Virtually every automotive dealership today recognizes that online reputation is important to successful business. Consumers now spend a majority of their time in the car purchasing process doing online research, and it’s almost impossible to research vehicles or dealerships without obvious signs of dealership online reputation staring straight back from the screen. Search engine results show the star-ratings and review quantities of several rating sites; even quick local searches for directions or a phone number turn up consumer comments, photos, and social media posts about the business.
Most dealerships also recognize that there are some online reputation tasks that almost certainly do not make sense to do by hand in-house. For example, tracking online reviews and social media comments manually across even just a few sites would be tedious and time-consuming, and produce worse results than just paying a modest sum for a simple software tool to send you alerts when your business is mentioned online. Similarly, you could manually type out an email or text message to each customer to send them links to your Facebook or Google account… or again simply buy one of many software solutions on the market to automate it for you. On the high end, you may even want to consider an expertise almost certainly not on a dealership staff (e.g., an attorney or PR firm) to help deal with some online situations.
There is very little consensus, however, on who the best online reputation provider is, as evidenced by the highly fragmented market and literally hundreds of providers who offer at least some online reputation elements in their products or services. Even limiting to just the providers with a meaningful presence in the automotive space, there are still at least a dozen or more depending on how you want to count. And that’s the real question: what are you looking for? “Online reputation” is a broad concept that can encompass almost anything in the digital world today.
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself (or a prospective provider) to narrow down on the provider that is right for you:
1. What tools do you want to bundle from a single provider?
Most reputation providers offer a lot more than just online reputation. The reputation tools might be part of a CRM system, a component in a business listing or chat platform, or one element of a large digital marketing campaign. If you need some of these other tools or are looking to make a switch there anyway, great! Otherwise, are you going to pay for a bunch of things you already have from another vendor? Or will the vendor let you split out just the pieces you want? Even if so, do the tools work sub-optimally without the rest of their ecosystem and integrations? Or are you setting yourself up to suffer endless upsell attempts from them? In general, we believe the more a business specializes, the better its offering will be in the area of focus. But of course, the broader the business, the fewer vendors you’ll have to manage if you can consolidate them down.
2. What services do you want from your reputation provider?
In today’s economy, software-as-a-service (SaaS) is all the rage among entrepreneurs and investors. As a result, many reputation providers *only* provide software tools. If you’ve got a tech-savvy team and good, disciplined internal processes, great! You can probably save a bundle by simply getting a DIY tool; otherwise, have a clear idea of what you need, as we see a huge variation on the market. Some providers are a dedicated representative for each client and do regular strategy calls; others are email support only. Some have teams that can respond to online reviews or social media comments for you quickly, even on nights and weekends, or create posts for your social media pages.
3. Are the tools built in-house or white-labeled?
Working with a company that white-labels a reputation solution probably means you will get more expertise outside of reputation and fewer bugs in the reputation tools. In contrast, companies that build in-house are likely much more able to customize their solutions and features to your requests, and are faster at fixing bugs. They probably are also much more focused just on reputation.
4. How much automotive focus do you want from your provider?
Do you care if they know the difference between fixed and variable ops? Do you want to have a relationship with the company and see them at automotive conferences? Do you want your manufacturer to know them and work with them? Perhaps most importantly, vendors with a strong (or even exclusive) focus in auto will frequently have many co-op opportunities for their reputation management solutions.
5. Does the company do more than just help you get more reviews?
Maybe quantity is all you’re interested in for now. If so, great. But watch out for this one. Lots of ‘reputation management’ companies really are just ‘review generation platforms’ at their core. We’ve seen more and more platforms take aggressive stances against various forms of review solicitation and expect this to continue. More importantly, perhaps, we believe that online reviews have diminishing marginal returns. As you start to have hundreds or even thousands of reviews, do you really need to continue paying to super-charge getting more reviews than the natural organic quantity your business will receive (and especially if those efforts also contribute to your getting more negative reviews)? Will the vendor help you prevent negative reviews from happening at all, and dispute negative reviews with the networks when they violate terms of service?
There are many options out there; we hope these questions are helpful as you consider your choices! And of course, feel free to setup a no-pressure discussion with a Friendemic expert to see if our solutions will fit your needs.