Social Media at Alfa Romeo – Part 3 – Putting it all together

Alfa Romeo Social Media

Previously in this series:

Note: this series is intended to address the basic fundamentals of a social presence for a car company – in this instance, Alfa Romeo. There will always be specialised social campaigns involving all sorts of emerging technology. They’re not addressed here. This is all about building a fundamental and ongoing connection online over the longer term.

And now, the final instalment, where I’ll outline how I’d structure Alfa Romeo’s social media basics if I had a say in it.

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My theory on social media for car companies is based on having three separate levels of internet property to maintain – stores/feeders, the blogging hub, and distributors.

Forgive the basic graphic, but it’s this simple.

Stores/Feeders

The top section of that graphic is what I’ll refer to here as storers/feeders.

This is the set of properties that you maintain in order to store content to be shared on your blogging hub. It might be a video sharing service like Youtube or Vimeo, or a photographic social sharing site like Flickr. The company’s public relations page can be an important resource given that will likely contain a lot of historical documents and images. This group also includes the relationships you develop with fans, who can then become a source of stories for sharing with the wider audience.

Socialised media storage sites like Youtube are searchable on their own, as are images via Google Image search or Flickr. These services quite often yield even better search results than text-based archives due the relative scarcity of properly indexed media.

Images and video are powerful tools. The old adage of a picture telling a thousand words still rings true and what’s great about pictures and video is that they’re dual-purpose: they can be the basis or the compliment to a text story that starts some great discussion, or they can be shared on their own without the textual background material.

Your company’s relationship with readers/fans can also be a great source of material for stories to be shared. An automotive brand’s ownership community can offer wonderful insights into the company, the ownership experience, the thrills of actually owning the product. It’s a perspective that companies would do well to tap into.

All of this implies some work, of course.

A company needs to invest in media creation, material to be stored on these channels and used in its distribution channels.

That means you’ve got to buy cameras, invest in media production materiel and personnel (don’t outsource, it’s not that hard, really), unlock the company’s archives and share some of the wonderful media that’s already been created in years past. It means you’ve got to invest time in building relationships, in knowing what your ownership community is doing, knowing what they want.

The rewards for this work can be amazing. They’re not only information- and content-rich, they’re also overwhelmingly positive and a lot of fun.

The blogging hub

I’ve written about this at length in my previous post, but in short…..

I believe that a blog-based website is still one of the best ways available to build relationships on the web. The longer-form nature of blog content treats customers intelligently and invites them to discuss content, to immerse themselves in it.

This format can be the basis for you transforming enthusiasts and fans into ambassadors for your car company. Treat them with respect, build what they want, and the communication channels you build with them in this space can be enormously rewarding for all concerned.

The media that you create and store in services such as Youtube and Flickr, and the stories that you cultivate from your ownership community, can be shared using full text in this environment. They can be shared around, discussed and enjoyed.

Distribution channels

The whole point of social media is that good content can be shared around. Most social strategies that I’ve seen tend to focus on the distribution side of things, whereas I’ve always put more emphasis on the content creation side – content is king, as the saying goes.

Alfa Romeo should have focused accounts on the prominent social services so that it can distribute content in places where their fans already congregate.

The difference between Alfa’s current strategy and the one I propose, however, is that the main portion of content should be on the blog. Bring the people to your house and invite them into a conversation. Encourage participation.

Sites such as Twitter and Facebook are short-form communication by their nature. It’s great that people participate there, but I think their best use is as a distribution method for your in-depth content, which should be placed on your own URL, under your full control.

As per my DOs and DON’Ts from a last week, you shouldn’t seek to be present on every social channel. As you can see from the graphic above, there are a lot of them but if you’re everywhere, it’s too hard to monitor and control effectively.

The obvious channels are pretty self-evident: Facebook, Google+, Twitter and perhaps Tumblr and/or one or two others.

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To summarise:

  • Create rich media and great stories based around your company. Use video, images (both current and historical), news stories and most importantly, highlight the experiences of your enthusiast community.
  • Use your central blogging hub to tell these stories. Build you community. Involve your staff. Develop conversations based on fantastic content and unwavering respect for your audience. This is the best opportunity you have online to engage your enthusiast community and help them transform from being fans, into being ambassadors for your company.
  • Develop your social channels and use them to share the high quality content that you develop. Monitor them judiciously and use them wisely to direct people to your blogging hub where you can build a deeper connection.

Alfa Romeo are re-building at the moment. They have a new focus on quality, design and performance and very soon they’ll be seeking to re-enter the United States market. Getting their social approach right before they take this step will give them a head start as they take this all-important step.

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Finally, an update on Facebook, which seems to be the current hub of Alfa Romeo’s centralised social media efforts.

Facebook was the world’s internet darling while it was new, growing and before they had to report a standard set of figures. Now that it’s a listed company with rigid reporting responsibilities, we’re starting to get a better idea as to how they’re really tracking. You’ll recall that Facebook listed on the stock exchange earlier this year at $38 a share. The stock price has only gone down since then, dropping last week to $24 a share after Facebook gave a quarterly update as required by law. Today, it’s around $20 a share.

The number of monthly users is up to 955 million but the growth in revenue has slowed considerably:

Between 2009 and 2010, the company’s revenue nearly tripled. In the first quarter of this year, revenue climbed 44 per cent. In the second quarter, Facebook’s revenue increased 32 per cent to $US1.18 billion from $US895 million a year earlier. Analysts, on average had expected slightly lower revenue of $US1.16 billion, according to FactSet.

32% is still impressive, but it’s the trend that’s a worry.

I think that trend is due to the fact that companies are realising that Facebook advertising might not be for them. Car companies included. My own personal theory is that while Facebook might great for lower-cost, more frequent purchases, it’s not so good for big capital purchases.

For automotive companies, Facebook is a way to stay in touch via continuous short-burst messaging. It’s not a way to sell or build long-term relationships.

Why is this relevant? Am I just Facebook bashing? No.

I mention it because Alfa Romeo’s current social strategy places Facebook at the absolute center of their efforts. Just a few days ago, they were celebrating 50,000 fans of their Alfa Romeo Turkey facebook page which is a wonderful reward for effort, but in my opinion, is also a dreadful waste of resources. My apologies to any Turkish readers, but having a strong Facebook following in Turkey isn’t going to move the needle when your brand’s about to launch in the United States.

My argument is that you need a strong GLOBAL base for building relationships and sharing information. Automotive companies would benefit more from continuous longer-form communication, using a well-written blog as a hub and using services such as Facebook to distribute that content.

Which is why I’ve been talking about all this……

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3 Comments

  1. Swade. Really looking forward to Alfa’s return to the US. Nothing in the market place has the look of an Alfa and with an emphasis on quality they will “fly of the shelf.”.

  2. Steven, one of the things I really liked about your work at Saab is that it really wasn’t “social media”. Inside Saab was part of the Saab site, however nicely separate as a blog. You managed to have one foot in the enthusiasts camp, while still the other was a company man. It worked.

    It is interesting to look at the social media efforts of a really large and well marketed company, that whether you like their products or not we all can agree is extraordinarily successful. Apple.

    Facebook? Twitter? All the other 2nd tier social media? In Apple’s case – zero. Zilch. Nada. I never heard Steve Jobs speak on this, but if we can imagine he did, I think he may have not liked Facebook etc for Apple because it wasn’t his. Apple.com is their real estate. Facebook isn’t. Twitter isn’t. Drive traffic to Facebook, and then somehow you have to drive it back to your own real estate. Your site. Your content.

    Companies who spend lots of money to get someone to visit their web site, and then when you get to their web site, have a big blue button saying “Visit us on Facebook” prominently on their home page…. it just seems dumb.

    Facebook certainly has a roll in connecting with customers, but for many companies it seems to have way to high a priority compared with creating great content and community on their own web sites.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Keith. I really do think the format works quite well, especially where there’s a culture around the product and a long-term relationship to be built.

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head wrt Apple and Facebook. It’s a discussion I had several times at Saab: Why keep people away from your home base? Apple are fortunate in that they already have millions of ambassadors. Their site is a magnet and it’s impressive that they’ve been able to steer clear of FB. It maintains a lot of your core identity if you can do that.

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