By on August 13, 2014

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Try as they might, auto makers aren’t reaching Generation Y with their online social media properties. A new study by AutoTrader shows that just 5 percent of  Millennials used social media to shop for vehicles.

Overall, only 1 percent of consumers used social media to shop for cars, and even more damming is the fact that 78 percent of young buyers said that an automotive brand’s social presence would do nothing to sway their purchasing decision.

This column has long maintained that the vast majority of social media outreach and marketing efforts by auto makers are futile at best. At their worst, they are little more than embarrassing attempts to appear relevant in the eyes of younger consumers.

Brands can tout “social” as much as they want, and trot out nebulous statistics like “impressions” in an attempt to make them appear successful. But the general trend appears to be that these campaigns, however much praise they generate in Fast Company, don’t convert into sales.

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67 Comments on “Generation Why: Social Media Is For Social Networking, Not Car Shopping...”


  • avatar

    As someone who’s made a career with social media, I am so glad this truth is finally out.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Really? You mean that it wasn’t common-knowledge in the industry that people don’t make big-capital purchases based on social-media marketing campaigns?

      Why, I’d never have thought. I mean, it works for 99-cent song purchases; why wouldn’t it work for a $20K car?

  • avatar

    I, for one, am looking forward to the next Audi Millennial Dance Party 1999 Edition, featuring DJ Artisinal Toast’s “Chevy Volt Dance Summer of Recall Pain Remix” with vocals by Daryl Hall, Kanye West and James Hetfield of Metallica.

    Also: Does anyone know who sung/performed/wrote the Chevy Volt Dance Song? I’m curious if they’ve done anything before or since.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The Fiesta campaign was actually quite successful.
    _______

    The effects of the campaign were sensational. Fiesta got 6.5 million YouTube views and 50,000 requests for information about the car — virtually none from people who already had a Ford in the garage. Ford sold 10,000 units in the first six days of sales. The results came at a relatively small cost. The Fiesta Movement is reputed to have cost a small fraction of the typical national TV campaign.

    http://blogs.hbr.org/2010/01/ford-recently-wrapped-the-firs/
    _______

    That’s particularly impressive when you consider that it was a new model offered by an automaker that wasn’t in the subcompact market prior to this.

    But it is a subcompact, so one can only expect so many sales in the US market for a car like this. Just because it isn’t selling at Corolla or Civic levels doesn’t mean that the social media effort failed. Sales would have probably been a lot lower without the social media campaign.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m curious what the average age of the 10k buyers were in those 1st 6 days of sales…

      Because it could be technically more of a bowel movement.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The marketing world marvels at the success of the Fiesta Movement campaign. The sales data would support their enthusiasm.

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          Correlation, causation.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            The numbers suggest causation. The campaign built awareness, which produced sales. That it was able to accomplish those things on the cheap was even better still.

          • 0 avatar

            I’m with psar.

            The Fiesta hasn’t sold in Civic numbers, but it also hasn’t been particularly strong in the subcompact market either. The Versa and Sonic have been outselling it YTD, with Fiesta sales down 7 percent. Word is that production will be moved to Thailand because Ford has trouble selling it.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            This first Fiesta Movement campaign was in 2009-10. Sales in 2014 don’t measure the success of a marketing campaign from 4-5 years ago.

          • 0 avatar
            dtremit

            @Derek — I think you’re being a little uncharitable there. The Fiesta is showing its age; it’s a MY08 design, even though it didn’t go on sale here until MY10. It and the Sonic have been much closer in years past.

            The Versa is much, much cheaper, and a new model.

            It’s the Fit numbers that surprise me the most.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            You all do realize that this is the second, if not third time around for Ford to introduce a Fiesta. They pushed one back in the ’70s that made the Vega look classy by comparison.

          • 0 avatar
            mr.cranky

            @Vulpine- Actually, I would take an older Fiesta over a Vega.

            Then again, I am not big on ANY GM products, having owned two Ford products that lasted quite a while (both made it to 16 years before being forcibly junked) and rarely caused problems other than the pesky rust bug/suspension issues.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            My experience with Fords has been exactly the opposite; nickel and dime you to death. GMs proved quite reliable for me but after 40 years of driving different models from each of the D3, I have to say Chrysler’s products have proven the most reliable for me. I can’t say that everyone will agree with me, but with two different cars–two completely different types of cars–the only mechanical malfunction I have run into is a need to replace all the soft brake lines in my Daimler-built Jeep Wrangler. I’ve never run into any of the complaints others have declared were so common with this model or that.

          • 0 avatar
            matador

            I have to agree with Vulpine. I’ve owned two Ford trucks- and that’s all the Ford stuff I’ll own for a while. My Fords have left me stranded on the road four times since 2011.

            I own two GM vehicles currently- a 1995 LeSabre and a 1987 Chevrolet 1/2 ton pickup. The truck was abandoned by a field for 8 years before I got it. I put a fuel pump in it, and drove it home. Since then, it’s never stranded me.

            My LeSabre came from a junkyard. I drove it until the transmission died. I knew it was going, too. It lost Overdrive and third, so I drove home in second. I then drove it to the shop in second for a replacement transmission.

            My GM stuff always gets me home, and my Ford stuff has given me a better taste in shoes and boots.

            *I also own a 1992 Dakota, and it’s done well for me.

            I’ll take another GM or Dodge truck soon, but heck- even my Audi A6 trumps my Fords in reliability.

            If you’ve gotten Fords to work for you, please tell me your secret! I think the trucks are a little nicer than the GM stuff, but in December, running is more important.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      Was it more or less successful than a comparable television/print campaign? Are they able to tie the sales success directly to social media, or to a combination of efforts?

      Important questions to ask.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        There has been a lot of research on the Fiesta Movement campaign, and it’s pretty glowing. The TTAC party line on this is the opposite of what you find in market research.

        As noted, social media campaigns such as this are also quite cheap. Compared to TV, the bang-for-the-buck can’t be beat.

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          “There has been a lot of research on the Fiesta Movement campaign, and it’s pretty glowing. The TTAC party line on this is the opposite of what you find in market research.”

          It’s not that it’s a bad campaign, it’s that it’s rather disingenuous to attribute any significant sales bump to it.

          Social media works fairly well for things like brand awareness. For directly driving sales, it does well at the lower-end of discretionary products.

          What’s missing from the discussion is what the conversion factor was; how many of those YouTube views can be directly translated into a sale.

          You can tell this by what’s not said: “Ford sold 10K units in the first 6 days” without _any statement at all_ about the lead for those sales, from whom, or what the typical launch volume for the product would be. If the campaign was successful in closing the loop, you can bet it would have been stated, but it hasn’t.

          “As noted, social media campaigns such as this are also quite cheap. Compared to TV, the bang-for-the-buck can’t be beat.”

          No one disputes that; it is a cheap and effective way to get some exposure but it’s not necessarily going to do wonders for large-capital purchases.

          It’s also going to get a lot less effective as the target audiences get numb to it, and it doesn’t translate into sustained sales success.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Again, this campaign has been researched, and the data points to its success. The level of sales, particularly to those who had no experience with Ford products, was impressive. It isn’t at all disingenuous to use data to form conclusions that match the data.

            But if you want to learn from the research then you have to go read it. TTAC ignores all of it and takes a position that I have yet to find in any marketing journal or business case study.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      “Ford sold 10,000 units in the first six days of sales”

      Source, please?

      What I can find (http://www.goodcarbadcar.net/2011/01/ford-fiesta-sales-figures.html) suggests that Ford took nearly three months to sell 10,000 of them – and that sales really took off in 2011.

      I see little *evidence* that the Fiesta campaign increased sales meaningfully.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The first campaign ended several months before the car was offered for sale. I would presume that the figure includes pre-sale activity such as collecting deposits.

        The data from Tim Cain’s website measures deliveries. That’s a different matter from pre-sale activity and lead generation.
        _________

        Ford achieved 4.3 million YouTube views, 540,000 Flickr views, 2,100 Facebook fans, 5,300 Twitter followers, 27,000 blog posts, 2,300 media stories, 35,000 test drives, and 162,000 people looking at a Fiesta model at events. This resulted in pre-launch brand awareness of 38% among 16-24 year olds and 50,000 sales leads, 97% of which were from people who did not own a Ford model. Relative to traditional advertising, this campaign was significantly cheaper and created equivalent brand awareness and interest, demonstrating the power of social networking and viral marketing. According to the case, the pre-launch brand awareness was equivalent to the brand awareness for other cars Ford sold in the US backed with traditional advertising. Not only was brand awareness equivalent, but more importantly consumers were actively engaged in thinking and communicating with the product. For these reasons, the Ford Fiesta Movement can be considered a success.

        http://www.bu.edu/goglobal/a/goglobal_courses/tm648/doc/socialnetworks_assignment/socialassignment6.htm

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      The Fiesta campaign was much more comprehensive than just a social media campaign. It was as much about non-traditional media (YouTube) and a series of events around the country as it was about social media (Facebook, Twitter and the like).

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    The problem is, the people who think social media can be used to make purchasing decisions are the ones making the mistake. Social media is great for advertising and saying, “Hey! Look at us!”, but that’s as far as it goes; the actual decisions are based on other, non-social resources with the exception of certain purpose-built review sites that use social commentary to present anecdotal experiences about the products under review.

    To expect anything more from sites like Facebook, etc., is to carry an unrealistic view of how such social sites operate. It would be much easier to instead learn what consumers WANT in a vehicle rather than trying to sell them on something they don’t want.

    • 0 avatar

      I could not have said it better myself, Vulpine.

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      I’m in the market for a 7-seat minivan or crossover, and I’ve mentally kept track of who drives what based on their news feeds. I’ve actually messaged several to get feedback on their vehicles. Unfortunately, they tend not to be car enthusiasts, so I seldom get more than a paragraph worth of details. If someone were to ask me about my cars, I’d likely give a 800 word essay giving the pro’s and con’s.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        The forum is back up and running here, put it on there and ask for solicitations from the B&B. Anybody who owns a three row, 7 seat, minivan/crossover/SUV and let them hold forth on pros and cons. Ask them to give the year of the vehicle, mileage, purchase date, where they live and the primary kind of driving done with it.

        Personally I would find it entertaining.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Only 800 words? Ah well, not all of us can be novel writers.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      social media can put a service or product on your radar that otherwise wouldn’t be there.

      After that awareness, however, I think traditional sources of information take charge.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Exactly. Not all advertising is intended to generate clicks to a store where you buy something. That’s why experts track things like “awareness.”

      Given my own experience, online advertising has never directly caused me to buy anything, but boy is it effective at increasing my awareness of brands and products.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @Vulpine – I agree. Social media or any media campaigns are based on the theory of creating familiarity which appeals to our primitive emotional survival mechanisms. We may dismiss the message but the seeds get planted.
      That is the theory but if we find it intrusive and annoying then the opposite can occur. On-line media has gotten really annoying and just like TV advertising, I do not make any attempt to observe it.

      There probably is an attention deficit disorder type of effect with this stuff. You get hit with too much crap and you flit from sound bite to sound bite without really taking it in.

      Kinda like Muzak in the elevator.

  • avatar
    Fred

    Okay I’m an old guy and not hip to all this social-media-millennial-bs, but I “friended” car companies when I was shopping, all I got was pretty pictures or videos of cars. To me that is just advertising. Unfriend.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    ” and even more damming is the fact that 78 percent of young buyers said that an automotive brand’s social presence would do nothing to sway their purchasing decision.”

    Internet advertising in general has a low influence rate, social media or not.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Shhh, don’t tell the folks buying ads….

    • 0 avatar
      vtnoah

      Agreed. I’d say the most effective type of internet advertising in regards to ROI is paid search. You’re only going after people who are actively searching for your brand / vehicle. Next would be retargeting a la amazon or zappos where the inventory you’ve viewed starts following you around, keeping it top of mind. Topic based display comes next to go after people who are on automotive research sites. Finally, social comes last but really just to build awareness. You’re not convincing me to buy a car due to an awesome social campaign.

      • 0 avatar
        Jimal

        Agreed. We’ve been tinkering with the idea of a Facebook ad campaign, but reading this report is making me think twice. Paid search and retargeting have been much more effective than straight or targeted display advertising, which is little more than an electronic magazine ad.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      But OTOH, what’s the cost? I’ve got to think some FB banner ads and an intern to man the Car XXXX FB page is a whole lot cheaper than, say, a national print or TV ad campaign. If it drives 1/10th the sales but costs 1/20th as much, still might be worth doing.

      I’m also curious as to what the statistics really refer to. What does “using social media to shop for cars” even mean? If I’m friends with Chevy on FB and buy a Chevy, did I “use social media to shop”? Would I be smart enough to answer affirmative on a follow-up survey? I don’t even know, and I’m dedicating a lot more thought to it (in this post) than the average person filling out an after-sales survey. Some of this stuff is so ambiguous as to be meaningless.

      I think it’s silly to devote too much of your sales efforts to “social media sales presence” but given that FB and Instagram are where the kids are hanging out these days, it probably makes a lot more sense to throw a banner ad there than it does to place one in the local paper.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Most people just find internet ads annoying, thus the many adblock users.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        A lot of these replies are about paying attention to ads, yet the question posed was about using social media to shop for cars.

        To me, those are two distinctly different questions. If you ask me what I use to SHOP, which is an active activity (redundant, duh), I would say I GO to the manufacturer’s web site, maybe Edmunds, that car’s forums, etc. If you ask me “do you notice carmakers’ presence on social media” the answer is yes, but I do not USE social media to shop for cars.

        I wonder if that is the source of confusion. Even someone who actively follows a car maker’s social media presence may not consider that part of the act of “shopping for a car”.

        • 0 avatar
          Zykotec

          This. And I hope that the companies that use social media understands this, because to many people, if they (the manufacturers) didn’t have a facebook page or similar, they wouldn’t ‘excist’ at all.
          With expensive things like cars you can’t expect peopel to buy it without looking at it in person, or at least test sitting it before even considering it. But that doesn’t mean they use the social media first to learn about the car.

  • avatar

    When I was shopping for a Nikon D4 digital camera, I did most of my purchasing research via Google. Shortly after I started looking, I noticed that Facebook ads started to appear for Nikon cameras. Unfortunately they were redundant – I had already seen the same ads and information on Google, and of course when on Facebook you are generally oriented towards talking to your friends. So I really didn’t think Facebook was very good at all for inspiring transactions.

    My friend Marcelo Salup, who is a marketing guy, tells me that this is so – in his words, Facebook and other social media are not transactional, despite all the effort made to sync up your Google searches and Facebook ads.

    I think that for high-end automakers, Facebook engagement helps keep the dream of ownership (of very expensive cars) alive, and so it is arguably worth the money. I have both Tesla and Mercedes-Benz in my feed, and generally find their content worthwhile. However, I don’t think it works at all in trying to get specific people to specific dealers to buy specific cars.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      This winter, I wanted to buy a good pair of boots and decided to get LL Bean’s Bean boot (fantastic product, BTW). I went to their web site a couple times, read the reviews, and then drove my happy ass to the real live store and bought a pair, in person.

      Problem was, FB and the like have no way of knowing I did that, so I continue, to this day, to get stupid FB ads for the boots. I wish there was an “I already bought this, show me something else!” button I can click like there is for Amazon so they could stop pushing something I already own.

      • 0 avatar

        This is indeed a major problem, and is exactly what happened with my D4 and other things as well. Once you express interest, ads start, but half the time you have already bought the item, or preordered it in the case of the tD4.

        Ironically enough, at the time Nikon was running ads primarily for the D800 (this is one model below the D4 in Nikon’s hierarchy). While I suffered through the agonizing 3 month wait for my D4, I was watching daily repeats of ads trying to get me to buy a D800. Which, incidentally, was in every bit as short supply as the D4, so you literally could not buy one at the time ads were running! Go figure.

        But yes, pushing products I already own is even more of a problem, because it happens all the time in my universe. Heck, I have already bought my brokerage (used) yacht, a Grand Banks 42, and the yacht brokers are still advertising for my business! Pity I’m likely to buy only one or two large boats in my entire life …

        David

  • avatar
    fincar1

    Here’s an example. I’m a license plate collector, and a fellow collector showed on a license plate collectors’ facebook page a photo of a car with a license plate from my state. There was a license plate frame from a dealer I hadn’t heard of, so I googled the name to see if it was still around. It was, and it advertises with Google, so for three weeks or so every time I went online I’d see ads for that dealership. I don’t know if the dealership thinks that’s a good use of its advertising money or not – it’s in an urban area a good two hours’ drive from me.

  • avatar
    JohnnyFirebird

    I handle the social media side of things for a small-volume dealership. (Not my full-time job, I’m the used car manager.) Here’s the deal: having a Facebook or Twitter account does nothing on its own. But, and this is a big thing, getting shares, likes, and linking back to your main inventory site pushes your dealership up the unpaid Google rankings. So you can game this by using your Facebook page to link to new inventory, have you or your friends share it, thereby increasing the amount of “legitimate” interactions and boosting your SEO.

    It’s gross but it works. People have trained themselves to ignore the paid-for search results and go to the real ones below.

    Has any car company been dumb enough to pay a corporate forum troll to shill for their products on the TTAC comments or board?

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    Social media works when it’s done on your behalf, not when you do it. If my friends post positive things about their new GTI, that gets my attention. If a positive Top Gear video about the GTI makes it into my Facebook feed, I won’t pay as much attention as I do to my friends’ posts, but it’s worth something. If VW posts something I’ll recognize it as an ad and ignore it.

    What Facebook can do is bring good reviews to people who don’t read automotive media (if your friends “like” something, you’ll often see it). But that’s it. You still need a good car to get those good reviews.

  • avatar
    wumpus

    OK, here is where I out myself as an angry old man yelling at the clouds: I see social media influencing cars in two ways. One is through reading/hearing the opinions of people I know mainly over the internet, especially those from places here which are largely self selected by enthusiasm and knowledge of cars (plus trolls).

    The other is astroturfing. I have to wonder if some marketer is claiming that anyone who notices how an “net friend” considers their Chevy Cruze Eco a “POS” might be less interested in buying said Chevy would also be influenced by whatever some twit from Chevy tweeted.

    Sure, 5% might be influenced by the astroturfing, but I suspect that over 5% were influenced by ads where people aren’t sure which car is being sold.

  • avatar
    mcarr

    I used to work for a manufacturer of very high end transportation devices. I remember sitting in a marketing meeting where they were trying to show the success of a social media campaign in terms of 50,000 “impressions” directly leading to 700 requests for information leading 20 face to face demos leading to 1 sale. There were a couple other, equally nebulous, steps in there as well, but I couldn’t believe how all the muckity-mucks were sitting there nodding their heads in agreement at this tripe.

  • avatar
    mr.cranky

    The only time that I consulted social media on buying a car was when I asked fellow Civic owners what they thought of their Civics.

    I find most social media constructs involving cars to be laughable.

    Then again, I’m at the tail end of Gen-X/beginning of millenials. I definitely don’t think like an X-er but I don’t care for millenial shit much either.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    That Ford campaign is ancient. In internet years that might as well be the dark ages. This is the problem for the pushers. They happily start planning things for these “hot” avenues and by the time they get their acts together the time has passed.
    I will wager that, though they executed well, the social media aspect was because it was fresh and new, They were first movers but that was it. Now, nobody cares. The antibodies have been produced and that sort of thing can’t be reproduced. Most of the net is in the same sort of flux. It’s cheap, but fairly ineffective. What the respective manufacturers need is a great site, informative and well executed and an easy way to get the product. I betcha that that only applies to a very small percentage of companies on the net, social media mavens or not.

  • avatar
    stanczyk

    Brainwashed by corporate-america Generation Y don’t want to buy cars via facebook ? .. ohh.. they do everything via facebook..they live there..

    My guesss is – they don’t have ca$h ..

    Unfortunatelly they can only look at new Hellcat/Shelby pictures in colorfull magazines .. or on facebook:) .. (that’s what’s left for them..and what is really sad they are OK with that..)

    What is Generation Y taste ..?
    If wall$tr. bank$ters(their ‘owners’:) would give them a golden-credit-cards what they would choose ?:
    They crave for new ugly but prestigious:) ‘Por$che $ellout’ Panamejra or Muscle Hellcat .. or cool new KIA (that they think is cool, because they can ‘personalize’ it for their own hipster-tastes:)?


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