We live in a world of recommendations and referrals. Every business has a Yelp page, where consumers rigorously investigate businesses before spending a dollar. Online reputation matters. It can make or break a new or established business.

Another place where reviews are worth their price in gold is Facebook. This is where businesses can create a page and interact directly with customers on an ongoing basis.

For auto dealers, a quality, smart social-media presence can lead to more customers, better employees, better revenue and ultimately better sales.

Building a Social Community

Meet customers where they are. In the early days, newspaper circulars were the key to getting customers in the door. Online advertisements have taken the place of circulars over the last 20 years but a dealership’s social pages, where customers can discuss their experiences in real time, are now just as important. Online presence is a life blood.

A local car dealership does not need a social media presence with 30,000 “likes.” As in any lead-generation process, a dealer’s page liked by, for example, 1,000 potential customers is more important than a page liked by 10,000 people who will never visit the dealership.

Local pages usually have fewer users but more activity and influence in the areas served. Creating and targeting a page at the local level can do great things for a dealership’s reputation in the community.

A Transparent Dealership

Having this targeted community helps build transparency and connects with customers directly and in real time.

It also helps a dealership handle issues on the spot, instead of having angry customers discuss their negative experience with anyone who will listen.

It would be great if everyone who visited your dealership and social media pages loved their experience and sang your praises. Unfortunately, this ideal is not the case.

But if you have a customer who posts a negative review on one of your pages, you have the ability to reach out to address the issue and leave a comment publicly that the issue is being handled.

This helps to turn negatives into positives while also enhancing and promoting good conversations. This speaks volumes to customer-service capabilities.

On the flip side, encourage your customers to leave reviews and engage with them on social channels.

After a sale is complete, customers should receive a business card with social channels directing them to either review, post on your page or tag you in their posts.

For example, if you have a customer who purchases a new car and takes the family out for ice cream in the car and posts a picture of it on Facebook, you should “like” it, share it with followers and thank them for the photo. Build a presence one like at a time.

Managing your own pages also gives you access to your page analytics. These indicate traffic volume, who is liking and commenting on your posts, who else is interacting with your page and more.

This is both a good measurement of how a page is doing and a great lead-generation tool, because a dealership can reach out to highly active users and see if they are in the market for a new car or service.

Dealers who create an engaging social-media environment have an opportunity to transfer this level of customer service and engagement to in-store operations. Engage customers the same way at the dealership, both on the sales and service sides. It will help improve employees’ customer service and enhance the store’s reputation

Bobby Bailey is Dealer.com’s manager-managed social.