There has always been an intangible return on investment with social media and for the last few years I've worked on both providing it and demonstrating that it exists for car dealers. The last year and a half has seen a shift in my mentality; the things that I once considered social ROI are still there, but dark posts offer something much more tangible. I know longer have to convince dealers it exists. They can see it with their own eyes.
Automotive dark post advertising is the practice of using the other side of social media, the portion of Facebook that not very many are talking about but that brings the real value most dealers have been seeking. It uses social media's greatest asset - personal targeting data - and applies it in a way that keeps your public-facing page crisp and clean while advertising to specific people with the goal of driving shoppers to specific pages on your website.
To do this, we'll use "unpublished posts" on Facebook, proper targeted advertising, and a system to maintain and monitor the campaigns.
Before Getting Started
There's one warning that you must take into account before getting started. It's so easy that many dealers and vendors are taking a "set it and forget it" approach to dark post advertising. This is a huge mistake for several reasons:
- People can like, share, and comment on these posts. That means that there are people to respond to, a potential for negative sentiment, and even leads that come in regularly in the form of comments. Because these posts do not appear on your Facebook page wall, it's possible that these comments can go unnoticed. There's nothing worse than advertising a special and pushing it out to thousands of people with a comment talking about how badly you treated someone right at the top. In essence, you might be advertising a negative review if you "set it and forget it".
- Facebook is mercurial in the way that it adjusts posts within the algorithm. You can have ads within an ad set that are not getting served because one or two are getting over-served. It's great that the Facebook advertising algorithm is so quick to make adjustments, but it can also have a tendency to be too quick to judge. You might have a winning ad that nobody is seeing because another one is getting all of the love.
- Campaign fatigue can become an issue. We make adjustments to ads daily for our clients because that's the best way to maximize the ROI. Letting the wrong ads linger for a week can not only drive up your cost per click on the current campaign. It can hurt your chances of having future campaigns gain exposure.
In an absolute worst-case scenario, you should be managing your ads every other day. Daily is preferred. There's a reason we charge $565/month to manage campaigns. It's time consuming and requires nurturing to get the full value out of the platform. With that said, compare the numbers to what you pay search PPC companies to use automated software to drive your campaigns and I can say we're probably a bargain considering our expertise.
Step 1: Select Your Goal
You want website clicks. You want leads. You want sales. Those goals are pretty universal.
With dark post advertising, you should select specific goals for each campaign. Here are some examples of goals that you can set:
- DMX New Car Shoppers - This is the most basic campaign, one that has an above-average ROI but also one that can be consistent and indefinite. With this goal, you want to use DMX data to identify people intending to buy a particular make or model in the next 180 days. We'll be using this as the example within the guide below, so there's no need to go into too much more detail.
- CRM "Cold Case" Revival - Just because someone a few months ago bought a car from someone else doesn't mean they're not in the market today. Using your email database within your CRM, you can target a wide range of messages with the most popular one for this batch being the "why buy" message. This is great for reviving leads that are days or even weeks old, but it has also shown to be very effective getting the "next time around" customers who bought somewhere else a year or two ago and are now in the market (or know someone who is). These types of campaigns must be very closely monitored because you never know which customers in your database left unhappy the last time they visited, so there's an increased chance of someone leaving a negative comment on the posts.
- DMX Used Car Shoppers - If you have a decent-sized inventory, this is great. If you have a very specialized inventory such as 30+ trucks on the lot, this can be golden. From a cost-per-click perspective as well as the potential ROI, this is arguably the most fruitful of the campaign goals.
- Current Owner Service Specials - One of the lowest-hanging fruit through Facebook is to go after service business with specials. Facebook knows what kind of cars people own, so going after people who own your kinds of cars and putting service specials in front of them can work wonders. Be careful - traditional specials do not work nearly as well as "cool" Facebook-only specials.
- Segment Interest Campaigns - Our clients who are running at least $2000 a month in ads have found this low-engagement style to be worthwhile. It's not the cheapest click out there, but it can be very useful for aggressive dealers who want to get minivan owners/shoppers to a Sienna landing page, for example.
We are currently running 28 types of campaigns for clients all centered around individual goals. The list above is a good start to get your juices flowing and to demonstrate the potential that dark posts have to offer.
Step 2: Build Your Ad
- Go to https://www.facebook.com/ads/manage
- Top right, "Create Ad"
- Select "Clicks to Website"
- Plug in your landing page URL. Even if we use pixels (discussed below) we still like to add ?UTM_source=[campaign] at the end of the URL string for easier tracking in Google Analytics. Most traffic from Facebook comes through the Facebook app, which registers in GA as direct traffic.
- Add six images. The recommended size is 1200x628 but as long as it's over 600 pixels wide and has the proper aspect ratio, it will still be fine.
- Choose the Facebook Page attached to the ad. It will not appear on the page, but this is the only way to have News Feed ads.
- Plug in a compelling headline. You want to be transparent - no coaxing of clicks. We want real shoppers. It can be up to 25 characters long.
- Enter the post text. You have 90 characters. This appears above the image, so make it excellent. You can use hashtags in this section.
- Add a Call to Action button. Above, you see that we added the "Shop Now" button.
- Select your audience (details below).
- Change the name of the campaign to something that identifies it properly.
- Give the ad set a name.
- Select a daily or total budget.
- Set the dates to run continuously or start and end at specific times.
- For the bidding, it's best as a novice to Optimize for Clicks and set it to automatically optimize, but over time you'll be able to get better numbers with the other options. This takes practice.
- Place the order.
Step 3: Selecting Your Audience
The right audience is everything. This is the part that is arguably the most time consuming because it takes testing to get the audience exactly right, particularly with custom audiences. Even after running thousands of campaigns, we're still learning new tweaks and adjustments to make to them to maximize the effectiveness of the ads.
Custom audiences - we will have to cover that at a different time as it gets into areas that are a little more advanced. For today, let's build an audience around DLX data.
- Pick your location. You can do individual zip codes, cities, or radii around cities. You may have to tweak this a bit once the rest of the data is in place to set up the appropriate audience size.
- Age - 18 or old is fine for most brands. For luxury brands, you might want to limit your target audience to 22 or older.
- Gender - We do have gender-specific campaigns, but for a basic campaign you'll obviously want to go after both.
- Language - again, certain areas and certain campaign can target specific languages.
- There are plenty of demographic options to play with, but for the basic campaign we're building today, stick with all of them for now.
- Interests - same as demographics. There is value here for certain campaign types but today we'll leave it blank.
- Behaviors- this is the winner. For this campaign, select "Automotive (DLX Auto Powered by Polk)" --> "New vehicle shoppers (In market)" --> "Make" --> and then select your make. You can also add specific models for many brands, though not all of them are available.
- Once these are all selected, check your Potential Reach on the right side. If it's too small (3000 or less) you can either add additional target areas or additional target DLX behaviors. If it's too big (over 65K) you'll want to reduce your target area to be more local. It's better to have two very specific campaigns with 40,000 potential reach than to have one with 80,000 potential reach. Every ad set has the ability to go after more highly targeted people with the right message.
That's it! Your ad should be built. Now it's time to monitor and manage.
Managing, Monitoring, and Improving
As mentioned before, the biggest mistake that dealers and vendors make is not paying attention to their campaigns, making adjustments over time and maximizing their effectiveness. Facebook makes it very easy to see success and failure.
Without getting too deep into the numbers, the most important one that you'll want to watch is the cost per click. This is the clearest demonstration of the effectiveness of the ad. Unfortunately, there are no benchmarks in place tell what's working for you dealership in your area. Depending on the campaign type, audience, area, brand, and ad messaging, the clicks can range from $0.20 up to $2.00 and still be considered successful. It's all relative.
In the example above, we're running two types of ads within the same ad set. This is a small one - $5 per day - so normally we would only run one type but they were both so close to each other in cost and effectiveness that we ran them in the same set. You can see that the top three (out of 12 original ads) are running from $0.70 to $0.91 per click. The one below proved to be less effective after only 3 days, so we turned it off quickly.
If your clicks are costing too much, adjustments must be made to the targeting and/or ad itself. As a general rule, make one change at a time. When you make multiple changes, you cannot be sure which change had the most positive effect.
This is the most important aspect of a successful campaign. Building them is easy. Monitoring them daily and managing them properly takes commitment. Remember, people can like, share, and comment on these just like with any normal post, but since they do not appear on your wall you may never even know when people are interacting with you. As you can see in the example below, there seems to be a little competition between referring customers...
We love seeing stuff like this, but there are also going to be negative comments. How you handle them is up to you, but we like to reply to the ones that are mildly negative and remove the ones that are insulting. This is NOT a best practice on standard page posts, but on ads, you're paying to promote your cars. You want to address complaints but this isn't the forum to do it. See who's complaining, contact them offline, and remove the post from your ad.
Obviously, we do this for a living. Most companies do not give away their "secret sauce" so openly, but we know three things with a certainty:
- If you give it a shot and do it right, you will see the types of results you've never expected from social media. Yes, social media can be directly attributed to driving traffic, increasing leads, and generating sales. The best part is that it does it for less money than nearly every other type of paid advertising available.
- Those who find success on their own will want to get help and we're ready to be there. If I wrote 5 long blog posts on the subject, I couldn't get to half of the awesome nuances, tips, and tricks that my team has learned over the past couple of years. We know how to take a dealer with any size budget and generate amazing ROI. If you try it on your own and find the success we know you'll find, you'll want to hire the experts to take it to the next level. Just as most dealers hire companies to manage their search PPC, they'll want to hire experts to manage their social PPC. In fact, managing search PPC is easier and less time-consuming than managing social PPC.
- What we do with dark post advertising isn't even our best skill! It's a differentiator for sure, but we do so much more for our clients. We know if we can get our foot in the door with this and prove our value, we can take over much more of your digital marketing over time.
Play around with it. See how amazing this can be. Then, contact us and let us take it to the next level. Then again, if you already like what you're seeing and you don't want to wait to kick it up a notch, you can always contact us immediately. With no setup fees and month-to-month agreements, we're pretty darn confident you'll like what you see.