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Social Media Activity of the Automotive Industry in the UK – A TCS Study


“No matter the vertical market, we see social media being used primarily as an outbound marketing and communications tool.” - Nina Bonagura, Analyst, IDC

A recent IDC survey in Western Europe discovered that the number one reason for using social media was to increase awareness about the company and its products in the market. This driver came well ahead of the following two – managing the relationship with customers and prospects, and gathering ideas and feedback for products and services.

TCS conducted a study to gain insights into the social media activity in the automotive industry in the UK. We learn that while car manufacturers are focused on “talking to” customers and prospects on social media, they are not as good at listening.

Building brand awareness

Car manufacturers have lots of experience in building brand awareness and are already channeling a significant proportion of their marketing expenditure into social media. To highlight just a few examples:

  • At the end of 2009, Honda ran its “Live every liter” campaign, using social media to create the world’s first crowd-sourced documentary film – including the content, cast and music – while offering real people the opportunity to fulfill the personal journeys they’d always wanted to make
  • In 2010, Ford was the first major car company to forgo an auto show, choosing to unveil the 2011 Ford Explorer via Facebook
  • In 2011, Audi was the first company to include a Twitter hashtag in a Super Bowl commercial, asking people to complete a tweet beginning “Progress is…”

Mercedes-Benz has been particularly successful in accruing Twitter followers in the UK with one follower for every five cars sold in the UK last year; for some other companies, this ratio is much lower. It would be easy to argue large numbers of followers are generated by the aspirational nature of the brand – who wouldn’t want to be associated with Mercedes-Benz?

However, we believe there’s more to it than that. A week’s worth of tweets from Mercedes-Benz, for example, contain links to offers (e.g., song downloads), an interesting interactive campaign, at least one competition, a few responses to questions or comments, and the odd snippet of information.

This approach contrasts dramatically with another Twitter feed we looked at, which takes “talking at” the customer to the extreme – spewing out endless “news” about the brand, sometimes as often as every twenty minutes.

Therefore, at first glance, car manufacturers are actively engaging with social media. However, they are only finding an audience and broadcasting their messages.

Managing relationships with customers and prospects

Most car manufacturers are well-practiced in broadcasting messages through social media and building brand awareness. However, how do these companies react when the customer takes the lead in the relationship?

We decided to test what happens when potential customers take the first step in forming a stronger relationship with the brand. Using the “@reply” feature to ensure that the targeted account received the message, we asked twelve Twitter accounts the same question, “What reports should I look at to understand how environmentally friendly your different models are?”

Four brands replied to us on the same day and another three brands replied within the next two days. However, we heard nothing from five of the brands. And even within the seven replies we received, there was significant variation in terms of the usefulness of the response, where we were pointed to and what impact this had on our perception of the brand. Overall, only three brands left us with a very positive impression.

This indicates that most companies do not have the requisite systems, processes and priorities in place to get it right every single time. It suggests that some car manufacturers are better at broadcasting messages than reacting to what comes in.

Gathering ideas and feedback for an effective response

Social media listening can bring many benefits – an ability to spot changes in perceptions in the marketplace, identify quality issues as early as possible, spot dealers who continually generate dissatisfied customers and react to negative comments at source. Our simple test suggests that listening activities need to become ever more sophisticated as the volume and variety of comments in the virtual world continue to increase. Even with the best analysis in place, car manufacturers need processes and systems in place to act on the information they receive.

For example, Mercedes-Benz has begun to formalize the process of using social media for feedback by building a Mercedes-Benz research community website to carry out research on drivers of compact cars between the ages of 20 and 45. The website includes questionnaires, moderated discussions, ideation contests, ratings and comment areas. Mercedes will also use the community to pilot test marketing materials, commercials and advertisements.

We expect this trend to catch on with other companies as well.

The Evolving Social Media

We, at TCS, believe that social media should not be viewed as a stand-alone activity. Using social media to build better relationships with customers and prospects, and making better use of feedback and comments requires significant changes in the ways in which different areas of the business interact with one another, coordinate their actions and exchange information. This applies to internal departments as well as the more challenging interaction between manufacturers and dealers.

Some quick pointers include the following:
  • Responding to questions
  • Neutralizing negative comments and posts
  • Developing smaller, more tightly-focused groups
  • Using technology and processes to leverage the insight gained through listening and pass information around the organization
Read Report: TCS’ study into the social media activity of the UK automotive industry (PDF, 496 KB)