are funny or educational. Creating a video with some humor is a great way to get views. Businesses without a funny, camera-happy employee can look to how-to videos.

On the production end, even without hiring a videographer, great video is accessible to anyone with a decent camera or phone and a little editing knowhow.

Another way to get extremely high-quality video is to use manufacturer videos in their social media strategy. Many manufacturers have usable footage for dealerships looking to expand their video collection.

Businesses still scratching their heads about what video content to pursue shouldn’t be afraid to think beyond the standard boat walkthrough. While YouTube will provide a better ROI on sales-specific messaging, personalized engagement is still key to building a loyal following.

“Just take photos and video to let people know what’s going on in your facility,” said Finklestine. “We try to as much as we can: boats coming in for service, haul outs. Whatever it takes, just show activity.”

More resources online

Boating Industry has a bevvy of social media resources for businesses just starting out or those looking to hone their social media strategy.

5 ways to maximize your YouTube video marketing
Learn some detailed tips about how to get the most from your YouTube marketing efforts. Marketing on the platform is more than just uploading a video and walking away. See how to make that video work for you and how to weave online video into your overarching marketing strategy.

Social media: 66 tips and tools to grow your business
Learn how to make Facebook, Google Plus, YouTube and Pinterest work for your business in our award-winning list of tips and tricks to get your social media planning on the right track.

Social media video series from Engaged!
We partnered with Engaged!, one of the leading marketing firms in the marine industry, to bring you a series of actionable tips and how-tos to improve your social media efforts. From YouTube to hashtags to mobile marketing, this series is designed to get your business up and running on multiple social media platforms.

YouTubing for dollars
See exactly how to set up your YouTube channel and how to make a great video in this two-part series by marketing coaches Jim Ackerman and Paul Furse – both experts in social media marketing. This is a must read article if you’re having trouble coming up with topics for your new video marketing endeavors.

Tracking your Facebook page
Wondering where all your customers are coming from? It’s a good problem to have, but knowing where to allocate those marketing dollars and track ROI is key when polishing a social media plan. This article will give you the tools you need to see where your Facebook marketing is resonating.

Monitoring and engagement tools
This article also helps you keep track of all your viral success on social media. See who is mentioning your business and see what they are saying with these monitoring tips and tools.

To find all these stories and more, head to


For more tips and resources on social media, follow these links:

Creating great videos on the cheap

Your phone video toolbox


One comment

  1. I’m with Lauren on YouTube being the only social media that predictably drives track-able leads and sales to your dealership. It is one of the cheapest and most powerful means to increasing traffic to your dealership and getting you ranked on the first page of Google on the cheap.

    If you’re looking for some more guidance, here is a free 3-part training program you may want to check out.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *