The LA Auto Show opens its doors to the public later this week, but TK Carsites has already had a chance to preview the latest concepts and new vehicles of 2010 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
What may be the biggest release of the show in terms of both scale and anticipation was the debut of the 2011 Ford Fiesta. The Fiesta was once sold in the U.S., but was ditched more than a decade ago due to dismal sales. With a nameplate that doesn’t exactly have a renowned reputation around it, how was this affordable compact able to generate a flurry of interest from automotive journalists upon its unveiling?
The Fiesta is certainly a great product, but the real answer has more to do with how Ford relied on groundbreaking online marketing. Ford has embraced social networking rather than taking a traditional marketing approach to drive buzz. Without breaking the bank or burning through massive media budgets, Ford was able to promote the Fiesta nameplate, gain traction with consumers, and get people to connect with the Fiesta in an all-new way. Best of all, the excitement continued to brew months before the Fiesta had even been unveiled.
Ford’s social media push for the Fiesta centered on the Fiesta Movement initiative. The Fiesta Movement promotes the small car through 100 “socially connected trendsetters” (referred to as agents) that have been driving Euro-spec Fiestas and taking part in monthly themed “missions” such as volunteerism, adventure, and style and design. Each of these agents discusses their missions and their experience with the Fiesta through social media, including YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook.
Ford believes they’ve reached consumers that wouldn’t otherwise connect with the car through traditional advertising. As Scott Monty, the Director of Social Media at Ford would likely attest, social media allows for a level of trust that would be unattainable through traditional marketing. After all, people trust people like themselves, and will have less trust in strangers telling them what to think.
Finding Scott Monty in the horde of journalists and agents on the auto show floor was not as difficult as we would have thought. As the only Ford executive juggling a laptop and live tweeting the event, he was relatively easy to spot.
Social media is “common sense” says Monty, but he also notes it’s important to listen – perhaps more so than talk. Opening up a Twitter account is so easy that car dealers often yield to the temptation to tweet inventory or specials, which honestly is a quick way to lose followers. Regarding the tendency to sell on Twitter, Monty says, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” It’s a valuable lesson that more dealers are realizing.
One of the challenges for dealers when it comes to harnessing the power of social media is that it means different things to different people, and the Web provides no shortage of disinformation. The best analogy to consider is that social networking sites should be treated more like cocktail parties or community picnics, and less like an extension of your dealership’s lot. You wouldn’t walk into these types of functions, slam your business card down on the table, and leave. In online communities, you shouldn’t be doing that either.
By no means is TK Carsites the only company to tout the power of social media. And while car dealers are certainly hearing plenty about it from many sources these days, we’ll admit that its potential can sometimes be difficult to illustrate. Luckily, the launch of the Ford Fiesta has provided an outstanding example of what social media in the automotive space can really do. With the help of 100 young, tech-savvy drivers, Ford has been able to generate 6 million YouTube views, more than 740,000 Flickr views and more than 3.7 million Twitter impressions. If those numbers aren’t impressive, what’s really impressive is that 80,000 people have already raised their hand and told Ford that they want a Fiesta. For a car that still won’t be available for another eight months, people are already lining up to get behind the wheel, and this demand has been fueled without the help of traditional advertising.
There are plenty of creative opportunities possible with social media. Looking at the success of the Fiesta Movement, one important lesson to learn is that listening and being active in conversation is crucial. Sure this may sound intuitive, but all too often car dealers and even Fortune 500 companies are too focused on controlling conversation. By giving up of little bit of control, you may be able to gain a little trust too. If the power of social media can revive a car that has been extinct in the U.S. for more than a decade, the power of social media can also help car dealerships seem a little more inviting – and maybe help sell some cars too.
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