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For the car rental industry, the most common social media websites are Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn — with some dabbling in Instagram and YouTube, according to Auto Rental News’ Social Media Survey.
“Social media sites are supplements of a company’s website,” says Joe Ferguson, social media manager for The Web Guys, a web design and Internet marketing agency that works with independent car rental companies. “They all help each other market you online.”
Here are five common mistakes that could be hindering your social media presence from growing — along with tips to improve user engagement.
Mistake #1 — Treating social media platforms like a website
This is one of the biggest mistakes made by car rental companies when using social media, according to Paul Allison, Internet and development manager for Express Internet Technologies. Companies don’t really understand that social media is a way to engage in conversations.
“Most industries don’t get the basics of social media marketing,” says Allison. “Social media is driven by the consumer, not by the brand. It’s driven by their wants and needs, and a company needs to be receptive to what they are looking for.”
Companies should think of social media platforms as a way to help users. When people see a brand, they may want to ask a question. “Users are looking for an honest answer and want to connect,” says Allison. “You only make the connection if you can be helpful.”
Mistake #2 — Only posting promotions and rates
It’s easy to post promotions, but it doesn’t help with user engagement. Social media users generally don’t want to be sold to.
“You don’t have the right to be promotional unless you make the connection,” says Allison.
Promoting a great rate can be included in the contextual framework of posts, but Allison recommends posting promotions no more than one out of six posts.
The key is to be creative when deciding what to post. Ask users a question to get them hooked. Allison suggests a question like: “What is the funniest thing you have found in a rental car?” These types of questions will help get a conversation going. Discuss a news story that relates to your industry. Highlight interesting facts about your company’s history or how your company is involved in the community.
Create a social media contest to bring more engagement. Allison suggests posting photos of your customers. If they visit your social media page and tag themselves in the photos, they will be entered into the online contest. “This could drive their interest and bring them back,” says Allison.
To show the human side of your company, Ferguson recommends using Facebook to posts photos of your office or photos of your cars being washed. Update your social media page with company announcements, such as new vehicles added to the fleet, or post a thank you to your customers.
The Facebook post on the right is considered a “good” post because it uses hashtags and injects the brand into something already popular (#happyfriday), presents a clear call to action for prospective clients to request a car rental reservation and provides a link to the company’s website. The other Facebook post (on the left) is not as effective without hashtags, no call to action and no link back to the company’s website.
Project what you think a potential customer wants to know. Is there an annual event coming to town? Does your company specialize in certain types of rentals to facilitate the event? For example, “Are you in town for the Women’s Gymnastics Championships? We have a fleet of nine 12-passenger vans that can get your team from the airport to the arena and all the popular sightseeing stops in between.”
Mistake #3 — Not tracking your brand’s social media presence
Because social media is about brand management, are you aware of all the conversations going on about your brand?
In order to know how people view your brand and your industry, you should monitor social media conversations on a regular basis, according to Allison.
“You want to know everything that’s being said about your brand on all the networks, so you can monitor and engage when appropriate,” says Allison. “Your brand is being discussed everywhere in some capacity.”
How do you monitor your brand? Allison suggests online tools such as Google alerts, Topsy and Talk Walker. On Topsy, you can search for social web keywords in specific categories: “everything,” “links,” “tweets,” “photos,” “videos” and “influencers.” Talk Walker allows you to search by your company name, brand or hashtag.
Monitoring can help you know where to engage. The online tools point you to specific conversations where you can try to engage users — whether it’s in a conversation or responding to a review.
When you respond to a negative comment, Ferguson recommends keeping it brief and professional. Although you may feel slighted by reviewers, acknowledge that they had a bad experience and their opinion will be taken into consideration. “It makes your business look professional and level-headed,” says Ferguson. “You want to take the higher road than arguing with people online.”
Consistent monitoring can also help make sure that your company’s online information is correct. For instance, if your contact information is inaccurate online, you could be missing out on some opportunities for conversion.
Mistake #4 — Thinking anyone can be an expert at social media
A majority of car rental companies think social media is only about posting stories and promotions, which anyone can do. They don’t understand the intelligence involved when trying to engage properly: Where is the best place to put the link? When is it appropriate to engage with users? What content is interesting and helpful?
Rental operators should seek professional help, whether that means hiring a full-time social media manager or hiring an outside agency, according to Allison.
“You need professional oversight,” says Allison. “You can do more damage with social media if you don’t know what you are doing.”
Even if your company decides to hire an outside consultant to help with social media, it’s important to have a specific person on your staff to regularly communicate with the consultant. The Web Guys say communication with them is facilitated when a client has a staffer who handles social media specifically to provide ideas for posts or ways to build conversations.
“It’s hard for us to pretend to be a car rental company on social media because we aren’t part of the company’s day-to-day operations,” says Ferguson. “Without consistent engagement from the rental company, it’s very difficult to come up with post ideas or anything relevant to the company.”
Mistake #5: Believing social media is a waste of time
Some car rental companies create social media accounts and never use them. Then there are the companies who aren’t interested in social media at all, whether they are intimated by it or afraid to adapt to technological trends.
Ferguson maintains that car rental operators need to take charge of their companies’ reputations and visions of their brand instead of letting others do it for them. “Even if you don’t want to be on social media,” he says, “generally you are already there and people are already talking about your brand.”
These consultants say many car rental companies believe social media should be tied to an immediate return on investment. More reservations may flow from it eventually, but there is an intrinsic value in being involved in the social media community — where you are building brand recognition and engaging potential clients. “It’s more of a long-term investment,” Ferguson says.
“To maintain a proper digital marketing strategy, social media, website, rankings and search engine marketing should all be connected and feed off each other,” says Ferguson. “Social media is valuable to search engine optimization and deserves time and effort.”