“Rick has added you as a friend on Facebook. We need to confirm that you know Rick in order for you to be friends on Facebook,” read the e-mail in my inbox. That is how it all started in mid-December while I was recovering from surgery. My thought was, what the heck is Rick doing? We are already friends. I have all his phone numbers and his e-mail, and we see each other once a week at lunch.

With a high-school-aged daughter still at home, I have been acutely aware of MySpace and Facebook for some time. Now, I had one of my buddies, certainly a few generations past high school, wanting to engage me on it.

I have read the headlines and skimmed the articles written by Internet retailing experts over the last 18 months about the new Web 2.0 and social networking—how it’s the next new frontier, how it’s going to make a difference, etc.

Call me cynical (well, I guess I really am), but I have always been ultra-paranoid about putting my information out in a public venue. Whether my fears are identity theft- or fraud-related, who knows? Regardless, I have been reluctant.

Well, I’d like to say it was because of Rick, and because a number of people in my running group talked about it for two hours, and because all three of our daughters are on Facebook, that I finally stuck my toe in the water. Truly, it was because we have built our own social network for auto retailing professionals – AutoDealerPeople.com – and I figured I had better learn what this “new” frontier is really all about. I wouldn’t want to look silly on our own network, would I?

Three weeks later, after finding and being found by a couple of hundred friends all over the world, getting involved with some industry interest groups and getting calls out of nowhere from the press and Wall Streeters about the bailout, I guess I am pretty sucked in. So is my wife, and now my 90-year-old mother. Pretty amazing.

Once you get past looking for long-lost friends and having people send you goofy pictures of yourself, most dealers and other Type-A people like me start thinking, “How can I monetize this?” Certainly when it comes to AutoDealerPeople, we are simply trying to connect those in the automotive industry while driving additional traffic to our Web sites for all-important advertising revenue. Our average reader likely isn’t selling advertising. What they would like to do is sell more cars and repair more vehicles.

After dumping 3000+ contacts with e-mail addresses into Facebook, Linkedin and Plaxo, I learned that only a very small percentage of people in the retail auto industry have accounts on any of these networks. I had about a three to nine percent match ratio—not really significant yet. Most of my hits were executives within the manufacturers, finance sector and allied industry. They are highly involved. Helpful for me, not so helpful for dealers.

So why am I writing about this malarkey? Well, it seems that some enterprising dealers have learned how to use it to sell cars and service. It took me a little while to figure all this out, but there really are millions of people on these social networks. Here in Sarasota there are over 500 interest groups and 5 networks. Some have thousands of members. They may not be auto retailers, but they are buyers.

I continued my research and found, by no coincidence, that indeed some of the best Internet retailers in the auto industry also are big Facebook users.

Do you know why most people don’t go back to the place they bought their last vehicle? They forgot who their salesperson was. There was no reason to remember them. Now, not only are the dealers profiled but so are their managers and many of their sales personnel. They each have large networks of local and regional friends, and to the extent their privacy settings allow, friends (customers) can see pictures of their families, their hobbies and their lives. They are real people – no longer just someone on the other side of the desk trying to sell them a car or a brake job.

These people are splashing news and press releases on their Facebook pages and they are being read by the people who are in their network. Some are blogging about their stores, their dealerships and their lives. And it is working. Additionally, dealerships have their own profiles or group pages, and you know what – they have friends, too. What that means is people outside the dealerships had to request to be in these groups. Customers are asking to be kept in the loop.

Not coincidentally, during the time period that decades from now economists will be comparing back to as the last big industry downturn, most of these dealers have had good (not great) business. Profits were not what they may have been in prior Decembers, but dealers still had good, solid profitable months. Is it because of the social networks? No, of course it’s not just that. But these dealers are always pushing the envelope, looking for the cutting edge, and I guarantee you, part of their success has come from it.

To that end, I invite you to join AutoDealerPeople.com. It is new, and there will be continual enhancements and evolvements. It is run with the same philosophy that AutoeDealer.com (which became AutoDealerMonthly.com) has held for nine years now – to help dealers and industry personnel have a private (or now, public) forum by which to share information to help them sell and service more vehicles and make more money. I

’ll be there and I’ll keep sticking my toes in the ‘New” New Frontier.

Until next month,
Spend smart!

Vol 6, Issue 2