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Online Reputation Management for Automakers

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Full Article: http://www.bulldogreporter.com/dailydog/article/thought-leaders/how-soci...

While some industries may have difficulty proving the ROI of social media, new data from J.D. Power, demonstrates social media does drive sales in the auto industry. The study shows social media impacts both which cars people buy and where they get their vehicles serviced.

The J.D. Power 2014 Social Media Benchmark Study looked at 9,800 U.S. online consumers who have interacted with a company via that company's social media channel. The study looked at almost three months of data and ended in early February 2014, about a month after Toyota’s recall of more than a million cars.

The study looked at 30 brands of autos in the U.S. It looked at the overall consumer experience in engaging with companies through their social media platforms for both marketing and providing customer service. Participating in social media helped brands build awareness and affinity. It’s also a way to inform people about products and promotions.

People who were “delighted” with the customer service and marketing from a brand were more likely to buy from that company or take their vehicles to be serviced by that brand in the future. “It is important to provide a satisfying social media experience for all consumers because it helps drive current and future business."

Facebook is Top Choice for Customer Service and Product Information

Of the top social networks, Facebook is most frequently used (29%), followed by YouTube (19%) and Twitter (11%). For customer service it is even more heavily weighted to Facebook (84%). Twitter is next (34%), then YouTube (25%).

For some consumers (20%) social media is their primary source of information about an automotive brand. Almost 30% of social media users say they “get recommendations about a product or service from friends and family exclusively through social media.”

When it comes to social, Toyota was the brand with the highest ranking, followed by Ford, then Chevrolet. Honda was ninth on the list. Lowest ranked brands include Fiat, MINI and Chrysler.

After looking at many of the top automakers there are lessons to learn for anyone trying to manage their online reputations whether through social media or search engines.

Stack Search Results with Social Media Sites and (Good) News

The top brands in the auto industry are quite good at managing their online reputations, even when there are mountains of bad news. Google “Toyota” and you’ll find links to the main site, several offshoots, as well as links to local dealerships. Further down there are links to Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube. You have to go down at least 40 entries before you see any mention about the recall of 1 million cars this past January.

Put Honda in and there’s nothing in the top 40 results about the recall of almost 10,000 Civics just last month. Type in General Motors and you won’t see headlines like this headline from February 2014, which was published in USAToday: 6 killed in GM cars with faulty ignition switches. However, it’s not true for all brands. For example, Mitsubishi comes in near the bottom of the list. The top search results for the brand are positive except for a glaring one: a link to top car review site edmunds.com with only one rating. The reviewer gave the company just one star.

However, look at What’s more interesting is that the recalls or bad news seem to not put much of a dent in sales. “More than half of those recalls came from Toyota (5.3 million) and Honda (3.4 million), but sales at both automakers combined for a hefty 25.6% increase. Even if you chalk that up to inflated gains versus an inventory-strapped 2011, the trend continued into 2013. Toyota recalled just more than 1 million cars in January, and new-car sales still rose 26.6%. That's the largest percentage increase for any automaker, large or small.” Perhaps this isn’t as much to do with managing their reputations online as it shows the resilience of the most trusted brands.

One interesting issue for Lincoln, which is ranked in the top five, is that several of the Google search results for their name, refer to the former US president rather than the carmaker.

Address Customer Service Issues In the Comments Section

The strategy for most automakers when faced with bad news like a recall is not to address issues directly but to answer individual complaints as they come up in the comments. For example, on the Toyota Facebook page you won’t find a single post from Toyota about the recall. However, look in the comments and you’ll see mentions of it and other problems. The same goes for GM and others who’ve had recalls or other problems that could hurt their reputation.

Focus on Monitoring and Creating Positive Content

For automakers their online reputation is more about being responsive (listening) rather than starting conversations or bringing up bad news. As with many brands, they create positive content and monitor conversations online.

What are major brands investing to monitor and create content to maintain or improve their online reputations? Here are some figures from General Motors. “G.M. has a team of about 20 people based in Detroit that manages its social media presence—including monitoring about 100 independent auto forums—and responds to inquiries and complaints seven days a week. Another 50 people staff a call center, with as many as 50 more people helping out when call volume is high, as it has been since the recall began.”

Overall, the top brands especially seem to be on top of their online reputation and their search results show nothing but the facts or recent news about new models.

When it comes to managing their online reputations, automakers as a whole, despite having very public safety or performance issues, seem to do quite well.

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