March 25, 2010, 12:00 AM

Ford dealer drives its car lot onto Facebook

While visiting friends on Facebook, fans of Ford vehicles now can also mingle among the dozens of new and used cars and trucks on the lot at Norfolk, VA’s Freedom Ford.

 

While visiting friends on Facebook, fans of Ford motor vehicles now can also mingle among the dozens of new and used cars and trucks on the lot at Norfolk, VA’s Freedom Ford.

“This is gonna be great,” says O.E. Burke, Internet sales team leader at Freedom Ford. “You’re not on Cars.com or Autotrader.com unless you’re buying or researching cars, but you get on Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, and then you may see informative posts about cars originally posted by Freedom Ford. And if you wind up on our Facebook wall, you’ll have the opportunity to look at our entire inventory.”

And not just look at it as in a typical print or even online ad, he says, but post your own comments that Burke or one of his Internet sales team can respond to. “We’ve never been able to touch our market in an interactive way like this before,” he says. “We could buy online ads for branding, but that’s not engaging the way this is.”

Customer orders initiated on the web now account for about 25% of overall sales, a ratio likely to rise, Burke says.

Freedom Ford, as Burke’s enthusiasm for the web shows, is revving up its Internet and Facebook strategy into new territory for car dealers. One of two Facebook app beta test clients of GOSO LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based company that provides social media and marketing applications for auto dealers, Freedom Ford launched its current Facebook page on the GOSO platform late last December. Two weeks ago the dealership went live with GOSO’s inventory application to also display on its Facebook wall its fleet of used cars and trucks. Its Facebook wall now shows Freedom Ford’s inventory complete with photos, videos, vehicle specs, finance calculators and an online form for negotiating with Burke or a member of his Internet sales team.

“It’s darn near a mini- web site for us,” Burke says. “When you click the Inventory icon on our Facebook wall, the inventory we have on our Freedom Ford web site is now also on our Facebook page.”

Freedom Ford maintains its main vehicle inventory database in its web-based dealer management system from DealerTrack Inc., which the car dealer uses to transmit refreshed inventory data nightly to HomeNet, an Internet portal service that forwards that information to several e-marketplaces, including Cars.com, Autotrader.com and Ford Motor Co.’s FordDirect.com. As of two weeks ago, Freedom Ford also uses HomeNet to forward its inventory data every night to GOSO, which makes the vehicle data, including the photos, videos and descriptions, appear on the car dealer’s Facebook page wall.

It took GOSO about 24 hours to establish the inventory connection to Facebook after Burke provided the Internet address for connecting to HomeNet.

GOSO also populates Freedom Ford’s Facebook page with editorial content, such as trendy articles from Ford Motor as well as other news sources about new Ford products like the forthcoming European version of the Ford Fiesta or about how Ford is working to reduce its carbon footprint. Freedom Ford can also use its own web administrative page to upload its own content, though so far it has relied mostly on GOSO, Burke says.

“I can go to our Facebook wall and see who clicked on which content and left their name, then I can click to go to their Facebook page to engage them,” he says. He adds that Freedom’s Facebook page links to Twitter and YouTube.com to extend information updates and video content.

As of this week, Freedom Ford had about 111 fans on its Facebook page, but it hasn’t even started to publicize it, Burke says. Freedom Ford plans to also soon relaunch its own web site, which will include links inviting visitors to follow the dealer on Facebook and Twitter. In addition, the dealer will begin promoting its Facebook and Twitter pages in the e-mails it routinely sends to the 15,000 names in the customer database it has built over the past 20 years, and it will promote its social media connections in print ads.

Burke, who also oversees the Internet sales team at Freedom Ford’s two sister dealerships for the Volvo and Lincoln-Mercury brands, hopes to extend his Facebook strategy to them as well.

 

 

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