ADOTAS – In a shot heard ’round the social media marketing world, GM underwent scrutiny for its recent decision to pull paid advertising from Facebook. The shift in strategy raised heated debates about the effectiveness of Facebook advertising, just prior to the social network’s IPO. Meanwhile, GM competitors like Ford were quick to defend their decision to continue advertising on the social media giant, claiming “it’s all about execution.” In contrast, GM emphasized “it’s all about content” by focusing a component of its $40 million marketing budget on another area — content creation.
GM sets the stage with this post: “Just wanted to let our millions of Facebook fans know, we’re still here, and we ‘like’ you back. We may not be advertising on Facebook at the moment but we’ll still be talking with you all daily. If anything, we will be providing more content across our many GM Facebook pages — including Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac — to keep the dialogue going.”
In many ways, GM’s decision is indicative of broader shifts in the marketing industry and supports what many in the digital marketing industry have known for years – engaging content (whether on email, mobile, social or a website) is the best, most effective way to build loyal customer relationships. While Facebook may not be actively embraced as a primary tool to sell cars, the auto industry is beginning to realize is how effective social media can be as a tool to share relevant content to heighten interaction with customers – content that extends beyond deals and offers. The right content – personalized, informative, entertaining – is effective in building personal relationships in ways those big, splashy, generically-targeted TV ads and repetitive radio spots can’t.
In fact, to better understand the social media marketing needs of the automotive industry, our company, the digital marketing software company IMN, recently conducted an extensive study comprised of 600 phone interviews and 21 extensive in-person interviews with representatives from most of the major U.S. automotive brands. The goal was to benchmark marketing priorities and identify common trends associated with emerging social media requirements. Results showed the number one marketing priority was reputation management, but there was a good deal of confusion about how to leverage and manage social media effectively to support that goal, while maintaining control of the customer relationship. The top three key themes that emerged from the survey were:
Social Is Still a New Frontier for Dealers
Although dealers are testing many tactics to increase their social presence, average confidence in their overall social media strategy was relatively low. Growing their social media audience was high in importance; social lead generation rated much lower. Many expressed doubt that social channels could be used as lead/business drivers. The dealers in the study were, for the most part, pragmatic about what is feasible to measure.
Dealer Presence across Social Media Has Room for Growth
Among those surveyed, a good number were on Twitter as well as Facebook, but not using it regularly or, in their minds, effectively. Very few had profiles for their business on YouTube, Google+ or other platforms. Many had not even “claimed” their business page on Yelp, foursquare or similar social media platforms that enable customer feedback and rewards.
Balancing Reputation Management with Control over Customer Interactions
Of most concern to the survey respondents was reputation management. They expressed interest in gaining a better understanding of what is being said about them online, but wanted ultimate control over the conversations and relationships with both current and potential customers.
Closing the Gap
Clearly, auto dealers and manufacturers are still trying to figure out the measurable value of engaging on social channels, and how to leverage the transition from email to social channels and close the gap between using social as a means to building their brand and influencing revenues through service and sales.
In order to close the gap between reputation management and sales, the industry should continue to utilize social media to build community by emphasizing increased investment in content marketing strategies that contextualize their brand story. By that, I mean the content must be authentic. Consumers don’t want to be part of a community just to be advertised to. If the content isn’t informative, engaging or entertaining, then consumers will think it’s just an ad, viewed as disruptive noise that negatively impacts their dialogue with the brand.
One of the first steps for automotive marketers is to define their content marketing strategy, which usually includes describing the type of content they think will resonate and engage customers (hint: we’re not just talking about ratings or sales brochure copy), and the frequency of publishing that content in order to build a sustainable program. Frequency is an important component here, primarily because of the impact social media has had on consumption habits. Where once-a-month website updates or blog posts were once somewhat acceptable, consumers today want more – more relevant content, more frequently.
The social marketing goal for many dealers is simply to create engaging content that will create interest (direct and via sharing) so consumers will come into the dealership. For many, measuring the effect of social marketing often comes down to anecdotal feedback during phone calls or in-store visits. Increasing use of analytics to measure results on a consistent basis has the potential to change a dealer’s entire perception of the value of social media.
In a statement, GM concluded: “In terms of Facebook specifically, while we currently do not plan to continue with advertising, we remain committed to an aggressive content strategy through all of our products and brands, as it continues to be a very effective tool for engaging with our customers.” We hope that the discussion GM’s decision has sparked will draw more attention to the topic of content marketing, and help dealers and other auto manufacturers adopt best practices for improving the quality and relevancy of that content to engage, inform and entertain consumers to support brand loyalty, and ultimately, revenues.