The changes being brought by social media to how large corporations get consumers to buy things are particularly affecting the big motor manufacturers. They are old-style, sales-led, top-down centralisers. They've done business this way for decades and are kings of the big media-buy. The idea is to make grand gestures that get you to buy in to a lifestyle or a feeling - "buying this car will make you a winner''!
But society is changing and people rely less on mass media and more on each other for advice on what to buy. Technology has made it much easier to find 'people like you', folks who have no vested interest in getting you to buy a particular brand or model. BUT the recession has moved the needle even further.
People do much more research before buying a big ticket item now that every penny counts. A car-buyer will go to Google to see what other people are saying about 'BMW Z4's or 'good value family cars'. Google increasingly sees blog and forum discussions as more useful than corporate sites and savvy consumers are going straight to these discussions to navigate round online brochures.
But there's a fightback from the auto corporations and it's being led by the same Detroit monoliths that were cap-in-hand to Congress for bailouts in the US, with Ford the main innovator, led by social media guru, Scott Monty. Ford have twigged that a site should be useful to users, so useful that they don't have to go anywhere else for info. There's external sources and customers commenting and everything is made transparent, even the correspondence between the Chief Exec and Congress over that taxpayer appeal.
They've also recognised that if people are talking about their brand online they should be useful to those conversations as well. They've made rich resources easily sharable so that bloggers can use their images when writing about whatever concerns them, video is easy to pass on via Twitter/Facebook and the text-heavy resources are atomised so specific items are very easily linked to.
But what about us poor Brits I hear you cry? Don't panic. The UK operations have cottoned on. Volkswagen's People’s Reviewer campaign will make social media the focus of a VW campaign for the first time, with social networks including Facebook directing people to enter a competition to become VW’s official car reviewer.
VW intends the campaign to give a real-world perspective on the car, cashing in on the growing influence of peer-to-peer reviews across the web by asking users to compete to become the next big car critic, with the final prize being a VW Tiguan.
Viewers will submit ideas for creative, entertaining and informative ways of reviewing the car. Nine shortlisted people will then be given a Tiguan for the week, fully kitted out with video equipment, to carry out their idea.
This is a great initiative,
nicked from inspired by Scott Monty's Fiesta Movement in the US and deserves to succeed. As does Toyota/iCrossing's blog/social media platform to promote the new Prius. They've fully embraced the social element offline, too. They're taking the car on a UK tour to meet people they engage with online and to emphaise it's good mileage capability.
If you're a keen Jaguar driver, or aspire to be, it might be worth staying in touch with the UK Jaguar Twitter feed, which I stumbled across today.
All of these should avoid the clanger dropped by Land Rover over after-sales problems it had with its Discovery model. A punter set up a blog to amplify his discontent and show the lack of one-to-one communication from Land Rover's customer service team. This solitary blog was so well linked to that it emerged as number one Google pick for anyone typing in 'Land Rover Discovery' into search. Although it's no longer live it sat there for months and months after the complaint had been settled and guess what? The customer offered it to Land Rover to use as a hub for customer complaints and queries but his offer was declined.