How (I think) social media should work in the automotive industry – DOs and DONTs

Alfa Romeo 4C

A few days ago I wrote an article here asking Does social media work in the car industry? The consensus answer – it could work, but in most cases, it isn’t working (yet).

This car deserves better – the Alfa Romeo 4C at Geneva, 2011

It follows naturally that I should present my own thoughts on what automotive companies can do with social media. I was going to put this all in one post, but it was getting to be too long. Instead, I’ve got a list of DO’s and DON’Ts below, and I’ll apply those in a real world setting in my next post.

Most of what I’ll write over these two posts is a blueprint for how I would have liked to organise our social media presence at Saab (the company I used to work for).

Nothing happened at Saab without a meeting. That’s just Swedish corporate culture. I attended 90% of those meetings when I was in Sweden so I can’t say that I didn’t have my chance to influence decisions there. But the final decision was never mine and Saab’s social structure wasn’t how I would have set it up if I had free reign over decisions there.

An aside: For any of my former colleagues at Saab who are reading this, neither that last paragraph or the ones that follow are intended as criticism. I don’t know if what I’m proposing here would work. It’s just my gut instinct based on experience and observation. We did some great, groundbreaking things at Saab in terms of social media and whilst I might have done it differently myself, I’m not intending to take anything away from what we actually did manage to achieve.

Please keep in mind that I’m writing this with a specific company in mind – Alfa Romeo. It should be noted that some of what I’m going to write here won’t apply to other automotive brands (e.g. can you use “Kia” and “heritage” in the same sentence, in a positive way?)

Social DO’s and DON’T’s for Alfa Romeo

  • DO invest in social and look at it as a long term proposition.
  • DO spread your resources over a number of social centers, but DON’T feel like you have to enter every new social outlet that comes along.
  • DO build real, personal relationships with your customers but DON’T build those relationships with the primary aim of selling cars to them.
  • DO allow people to have their say, but take measures to ensure that people frame their views in the right context. DON’T allow misinformation to overwhelm your discussions.
  • DO make efforts to turn your customers/readers/friends into stars!
  • DO make sure you leverage your history.
  • DO control your message – it’s content and timing but DON’T simply re-post company press releases
  • It’s OK to have some lightweight banter in your social discourse from time to time, but DO make sure that most of your content is comprised of good, solid meaty content.
  • DON’T allow your social space to turn into a customer services complaints desk, but DO make efforts to help people where you can.

That’s not an exhaustive list, but it’ll do for now.

In my next post, I’m going to have some fun applying that to Alfa Romeo’s brand marketing and see if I can come up with a social framework that can build their audience and turn their fans into followers, then ambassadors.

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5 Comments

  1. Good luck with trying to apply this to Alfa Romeo!

    As a customer, my do’s and don’t’s would be like this:

    DO get your finger out and get more models into your showrooms. A small and medium hatchback just is no where near good enough.
    DON’T keep promising new models then delaying and delaying and delaying……..
    DO keep on improving your customer service. It’s better but still way behind where it should be.
    DON’T water down the Alfa heritage too much in an effort to appease certain markets. Getting back into the USA is good but lets not lose the DNA we love in search of the all mighty dollar!

    Griffin Up! Cuore Sportivo!

  2. As usual, your analysis is spot on. The elephant in the corner for most companies is that people haven’t yet figured out that social media isn’t a place for product marketing. Social media can be a great place to build relationships with future and current customers, but it’s not a place to close the deal. 

    In my professional life, I’m a consumer marketing executive. Most of the brands I’ve worked for have been restaurant chains. When we started having web presences back in the 1990’s, my initial thoughts were that, for a company with no way to actually sell a product online, our web presence should be limited to a location finder, nutritional info and maybe a bit of current product news. 

    As the web matured, I came to see the web as a place to engage with customers in ways that didn’t deliver tangible sales growth, but which deeper the customers’ engagement with the brand. To that end, I worked to create content that was broader than just product, but which was relevant to the brand’s demographic.

    I partnered with other brands in different categories, but with similar customer demographics, to share content and create a reason for customers to visit the site frequently. Yes, I knew they were coming for the contests, game previews and sexy commercial behind the scenes, but they were also seeing news about products and promos in store.

    I see the automakers in a similar place, vis’a’vi social media. Most people buy new cars infrequently. But there’s a large class of people who like cars, especially certain marques, and those people tend to seek out interesting content associated with those marques. A channel 
    Ike YouTube or Facebook is a terrible place to list product attributes, but a great place to share sexy video of new product or interesting brand related news. Remember too, that the brand’s fans are often the respected voice on things automotive amongst their families and friends. 

    Social media is not a place to create customers. It’s a place to turn customers into evangelists. 

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