Why is it that car dealerships – particularly used car dealers – have the reputation they do, of being untrustworthy, deceptive and dishonest? As sales people, they are not unlike sales people in clothes shops, the Mac store or the ice cream parlour: they attempt to up-sell by being charming and persuasive. But car sales people have a particular reputation for being pushy, or for over-pricing their products and for being opaque, even underhanded, in their dealings.
The reason for this is that the auto industry has always been a bastion of brand-controlled products – perhaps the final frontier for consumers. While cars have long been fetishised in our consumer culture, an increasingly small number of us understand what goes on under the bonnet of a vehicle, so it’s very easy for a sales person in a car yard to target consumers who aren’t knowledgeable about the product. For something that most of us will purchase in a lifetime, researching vehicles is a relatively obscure process, and in pre-internet days it was remarkable how much trust had to be placed in car salespeople.
Social Media and the Automobile Industry
But naturally with the advent of social media, and more importantly social sharing and recommendations, the auto industry must pick up its game. No longer are consumers isolated units who can’t communicate en masse with each other. They compare and complain; they demand explanations and consistency.
According to a recent report by social media monitoring company Brandwatch, forums are the most popular platforms for conversations about cars. They provide an opportunity for enthusiasts of a particular brand to gather in one spot and discuss, analyse, and converse on topics related to that brand.
Social media platforms facilitate direct interaction between brands and car enthusiasts. This gives marketers valuable insights into their potential customers – and vice versa. The report found that Twitter is the second most popular platform for conversations about cars after forums. In 2009, Local Motors primarily used Twitter to launch an innovative concept: the crowdsourced car. Motorheads voted for their favourite design elements. You can see the result at the top of this post.
Buyers seldom rush into making a purchase decision about a car without extensive consultations of various web-based channels harvesting the wisdom of the crowds on online forums. It has been found that tweets from high profile Twitter members may add to the credibility of a brand.
Favourable reviews on forums, blogs and other social media avenues may also swing a decision in favour of a particular brand.
It has also been found that high initial cost is often the barrier to people consuming a particular brand. In fact, 16% of all automotive conversations revolve around purchasing. Ford and BMW were the two most mentioned brands in all automotive purchasing conversations.
Besides forums and Twitter, blogs and Q&A sites are other important avenues for automotive conversations. Would-be buyers and brand enthusiasts often throng to these platforms to gather information, view pictures, read reviews, and ask questions before buying a car. Price and ‘perceived value’ are two major issues raised on social media channels that car brands join in. If brands are monitoring these forums and taking part where the conversation is happening, they can help steer public opinion and mitigate any negative action by being transparent and up-front, answering questions.
Social media has potential to revolutionise the industry by giving automobile makers precise data on how to price, market, and produce their products, helping it achieve the transparency demanded by customers. Data which could only be estimated once is now available in hard numbers for them to modify and market their offerings, and public opinion is surely going to be a key factor in shaping choices made by car manufacturers from now, and the democratic nature of social media means that the negative perception attached to car sales can start to be changed.