Auto forums are a great way to promote added sales at your dealership - but we'll be honest with you, it does take time and it's not for everyone.
If you don't have someone on your staff who's really good at getting involved with online conversations and steering that to making sales, don't try to force the issue.
If you do have someone who can get the job done, though, here are four tips for doing it right.
1) Promote in your signature - but not overly so
Your 'signature' on an online forum is a small part of the page that can display almost anything you want it to, from text about special offers to custom graphics that can advertise your business.
This is a great way to work advertising in when you're participating in a forum, but it's going to backfire if you're too annoying about it!
When people are on forums, they don't want to see large, intrusive ads... especially if your signature shows up under every single post you make.
Keep your signature small, simple, and user-friendly. People will respond to that much better, especially if you have a professional-sounding account name and generally talk like an expert instead of just a person hopping in.
When you first start out on an automotive forum, look at what other people are doing and do your best to fit in.
2) Focus on Building Relationships
Forum marketing tends to be the most successful when you're a known presence on the boards. That is, you're not just dropping into random conversations to advertise. Instead, you're getting involved on a regular basis.
All of your posts should be written to position yourself as an expert who understands the subject and can provide a definitive answer to a forum member's problems. This will establish you as a credible source - and other forum users will take notice.
Forum posts aren't just about the conversation happening right then and there. They're also about anybody who might come in from search engines to read the conversations.
If visitors see the other forum users treating you like an expert, they'll start paying more attention to what you have to say... and any solutions you have to offer.
3) Don't try to participate in every forum
Regularly posting on forums can be a pretty big time-sink if it gets out of hand.
Ideally, you won't need to have anyone doing it for more than an hour or two a day. It's a slow-moving marketing method, after all, so it shouldn't become one employee's full-time job.
One of the first steps to getting started on a forum is finding the right fit. Choose just one or two large forums that relate to auto parts or your specific brand. This will give you time to participate enough to make a difference.
You're not likely to sell a car to anyone who lives across the country, but you could sell and ship specific replacement parts, accessories, or other components. Keep this in mind when deciding what forum to join.
4) Be helpful and genuine - don't just push your website link and spam
We touched on this in #2, but we can't over-emphasize how important it is to be helpful and genuine with your posts.
If all you're doing is naming parts and linking to your website, people are not going to click on that. Chances are they'll just report you to the board's administrators and get you banned.
Rather than spamming links, try to provide real value and expertise to any conversation you get involved in. You can post links to your products when it makes sense to do so (like diagnosing a specific problem and linking to a replacement part someone actually needs), but you shouldn't try to force links in if they don't make sense.
Remember, a large part of auto forum marketing is establishing yourself as an expert and managing your reputation. Other forum users should want your input on a conversation because they know you have something valuable to say. If they don't care, then you're doing it wrong.
More Reading: 10 Do's and Don'ts for Marketing on Automotive Forums
It's important to remember that auto forum marketing isn't a quick and easy way to advertise. However, if you're doing the job well in addition to other marketing techniques, it can help you expand into an area that's still largely untouched by others.
With time and persistence, it can be a valuable source of added revenue!