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Using Facebook fans to improve automotive marketing

By Nathan Scripps

Facebook Fan Pages have become the most recent in a long line of social media "must-haves" for automotive marketers –- but what do they really tell you? And are they even helpful?

Does a high fan count equal success?

Porsche Facebook Fan PageIt's no surprise that lots of people feel strongly about their favorite automotive brands and show their allegiance to those brands by flocking to automakers' Facebook Fan Pages. Consider the high fan counts for some of the best-known automaker Fan Pages: As of Jan. 22, 2010, I found an average of nearly 111,000 fans across 33 OEM Fan Pages, which is pretty amazing considering the average fan count across all Facebook Fan Pages is only 4,600. Even for the 24 OEM Fan Pages with fewer than 111,000 fans, the average was just shy of 30,000 while the nine above-average pages weigh in closer to 330,000 fans each. The top five, in descending order, were Porsche, BMW, Audi, Jeep and Volkswagen.

However, high fan count alone is a poor measure of Facebook Fan Page success. Yes, the total fan count is the equivalent of reach, but the message you put out to that audience and the interactions and insights you pull back will determine the real Fan Page winners. Also, you are not limited to your own fans as a source for strategic insights; automotive marketers who learn to leverage other pages have a chance to really pull ahead.

What Facebook tells you about your fans
If you own a Facebook Fan Page -- you are the creator, administrator, or otherwise have backend access -- then you can access data that will help leverage your fans for free.

Take a look at the aggregate demographics. Examine the fan growth over time, overlay that with other campaigns or key product launches, and see which ones had a Facebook halo effect -- then talk about those campaigns to that audience.

Look at interaction rates -- page views, comments, etc. -- and match your messaging strategy accordingly. Passive audience? Broadcast offers and updates (think Toys "R" Us). Interactive audience? Leverage them for feedback with surveys or projects (think Audi).

What Facebook doesn’t tell you ... but you want to know
Audi and BMW Facebook Fan PagesIt will be the marketers who learn from their fans -- and their competitors -- and then apply those insights both on and off Facebook who will really win.

Because my employer, Rapleaf, recently launched the ability to study Fan Pages and offer insights beyond what Facebook provides, I decided to look at what can be learned by studying Facebook fans of two competitors: Audi and BMW.

I looked at roughly 50,000 random fans from each of the Audi and BMW Facebook Fan Pages, with an overlap of less than 1 percent. The results showed both striking similarities and insightful differences.

Audi and BMW fan similarities
Facebook Friend Count of Audi and BMW Facebook FansIt is not surprising that fans of German sports-luxury vehicles are similar. It is, however, the extent of those similarities that caught my eye. Demographically speaking, they could be twins; both groups are just over 70 percent males in their mid-to-late 20s (26 for BMW; 28.5 for Audi). Socially, twins again; Audi fans have 206 friends on average while BMW has 212. More surprising still is the near-identical distribution of friend counts between the brands (see graph at left).

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Tags: audi, automotive, bmw, facebook, marketing


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Comment by Ralph Paglia on February 4, 2010 at 7:37pm
@Nathan - We have been able to estimate that less than 10% of the Fans in the CardinaleWay Mazda Community Fan page are previous customers. But, our sample size is 75 out of 1,051.
Comment by Nathan Scripps on February 4, 2010 at 4:20pm
Hi folks... thanks for reading my blog (and a big thanks to Mary for posting it here). Let me tackle each of your comments...

Ralph... For the Mazda fans you have gathered in the dealer's immediate area, I would first ask fi they are existing customers or new prospects. If existing, then you have a great customer service channel to spread positive word of mouth (because if they had a bad experience, its unlikely they would fan the dealership). If these are prospects, try to push out reasons to stop by or testimonials... And I notice this is Cardinale Way Mazda, which has a normal FB account with 291 friends... I would suggest trying to push all the friends to become fans (if they aren't) and focus on the one communication stream, one voice of the dealer.

VJ... Interesting take, but I woudl put out another possibility... german luxury sport brands are very aspirational vehicles. When you look at the fan demographic of 26 for BMW and 285 for Audi, that seems far younger than an actual owner demographic. I would have loved to compare actual owner data, but that is something other OEM's can do with Rapleaf (disclaimer... I am no longer at Rapleaf). I think the other point to pull out here is sales volume vs. fan volume... how many BMWs sold last year vs. Audis? Their fan counts are almost even... so with a mismatch in sales volume to fan volume, can this point to more, younger aspiring owners for one brand vs. the other?

Harold... Glad to hear you are continuing the conversation! Let me know if you have any other social media/ auto marketing questions at nathanscripps (at) gmail (dot) com.
Comment by Ralph Paglia on February 3, 2010 at 10:57pm
@Mary - Thanks for such a thought provoking article... Your timing is perfect for me because of several meetings this week where "The Value" of each "Fan" connected to a dealer's Facebook Fan Page has been the source of a lot of wrinkled foreheads. If you could humor me for just a few moments, please take a look at this dealer's Facebook Fan page which I was able to attract and "Fan" over 1,000 people in less than 60 days. The metrics show that 98% of these Fans are within 20 miles of the dealership, which corresponds to the Google and Facebook advertising I targeted as such. When you look at it, my question is this; What would YOU recommend or do with these fans?
Comment by VJ on February 1, 2010 at 5:31pm
Good article Mary. You are dead on with the German Car Makers. During my latest session at DD07 in Nashville I was able to point out, too that in particular Porsche and BMW, followed by Audi and Mercedes Benz fans/followers are more likely to hit the “Follow” tab. This explains the huge community and fan base like and (Porsche) and the steady rising numbers in their fellowships. I think it could have to do, when spending an average of $50k+ the new driver buys into “her/his new “loyalty of the brand due to the investment she/he did. During my sales career I heard quite often from new customers that they first followed a community to see and hear what the members had to say and write about their Bimmers, RS’s or 911’s. When it was good, then their decision was “easy” enough to make a call and get into the new luxurious vehicle.
I love the work you do at Rapleaf and decided to follow you just now on Twitter. Hope to see you one day during an event like NADA or the DD08.

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