Social Media & the Car Biz


What’s the current state of social media in the automotive industry? Well, that depends who you ask. GM, for example, just pulled out of Facebook ads, despite its incremental social media budget increases prior to 2011. Maybe they’re on to something; maybe they’re fools, but they still have a GM-brand page on the social media mogul site. However, the fledgling car maker has removed its paid advertisements from Facebook and will continue to use the site’s free services to promote its products.

The key to social media, no matter what the industry, is out-thinking the competition, not out-spending it, which may be uncomfortable territory for the traditional car guys. Automakers and dealers are catching on though, and there have been some triumphs, missteps and catastrophes along the way.

Success stories include GM’s social media transparency with regard to its bankruptcy, and the public seemed to appreciate the company’s honest Facebook and Twitter updates. Ford, however, seems to have taken the cake for American automakers in terms of the most consistent, interactive social media campaigns. With 26,979 LinkedIn followers; 6,257,618 total YouTube upload views; 96,405 Twitter followers and 534,540 Facebook likes, Ford has more total fans, followers and likes than any other automaker. Ford sent two Fiestas equipped with online apps on a road trip during the summer of 2010. The cars went from Michigan to San Francisco, and one of the vehicles used an “auto”matic blog, which allowed it to blog and tweet throughout the trip. The company also successfully demonstrated its grasp on social media during the Focus Rally America campaign, during which six teams of two contestants competed in a series of interactive challenges during a cross-country trek in the redesigned 2012 Ford Focus. Fans were able to help the contestants by providing the drivers figure out clues and puzzles online. The results: More reservations-turned-orders (and purchases) of the Ford Focus and Fiesta than any other vehicle the company has released. However, American Honda Motor Company is no stranger to the social media game and created its own Facebook game during the release of the Honda CR-Z. Honda has more than 12,000,000 total YouTube upload views and more than 800,000 Facebook likes. Here are a few other success stories:

  • Ford gave away 100 Fiestas 18 months before the vehicle’s release date and asked drivers to share their experiences using social media. Results: 11 million impressions; 11,000 video views; 13,000 photos; 15,000 tweets.
  • Chevrolet sent eight social media teams on a scavenger hunt that required challenges on social media sites. Results: 61.1 million impressions; 1,216 video views; 8,764 Facebook likes; 13,400 tweets.
  • Volkswagen released its traditionally secret SuperBowl ad early to general some pre-game buzz. Results: millions of views; thousands of likes.

And then there are the failures, the misshaps, the catastophes:

  • In 2006, GM and “The Apprentice” joined forces to create a site that allowed users to create their own Tahoe commercials. Results: SUV critics created and posted videos bashing the gas-guzzling Tahoe. Ouch.
  • Summer 2009, Honda created a Facebook page for the release of the new Accord Crosstour. Results: “Fans” outside the target audience had negative feedback for the automaker. Honda didn’t issue a response until September. Oops!
  • In 2009, Toyota assembled a website for the new 4Runner. Results: The images used were taken from Flickr without photographers’ permission. Toyota later issued an apology. Oh, no.

Here are some tips and tricks compiled from around the web:

  • ALWAYS RESPOND. And do it in a timely fashion. (I’m looking at you, Honda.) Don’t wait a month to reply to your naysayers. Whether it be negative Facebook comments or poor DealerRater reviews, making a statement and making it quickly shows your customers that you care, even when you don’t like what they’re saying about you.
  • PLAY NICE. Have a personality. Yes, these people are your consumers, customers and business partners, but you should talk to them like they’re you’re friends. Don’t use “car guy” speak. No automotive mumbo-jumbo. Leave out phrases like bird dog, upside down, rocked, tipped, handshake, no ice, flipped, back end, unwound, bump, stiff, lay down, nickel, pencil, reserve, residual, spiff, spot … You get the idea.
  • EMBRACE IT. Social media is word-of-mouth advertising. And for the most part, it’s free. Let your fans sing your praises instead of doing it yourself. And thank them when they do!
  • INTERACT. Social media’s no fun if your fans and friends have nothing to work with. Contests, incentives, games, puzzles and giveaways are always hot.

Wasserman, Todd. (2011, February 17). How the auto industry is embracing social media [infographic]. Mashable Social Media. Retrieved from

Costantini, Fabrizio. (2012, June 12). General Motors recent news. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Terlep, S., Vranica, S., Raice, S. (2012, May 16). GM says Facebook ads don’t pay off. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from




5 responses »

  1. Great job! I think they are pulling out of FB ads because the numbers are showing that they aren’t really effective. Check out It is a great way to advertise in a local market. I think the idea of out-thinking vs. out-spending is right on.

  2. Excellent post! Ford does seem to have an edge under the guidance of Scott Monty compared with their traditional crosstown rival, General Motors. I wonder if the GM move on Facebook was part of a calculated effort to change the pricing structure? Looking forward to the next post.

  3. social media is of great importance to all industries but the way cars industry is into is amazing. GM was aware of how awae are customers becoming and how better it is to communicate with its customers. i like the tips you listed clear and short. the use of teh sky makes reading your blog very relaxing. very nice blog

  4. Interesting research. I am particularly intrigued by the Ford Fiesta campaign that preceded the product launch. That seems like a very modern, fun and effective way to leverage social media to engage customers!

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