By Brittany Richter

Google launched “Google + Your World” and Bing’s latest campaign emphasizes the idea that “Search goes social.” What they really mean is “Search Goes Social Capital.”

Social capital is a term often used in the social sciences and has a few different interpretations and applications. However, at its core is the idea that social networks (the real life kind, not the Facebook kind) have value and provide benefits to individuals. Individuals benefit from the resources that are available to them as a result of who they know. This includes a sense of belonging, feelings of trust and safety, reciprocity, to name a few. We’ve heard it a million times: it’s all about whom you know.

Social media (now I am talking about the Facebook kind) has changed the face of social capital, perhaps for the better and the worse. Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone (2000) talks about the decline of social capital. People are seeing their friends less often, families less often, and interacting less overall on an in-person, interpersonal level. More Americans were bowling than ever before, but alone rather than in leagues – hence the book’s namesake.

There’s no doubt that technology has played a role in this decline, but it has also been argued that it is aiding in its rehabilitation. Technology can be isolating and cause us to choose to stay in rather than go out, but it can also bring people together and keep them connected: Enter Facebook, Twitter, Google+.

So, what does this have to do with the automotive industry?

Social capital as it relates to the automotive industry has everything to do with The Zero Moment of Truth, the research phase where potential customers spend time deciding which dealership to go to. It has to do with search engines and social media, and the ever-present fusion of the two.

Rather than traditional media just sending potential customers to Google to do their research, they’re also researching on their social networks. Furthermore, search engines are pulling social information onto their pages.

How many times have you seen something like this in Facebook, Twitter or Google+: “Anyone have any must see/do/eat in Minneapolis?” “Anyone have any recommendations for what kind of laptop to buy?” “Android or iPhone, I can’t decide – help!”

social networkWe as users, whether we knew the term social capital or not, know we could ask questions of our social networks: circles of people that we know, like and trust. Google and Bing took notice when Facebook and Twitter users started asking for purchasing advice via their social networks and have thus started incorporating it in their search engines, and for good reason. We’ve been saying it all along: people are more likely to take advice from people they know than from some silly search engine. This is also why reviews are so important.

So, what am I saying you need to take away from this?

Traditional media no longer stands on its own, it sends people to Google and to their social networks to continue their research before coming to the dealership – and it sends them to the online reviews. Reviews left by a potential customer’s networks are part of that individual’s social capital. It is information and opinion that they have access to as a result of whom they are connected to.

Take the first steps:

In order to keep up and to even begin to compete with your competitors you need a strong in-store review collection process and a strong social strategy.

Step 1: Get your customers to leave you reviews and connect with you on social media before they even leave the store. This will ensure that they are connected to your brand, giving them what they need to be brand ambassadors, to share your brand with their social networks, to serve as social capital to their networks by sharing their experiences with your dealership.

Step 2: Ask your employees to endorse and engage. Most of them, if not all of them, live in your PMA or AOI, no? Their networks are valuable and their endorsement means a lot. Ask them to create Google accounts, +1 your web assets, and engage with your social content on Facebook and Twitter. Their networks will have access to their activity, and their endorsement will become part of their networks’ social capital

Google and Bing are incorporating social capital in to the user’s search engine experience. You need to be there in order to keep up. Are you leverage this shift to make sure you’re the answer to “Where should I get an oil change?” or “Finally getting a new car! Now, where to go?”?

Start with the simple steps outlined above, and if you want more advanced strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out for help!

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