by Dan Sherman
Yo dawg, X to the Z is here to Tweet Your Ride. I heard you like social networking, so we put a Fan app on your Facebook…so we can sell you cars!
Every Echo Boomer I know has, in some way, engaged in social networking. The vast majority of my friends, and their friends, devote tremendous amounts of real-life time to keep up with their cyber-lives. Trend-savvy automakers are jumping into these whirring communities of information, aiming to appeal to an enormous subset of Generation Y. But will a brand’s investment in social media influence my generation to buy their products? I took yet another “informal survey” to get a ground-level view.
The first part of my quest was to explore the world of social networking—what platforms do my peers use, and why? Only three platforms, out of literally thousands, are significant to my generation: MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
MySpace is the pioneer of the three; over half of my interviewees have once had a profile, but only about one in ten still keeps up with it. Those who do keep up claim that MySpace is now a music haven; they use it to explore underground artists and genres, and not much else. Those who fled did so because everyone else left. Plus, there were a LOT of viruses going around.
Facebook is by far the most popular of the three among college-age kids. I am on Facebook, approximately 95% of my friends are on Facebook, and about 95% of those friends are basically addicted to it. If there are 50 people in a lecture class and 5 have laptops open, 5 people are surfing Facebook. We love Facebook because that’s where everyone else is! People use it as a tool to socialize, keep up with old friends, and share activities and interests.
Twitter is the newcomer; although tons of buzz surrounds the blog-meets-Facebook virtual community, my network is reluctant to join. As one person I spoke to said, “As much as I’d love to hear about how hot that girl in Econ 201 is, I’d rather see her in picture form! That’s tougher with Twitter.” The few Twitter users joined not to socialize with friends but to receive communications with other institutions. One of my friends is an EMT, and his fire station exclusively uses Twitter for non-emergency communication.
So can automakers capitalize? Current approaches run the gamut, starting with Chrysler’s simple Facebook page, which allows people to become “fans”. The other end of the spectrum is Ford’s experimental Fiesta Movement, in which Ford gave 100 Fiestas to Echo Boomers for 6 months to spread their experiences through just about every web 2.0 medium.
My interviewees made it very clear that social media is about people, not brands. My peers recognized that a heavy brand presence on Facebook and Twitter is an attempt to target their demographic; however, that targeting effort alone is not enough to sway their purchasing decisions. They also reported indifference to a brand’s absence from social media.
Social media’s greatest effect on buying habits is age-old, time-tested peer pressure…particularly on Facebook, in which one can “Become a Fan” of a brand’s Page. My interviewees report that most Gen Yers don’t actually Fan things. However, the few who do are “Fan-whores,” displaying to friends their activities and interests through the products/brands they prefer (and likely already own). A cutting-edge, 20-year old B-school girl said, “If all of my friends ‘fanned’ a product, I’d probably buy it.”
Facebook should be the platform of choice for any automaker planning to get involved in social networking. Nissan won’t sell me a Cube just by having a Facebook Page, but I may consider it if enough of my friends are Fans. And then my friends might find out what a Cube actually is! The indirect marketing benefits (awareness and targeting) and peer awareness due to a simple Facebook Page and Twitter profile most likely outweigh the low cost of such a campaign. However, I think expensive investments like Ford’s Fiesta Movement may deliver negative ROI. Car brands targeting the youth market would be foolish not to get involved in social media, but should be careful about going too far.