Entries from April 2009 ↓

Do You Know Your Grade in the Automotive Twitter-space?

It’s clear; everyone is frenzied over Twitter. Consumers are engaged by the transparency offered by brands and pop-personalities, while brands are attempting to quickly grasp the latest online curve-ball that’s truly swept us away to a whole new tworld. In the automotive tworld, no matter what Twitter’s role is in your marketing plan, keeping regular tabs on the health of your profile should be a targeted goal. Thankfully, countless online sources have addressed this need with introductory twips (or tips for the unfamiliar), best practices, and metrics.

Profile stats can be found on Twitter-Friends and TwitterGrader among many others. These two sites in particular don’t require a password to access information, and both sites were recently blogged about here. TwitterGrader specifically provides an out-of-100 grade for all profiles. Since anyone can reference information for any profile, sites like these provide a quick side-by-side comparison of your profile and your competitors’ profiles.

Among a handful of automotive OEM profiles (found via Twellow) the front-runners according to TwitterGrader are @GMBlogs (with a total “Grade” of 99.8, and rank of 4,222), and @Alicia_at_Honda (99.5, and 3,162 respectively). Additionally, it appears that @Ford, @GMBlogs, @Alicia_at_Honda, and @ToyotaNewsRoom each return the follow gesture from each of the members of their flock, while @Chrsyler, @eMercedesBenz, and @NissanNews tend not to do so as much. If your utilization objectives for Twitter include an ear to the ground, following those that follow you is square one.
blog post photo
As for my selections in Third Party sites, @Edmunds grades the highest even though @KelleyBlueBook out performs all others by number of followers as well as how many profiles they follow. Profiles like @AutoTrader_com and @DealerAdvantage make strong statements by following more profiles than follow them. Furthermore, @Edmunds has tweeted a total of more than three times that of the next highest tweeter in this group, and maintains a decent sized following.
blog post photo
For a benchmark, here are TwitterGrader’s stack-up of some popular personalities on Twitter:
blog post photo
In any case, whether your company’s Twitter profile(s) is alive and healthy or still in its infant stage, keeping an eye on your stats as well as those of competitors can serve you well. At the end of the day what’s most important is not that you are using Twitter, it’s how you are using Twitter, and by monitoring profiles you can discover obvious successes of others and certainly points of twopportunity for your company.

I’m certain there are new tools surfacing daily – what other Twitter tools do you use?

Have We Already Forgotten about Facebook?

Last year Facebook was the new online darling– users were signing up at a phenomenal rate and site traffic exploded. Suddenly, companies were forced to consider whether they needed a presence in this suddenly-popular social media sandbox. Now that everyone is moving on to the Next Big Thing – aka Twitter – I thought it would be instructive to evaluate the automotive manufacturer involvement with Facebook one year later.

To establish a Facebook presence, companies first create a page, such as the one below from MINI. They can then add descriptions of themselves and/or their products, links to other sites, product images/video, and widgets. Note that individuals can create fanpages that are sometimes indistinguishable from “official” corporate pages. Since Facebook is a social medium, consumers can also upload their own media and participate in discussions. Additionally, any time someone becomes a “fan,” his/her friends get notified.
blog post photo

A quick scan reveals that fewer than half of 37 automotive manufacturers in the U.S. have established their presence on Facebook. Many of these manufacturer pages seem to have been created as part of a marketing push or similar one-time effort and then left untouched. For instance, the Audi A8 page was last updated with imagery over a year ago and Audi does not participate in the ongoing conversations. Yet, the page has attracted 184,504 fans (as of April 20), so enthusiasts do have another online hangout in which they can interact. Other stale pages include Chrysler (8,118 fans), GMC (10,504 fans), and Volvo (26,982 fans).

On the other hand, active manufacturer participation doesn’t necessarily make a page more popular. Saturn and Scion have both been adding content throughout 2009, winning only 868 and 3,516 fans, respectively.

Facebook pages for brands with built-in enthusiast appeal naturally garner the most attention. The pages for BMW (309,290 fans), Ford Mustang (261,624 fans), HUMMER (170,728 fans), Porsche (459,952 fans), Jeep (102,428), and MINI (160,805 fans) all have relatively large followings and active ongoing discussions. The first four seem to have been created by consumers with little or no manufacturer presence, while the latter two seem to have been created the manufacturers, who continue to participate.

Regardless of who created it, a Facebook fanpage can be a great place to passively monitor conversations as well as provide media and information to enthusiasts. As with all social media, the key component is interaction. Showing up to the party is a one-time event, while participating requires a sustained effort.

Certified Pre-Owned (CPO): The Bright Side of Today’s Auto Industry

In the midst of a struggling economy we’re all aware of the decline in new vehicle sales, but an area that is often overlooked is the used vehicle sales market, specifically, certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles which have maintained a steady sales volume over the past year. Many shoppers who can’t afford new vehicles right now are turning to the more affordable alternative, one that still offers many of the same perks as buying a new vehicle – reliability, protection warranties, and special financing. The following graph shows the steady sales of CPO vehicles as the new vehicle market struggles.

blog post photo

Certified pre-owned vehicles must meet age and mileage requirements set by the manufacturer and must pass comprehensive inspections at the dealership. Although CPO vehicles cost a bit more than non-certified used vehicles, many consumers find that the benefits are worth the extra money. Most CPO customers are eligible for warranty repairs, giving them peace of mind, and many save thousands over buying new.

Premium brands are doing extremely well with their CPO sales. BMW, the largest seller of CPO vehicles among the premium brands, had a 16% increase in sales from 2007 to 2008, and a 25% increase in sales in the first two months of 2009 compared to 2008. Many affluent new vehicle buyers want to maintain their level of status and performance when shopping for a vehicle, but the current economy may have them looking for something more affordable. This graph shows the top ten brands that increased sales from 2007 to 2008; six out of the ten are premium brands.

blog post photo

Thus, the current economy conditions haven’t driven all new vehicle buyers out of the market – some have just switched markets to accommodate for the lifestyle changes consumers are going through when purchasing a product today.

Impact of Customer Online Reviews

In today’s social media dominated world, online consumer generated content, such as reviews and ratings, is prevailing as a key influence in shoppers’ decision to ultimately purchase a product or use a service. This trend can be recognized by the increase in popularity of Web sites built on business models providing just this type of information. One great example is Angie’s List, which company collects and aggregates feedback from registered panel members regarding contractors, doctors and a variety of service companies. Members are required to pay monthly fees and the data is only shared with those who subscribe. There are certainly other firms that provide such services, but I think this example illustrates the way the Internet has empowered the Voice of the Customer. A positive consequence of such review sites is that businesses work hard to avoid getting low scores and more effort is put into satisfying customers.

I recently did a Google search for Toyota dealers in Ventura, California, and not only was I provided links to the dealers Web sites but also a map with their locations and most interestingly consumer reviews. A lot of these reviews are pulled from other sites (Edmunds.com, dealerrater.com, etc.), but this sort of information could be an eye-opener for any potential problems with the sales department or management.

blog post photo

However, most of the time the information provided is sparse and the data can’t be trusted due to unverified sources. Frequently the sample size is insufficient and one cannot make truly informed decisions using partial data. J.D. Power and Associates is currently developing a Customer Service Champions program that can be integrated into the online marketing operations of businesses in various industries including automotive. Through the use of survey data, recognition would be awarded to those who rank in the upper echelon of performers. Customer-driven recognition would demonstrate a high level of accomplishment in the area of customer satisfaction and commitment to customer service excellence. So when a potential customer would search for car dealers, in addition to the typical search information that would be displayed, a customized J.D. Power widget would display the pertinent data for those dealers that are recognized as Customer Service Champions. Those participating in this online marketing program could choose to display customer comments alongside easy to understand metrics. Ultimately, the information provided will allow customers to make the right decision in selecting those dealers that will offer them the best customer service experience.

Please share any feedback you have on this concept or if you have experience with such a program.

Reaching New Vehicle Buyers Online: Getting Your Message to the Right Audience (Webcast replay)

We recently presented (via Webcast) the latest results from the Online Media Behavior Study. This groundbreaking study combines two sources, clickstream data provided by Compete, Inc.’s online panel and actual new-vehicle buyers gathered by the Power Information Network, to create unique behavioral data. The results provide a measure of monthly Internet activity that can be used by media planners to find Web sites with the greatest reach among actual new-vehicle prospective buyers. During this Webcast, the following topics were discussed:

  • Visitation trends
  • Usage of specific sites
    • Portals
    • Social Networks
    • Blogs
    • Travel Sites
  • Reach and target composition of the top 400 sites (data available on 7000+ sites)

Replay the Webcast

Download the presentations (PDF format)

Use Twitter to Track what People are Saying about You RIGHT NOW

As everyone knows (or is quickly figuring out), Twitter enables real-time microblogging, with information and news being disseminated almost instantaneously. Some automotive companies have chosen to be a part of the conversations, but Twitter still offers tremendous value even for those that don’t join. Companies can learn a lot just by listening.

Back in September, we posted Do-It-Yourself Blog Monitoring to show how anyone can quickly set up a free social monitoring solution. The three primary elements are:

  1. Staying on Top of the Conversation
  2. Tracking Volume Trends
  3. Alerting, e.g. if you anticipate a negative perception / PR issue

These same three elements can be implemented for Twitter.

Staying on Top of the Conversation
Even if you’re active on Twitter, you can’t possibly follow everyone who might be talking about you. Fortunately, Twitter allows anyone to search across all tweets and also delivers updated results via RSS. The search results for “GM” on April 3 are shown below.
blog post photo

Tracking Volume Trends
Twist makes it easy to track Twitter trends, as shown below with the terms “GM” and “Ford”.
blog post photo
Chatter for both terms was consistently low until March 29, when news of Rick Wagoner’s resignation from GM first leaked out. GM-related chatter spiked the next day and then rapidly fell off. There’s no straightforward mechanism to save search terms, but one possible workaround is to embed dynamic charts into a non-public page that you can periodically check.

Alerting
Set up search results (as described earlier) via RSS with appropriate and specific terms, e.g. “<my brand /> hate”.

Conclusion

Twitter is still new enough to the scene that the available tools are rudimentary compared to the wealth of mechanisms that can be used to analyze blogs and message boards. But, as shown above, tracking the pulse of conversations related to your company is not difficult. And there are plenty of other great ideas out there on how to monitor Twitter – here’s a couple of additional resources:

Monitoring Dashboards: Why every company should have one

How to Monitor Online Conversations

CorporateTweeter vs. Spokes-Tweeter (@Ford vs. @ScottMonty)

As companies adopt Twitter, one immediate issue they must consider is the kind of profile(s) to create. A corporate account (e.g. @GMblogs, @Starbucks, @JetBlue) offers a new communication medium that’s consistent with other media channels while enabling direct conversations with consumers. Another option is designating individuals to tweet on behalf of the organization, i.e. a “spokesTweeter.  This approach gives the company a human voice and enables for a more personal level of conversation, an approach that has been used successfully with blogs, e.g. Bob Lutz (GM) and Robert Scoble (Microsoft).

Not surprisingly, some companies do both. Ford particularly stands out, since its corporate profile (@Ford) is run by Scott Monty, head of social media, who also tweets from an individual profile (@ScottMonty). Comparing the two yields some interesting insights into the differences between the two approaches.

To start, as of April 8 @ScottMonty has far more followers, with 17,227 vs. 2,433 for @Ford. In fact, @ScottMonty has about three times as many followers as all of Ford’s corporate Twitter accounts combined. Of course, Scott Monty has been active in social networking for years, creating a ready audience for his tweets.

Diving into the content, TweetStats allows us to build word clouds for each account. As shown below, there are some differences – for instance, Ford-specific terms (especially model names such as flex, fusion, and mustang) are more prominent on the corporate account. Overall, though, the author uses similar language on both accounts.
blog post photo

blog post photo

The tweeting pattern, however, is very different. @ScottMonty tweets almost 20 times a day vs. 4.5 for @Ford. And the @Ford tweets are heaviest during business hours, whereas @ScottMonty continues to tweet heavily into the night and on weekends (although he apparently sleeps between 2am and 5am).
blog post photo

Other corporate tweeters tend to be most active during business hours.
blog post photo

There is no right or wrong answer – it’s a question of what companies want to achieve. Among automotive manufacturers, Ford has leapt in headfirst in a big way, several others have been active participants for a while, and the rest are either moving cautiously or sitting on the sideline.

A Look Inside Automotive Manufacturer Social Networks

The rapid ascent of social networks has prompted some companies to set up their own private communities. These networks give manufacturers a controlled setting in which they can interact and conduct research with owners and enthusiasts who have chosen to participate. I tried joining three such automotive communities to see what was going on. The Chrysler Advisory Board was full, but I was accepted for both Hyundai Think Tank and Generation Benz. All three are powered by Passenger.

Hyundai Think Tank was launched in early 2009 with the goal of “[evolving] both its brand and its vehicles to resonate with a broader audience while fostering a more thorough understanding of consumers’ unmet needs.  (Source: Passenger) As of March, the group had 1,668 members, almost three-fourths of whom are Hyundai owners.
blog post photo

The site offers multiple types of content to engage its participants.

  • Announcements.
  • Questions. For example, what name should be given to a new shade of bronze?
  • Discussion boards. Threads range from the Hyundai Assurance Program to separate threads for owners of each model.

Fuel economy issues seem to be a big focus throughout the Think Tank. One discussion solicited opinions regarding E85 vs. other fuel alternatives. A recent manufacturer-posed question asks participants what they would be willing to give up for better actual fuel economy.

Generation Benz was launched in late 2008 and is aimed at Gen Y. The company’s goal is to “get to know the younger generation of current and future vehicle owners to broaden the company’s loyal following and shape the brand for the future.  (Source: Passenger)
blog post photo

Generation Benz is powered by the same company as Hyundai Think Tank and utilizes the same templates. The content areas are also similar, albeit focused on different issues. For instance, Mercedes-Benz requested feedback on several unaired commercials. Another discussion thread solicited reaction to the decision to replace the CLK with the E-Class Coupe. In these cases, Mercedes-Benz seems to be using the community as an early warning system for a variety of potential issues, from avoiding unintended gaffes with advertising to gauging consumer reaction to a product change.

In Generation Benz, I also attended a live session about designo, a Mercedes-Benz program that produces special edition vehicles (e.g. exterior color, interior leather). The session ran 45 minutes and worked as a live focus group, providing immediate feedback on potential future special editions. The interplay between participants added to the richness of the session – these people were knowledgeable and excited to participate.

For both Hyundai Think Tank and Generation Benz, the communities generate a more civilized level of discourse than is typical on public boards along with a high level of knowledge. For instance, in a Hyundai thread regarding the dealership experience, the conversation centered on the dichotomy of paying $40k for a premium vehicle (the Hyundai Genesis) and being treated poorly at service visits. Not being treated with respect was a frequently cited problem. As of March 27, the discussion spanned 41 posts, with many participants citing the Lexus service experience as a counter example.

Private social networks may or may not be the next big thing. But already they seem to provide tangible benefits to both company and consumer.

Will Fiesta’s Movement become a Tipping Point for Ford?

The importance of the new Ford Fiesta – a global vehicle with high expectations in a struggling global economy – cannot be overstated. And when you read through the reams of product analysis that are already available on it there is no lack of evidence that it is a strong product. In fact, in a time where all automakers are unsure of the feasibility of meeting the extremely challenging new CAFE regulations, the Fiesta has potential to really bring down the average MPG of Ford’s fleet.

The challenge is then of course, to market this fantastic product to meet and hopefully beat expectations in an environment where nearly everyone seems to be stuffing their paychecks under their mattresses. What Ford and really every other manufacturer need is a ‘Tipping Point’ –a dramatic moment where the accumulation of small events becomes the drivers for radical change toward certain acceptance.

Ford has a new marketing program for the Fiesta and it’s called “Fiesta Movement. In this program 100 Millenials (those born from 1982-2001) will receive the keys to the new Fiesta prior to the actual vehicle launch – so long as they agree to rehash their experiences on social networking sites such as YouTube, Flickr and Facebook. Millenials are considered to be the next-gen consumer group, a group that by 2010 is estimated to be the largest class of consumers at nearly 70 million drivers. The intent of this “Movement” is to create a catalyst for that coveted radical change to acceptance, to cause a “Tipping Point” in the purchasing decisions of the American consumer. This is a refreshing approach, especially coming from one of the domestics; though I am not totally surprised. Jim Farley, Group VP of Marketing and Communications, is a well seasoned veteran when it comes to creating vibrant consumer excitement and acceptance. As Scion corporate manager and later VP of Scion, Mr. Farley took a new brand and drove radical change. He broke down demographic barriers, delivering on a promise of a younger buyer mix many thought Toyota had no chance at attracting.

I personally cannot wait to see what happens with this program, my guess is that Mr. Farley’s “movement” might become a template for leveraging social media. If successful in the least, you can bet on a windfall of copy cat programs to follow!