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Automotive News - Marketers tap social Web sites: Seeking face time through Facebook

Introduction from Ralph Paglia: Automotive Marketers are increasingly tapping into a wide variety of User Generated Content (UGC) or "Web 2.0" sites as they seek increased levels of engagement with car buyers that transcend what can be accomplished via conventional advertising. The following article was published by Automotive News in their November 17, 2008 issue.

Online social networks — Web sites that allow millions of Internet users to meet and share content they create — are becoming prime marketing turf for automakers.

Car companies not only are advertising on such popular networking sites as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube; they also are posting videos, games and other content tailored to the sites' subscribers. The sites allow companies to reach owners and enthusiasts and promote their vehicles in novel ways, marketers say.

Automakers won't disclose what they are spending to market on social networks. But Deborah Meyer, chief marketing officer of Chrysler LLC, says the sites guide large numbers of Internet users to the company's Web pages.

"The knowledge and awareness level is extremely high," Meyer told Automotive News. "We can see that from the Web site visits."

Jeep is displaying videos on several networking sites that feature "The Urban Ranger." The fictitious character gets testimonials from real Jeep owners.

Chuck Sullivan, Chrysler LLC's director of interactive, says social networks "help build enthusiasm." He notes that Jeep creates only a small fraction of the content on the brand's Facebook page, which he says has attracted nearly 58,000 fans.

Working the Web
Examples of automakers’ marketing on social networking Web sites
• Jeep/Facebook: “The Urban Ranger” talks to Jeep owners.
• Chevrolet/MySpace: A tree-planting effort promotes alternative-fuel vehicles.
• Scion/Kongregate: A video game contest builds brand awareness.

A framework for networking

"We provide a framework that enables social networking,"
Sullivan says. "Occasionally we will do fun games related to Jeep, or videos. But the real dynamics occur when you look at the conversations" among users.

Visitors to the Flickr site, which encourages users to share photographs, have posted more than 243,000 Jeep-related photos, Sullivan says. The Yahoo Web site hosts hundreds of online discussion groups about the Wrangler, he adds.

Social networking efforts by Dodge and Chrysler brands are in their "infancy," Sullivan says. But as the sites attract older and more mainstream users, he says, "We are starting to build that out."

Mark LaNeve, General Motors' vice president of North American marketing, says social networks extend word-of-mouth advertising to cyberspace.

"The most powerful thing in our business is the advocacy of one customer to the next," LaNeve says. "These sites get that done digitally."

This year, Chevrolet and MySpace developed a promotion that focused on conservation and alternative-fuel vehicles. A "tree widget" allowed MySpace users to plant virtual seeds on the site that grew into trees. As part of the promotion, Chevrolet and MySpace also agreed to plant as many as 225,000 real trees.

The program generated more than 8 million downloads and "millions of positive comments," GM spokeswoman Kelly Cusinato says.

Getting in the game

Toyota Motor Sales' youth-oriented Scion brand has appeared on social marketing sites for five years, says Adrian Si, Scion's interactive marketing manager.

Last month, Scion launched a promotion on Kongregate, a social network for video game developers and players. Users can modify a basic video game Scion has posted on the site. Visitors will vote for their favorite version.

Scion uses social networks primarily to "provide entertainment value" to users rather than generate traffic for its own Web site, Si says.

"We're not touting our cars," he says. "We do things to get exposure to our brand and positive awareness of it."

Jim Farley, Ford Motor Co.'s group vice president of marketing and communications, says companies such as his have not "really leveraged the opportunity" provided by social networking sites.

"It will be one of the most fundamental parts of our digital strategy going forward," he says.

The marketing challenge, Farley says, is to provide content that will engage, rather than distract or annoy, users of networking sites.

"People come there for a very specific reason," he says. "They don't want to be interrupted."

Ad push-back

But auto ads on social networks inevitably face user resistance, says Jon Schulz, a senior vice president at Specific Media, an online ad network in suburban Los Angeles.

"Compared to other forms of advertising, social media do not drive the online behavior that leads to vehicle purchases," says Schulz, who directed digital and direct marketing for Ford Motor before he left the company in May.

"You get a lot of eyeballs" at social networks, Schulz says. "But advertising is generally not well-received. The communities were launched without advertising. (Users) don't view it as a transactional space. It is a social space."

Another potential drawback, Schulz says, is that marketers can't control other content on social networks. An ad or other posting by an automaker may share a page with risque images or user criticism of the company, he says.

"That is clearly a risk," Schulz says. "Is it worth it?"

Chrysler's Sullivan says the company monitors discussion of its brands on social sites. Some comments about its vehicles, he concedes, are "less than flattering."

Chrysler officials will correct inaccurate information on social networks, Sullivan says, identifying themselves to users. But often, he adds, they don't have to.

"The first time a brand manager saw that, he marched into my office and said, 'We have to fix that,' " Sullivan says. "I said, 'Let's wait.' Within five minutes, there were 20 posts telling the person: 'That is not fair. That is not very Jeep of you.' We didn't have to do a thing."

Meanwhile, GM's LaNeve is getting firsthand experience with online networking. "I just registered on Facebook," he says. "I didn't put a picture. I didn't do anything. But now I get messages every day. All these people want to be my friends."

By Mary Connelly, Published in Automotive News on November 17, 2008

PRINTED FROM: Entire contents ©2008 Crain Communications, Inc.

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Comment by Ralph Paglia on November 27, 2008 at 10:26pm
The Facebook page as a live link:
Comment by Jody DeVere on November 27, 2008 at 8:52am
Connect with on Facebook here!

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