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Is 2016 the year of evolution or revolution for social media across the Automotive sector?

Take control of your social media in the automotive industryMuch attention has been focused on social media across the Automotive sector in recent months. The sector is the 5th largest investor in UK advertising spend at £1.3b, according to the IAB, with a proud heritage of investing in traditional print media – inspired by the ‘Think Small’ Volkswagen campaign way back as far as 1959, hailed the ‘best advertising campaign of the 20th century’ by Ad Age.

Ironically, the Volkswagen campaign of old demonstrates the digital challenges of today!

Back in the 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s, there was control over the message – adverts could be neatly placed where they needed to be seen for best impact with complete control lying with the brand owner. Fast forward to today – the Volkswagen brand has weathered a serious public storm, lying battered and bruised across social media channels, depicting an era where customers can connect across the globe and influence how a brand is perceived and valued, with negativity spreading unstoppably across the audiences they probably wished to influence the most!

With the power resting firmly in the hands of the customer, it is hardly a surprise that for some involved in marketing within the Automotive sector, that whilst the heart lies in traditional print media, the head is saying that to survive and positively thrive today, they need to commit to and fully invest in digital and social environments. However, it appears that there are still only a small number of pioneers like Land Rover who have been brave enough to grasp the bull by the horns, revolutionising their approach, publicly confirming their investment decision to switch from print advertising and commit fully to digital.

What we saw in 2015 by many was evolution rather than revolution, being reactive rather than proactive with the communications delivery. Volkswagen, is a great example where investment, not just financially but in people, training and social media management operations should have been in place ready to tackle the crisis PR scenario that engulfed the emissions scandal. Some of the headline Volkswagen accounts worldwide were seen to go into stunned silence at a time when the public needed their reassurance the most, whilst the brand tried to switch back to a traditional ‘controlled’ and scripted response, which took a number of days to craft.

Automotive-Briefing_Front-cover (Web)Download our FREE 2016 Automotive Social Media briefing here…

Thankfully, Volkswagen teams in the UK were seen to lead the way, perhaps acting against the central party line as they braved the heated public response and whilst they didn’t appear to be following a crisis PR protocol, they at least tried to keep the communication lines open – and all credit to them for their efforts!

There is certainly no doubt that those tasked with the marketing of Automotive products and services have had no choice to react to what has become a very dynamic changing environment over the past 12 months. With the average number of visits to a car showroom falling on average from 4 visits per purchase to only 1.2 per purchase in recent times, and research proving that digital actions arise in 76% of current purchase scenarios, it is no surprise that the power of social media is in the spotlight. Businesses are having to reach the prospective purchaser much earlier on online and influence them remotely, harnessing the power of brand advocates to do the selling rather than the sales team waiting in the showroom.

The reality is that the power of customer review and information exchange is causing havoc with sales teams and all the brand management and core messaging in the world is going to struggle to counteract a genuine purchaser’s authentic review.

As a result there was a 51% increase in social media investment in 2015 as recognition grew of the need to interact with purchasers on their terms. However, with eMarketing reporting that 60% of this investment was focused on direct response marketing rather than brand building and engagement activity, perhaps indicating that some are slow to give up the control completely or perhaps fearful of letting go or engaging with their customers until they fully gain confidence in compliance, fuelled by the publication of the FCA guidelines released in 2015, making every message accountable, with the potential for rigorously scrutiny and in worst case scenarios – fines!

Marketing teams are also having to find extra resource to speak to wider age groups across social media environments and during 2016 there appears to be no signs of this situation abaiting. 2015 saw a rise in those aged 35+ with active social media accounts and growth of silver surfers, and social media campaigns have had to ‘grow up’ and get serious as they tackle the content demands of more mature audiences.

So it would appear that for teams operating across the automotive space that they have to be credited with operating in a very complex environment. With manufacturers focused on brand building, dealerships focussed on sales and customer after sales and the array of support services having to find their own way through the jungle of social media delivery. With the demands of local social and central brand management it is not a simple straightforward ‘one size fits all’ approach.

However, in the past 12 months we have seen significant strides in social media delivery, with wide scale acknowledgement that a business needs to not only brand build and use social media for marketing promotion, but also engage with customers on their terms in delivering effective customer service response.

So in 2016, rather than seeing social media as a stand alone function, the clever businesses will embrace it within their showrooms, creating entertaining engaging spaces that allow for content capture and social media sharing.

Whether it is in-built cameras in cars that capture the test drive, photo opportunities featuring the brand or more engaging competitions that capture the imagination of full on campaigns like Land Rovers #Hibernot we need to buckle our seatbelts as this year is going to be an incredible social media ride!

Attend our upcoming webinar exploring social media trends in the automotive sector. Register here…

CrowdControlHQ is the UK’s leading social media risk management and compliance platform, an award winning software product used across social media by automotive brands including Sytner, Jardine Motors, RRG Group, Snows Group and John Clark Motors.

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Lewis Jones