Bark's Bites: The Social Network

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
barks bites the social network

Remember when we didn’t know what the word “hashtag” meant? Gosh, that was nice. I recall reading one of Jack’s fiction pieces in 2012 (did I mention that Sunday Stories are coming back this weekend! YASSSS! Thank you, readers! damn it I just used a hashtag) that was laden with hashtags and thinking, “Christ, I’m glad I have no idea what that was all about.”

Of course, it’s now 2016, and I’m busy adding to every single picture I post on Instagram in the hopes that some 15-year-old hot hatch enthusiast will get bored in study hall, find my picture, and give me the highly sought-after “like,” or, if I’m really lucky, a “follow.”

I think we can all agree this is pathetic behavior, yet everybody in the game does it. I’m not as bad as some — my social media pages are designed more to inflame the opposition than inspire loyalty — but we’re all driven to play this silly game by the OEMs, who have universally decided that having 10,000 Instagram followers means you get to have press cars delivered to your door, regardless if you have any knowledge of or about the industry.

Want to get a press car? Want to be invited to a press launch? Well, you better have one of the two following credentials:

  1. A business card that says Car & Driver, Road & Track, Jalopnik, or Motor Trend.
  2. A massive social media following.

If you go to any press event, you’ll hear the old-timers complaining about this ad nauseum. In fact, at the last event I attended, there was a crew of journosaurs hanging out in the hotel bar, being force-fed hors d’oeuvres like pigs being sent to the slaughter, and they were rehashing the topic of “mommybloggers” for the billionth time.

“They don’t even know anything about the cars!” bleated one obese man in a VW hat. “And yet they get all of the good trips.”

Aha. There’s the real complaint. It’s not the access to the cars that these guys care about (although they certainly don’t mind not having a car payment). It’s the trips! Why should these mommybloggers and social influencers get to go to Hawaii, or Europe, or Argentina instead of me? Don’t you know who I am? I’m an automotive journalism professional!

They say this, of course, as they represent an outlet that neither you or I have ever heard of. They may or may not even get around to reviewing the cars. They certainly won’t do anything other than rewrite the press release and send it to the OEM for review before publishing. But they demand to go on the trips, to live a six-figure lifestyle while wearing shoes they bought at Walmart.

There’s nothing new about this, of course. Our former contributor, Caroline Ellis, blasted Honda for giving trips to sycophantic mommybloggers who refuse to give anything but positive reviews. But for the first time, I’m inclined to agree with the OEMs.

The world has moved on. The old school guys have tried to hold on to some shred of relevancy as they get fired from their jobs at the “Wheels” pages by launching their automotive web pages. There’s only one problem: they lack audience. Well, make that two problems. They also lack influence.

The mommybloggers? They have both, and they have it in spades. And whether the journosaurs like it or not, the audience and influence matter much more than any “technical expertise” they may have. As cars get better and more reliable, the buyer no longer needs to have an expert’s opinion on whether or not a certain type of motor has issues or if a transmission has problems. They are much more likely to trust the same voices for cars that they trust for their household cleaning products as they become less and less like mystical, confusing beasts and more and more like the other appliances they purchase.

Mommybloggers don’t have to be experts on grilles, or dishwashers, or refrigerators in order to give a trusted opinion, and I don’t think that they have to be experts on cars, either. While I’m glad that there are still people who search out the opinion of expert drivers and technicians, the vast majority of car shoppers are more likely to trust the opinions of friends, family, and, yes, social influencers.

Let’s face it: it’s time for these 60-something relics to disappear. They’re not relevant anymore, not to anybody buying a car. And while I love the Gen X/Y crowd of autowriters, there just aren’t enough of us to replace all of them — and maybe there shouldn’t be.

So let me be the first to welcome our mommyblogging overlords. If they’ve got the likes, send them the cars. Whether we like it or not, they matter.

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  • ToddAtlasF1 ToddAtlasF1 on Nov 24, 2016

    I saw a table illustrating VW's revenue sources in the WSJ yesterday. They make 2.9 billion Euros selling 177,000 Porsches to dealers. That's over 16,000 Euros per car. I guess buying press is still showing a decent ROI. It's no wonder Porsche has no interest in going smaller or cheaper. They're already selling cars that cost as much as Highlanders and Miatas to produce for $60K.

  • John John on Nov 24, 2016

    Trying to puff yourself up by running others in your field down = age-old sign of mediocrity.

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