Despite the opportunities offered by social media, the UK car industry seems to have been slow to catch onto it as a way of promoting its products and talking to customers.
In the US, brands like Ford, thanks to the efforts of its social media director Scott Monty, have placed a high importance on engaging with customers through social media, yet I can think of very few examples from the UK.
Auto manufacturers have plenty of enthusiastic customers who like to talk about their cars online. For instance, a quick Google search for most automotive marques and you are likely to find a number of websites and forums full of people talking about their passion.
Given this enthusiasm surrounding car brands, it seems odd that the UK auto industry isn't taking advantage of the opportunities to engage with customers, especially since it offers a low cost alternative to other forms of marketing.
So why has the UK car industry not adopted social media?
According to Terry Hogan, co-founder of Motoring.co.uk, the economic growth over the last decade has made it easy to sell cars through dealer networks, finance offers etc, all direct sales channels, whereas social media may be perceived as less immediate and harder to measure, though there are plenty of ways to measure social media success.
He thinks that the impact of the recession on both sales and marketing budgets, as well as the continued popularity of social media will force the industry to take a look at the opportunities offered by social media engagement.
Examples from the US
Ford has been widely praised for its use of social media in the US, and rightly so. Social media director Scott Monty has been active on Twitter and his own blog, and has encouraged the rest of the company, right up to executive level to get involved as well.
The company's has been imaginative in its use of social media to promote its cars. The Fiesta Movement campaign gave 100 new Fiestas to applicants with 'a strong presence on the web' to test drive in advance of its release.
These 'agents' were encouraged, through monthly 'missions' to blog, Tweet and create videos about the new car, generating a buzz around the product amongst the targeted age group (18-34).
For a relatively small investment, these 100 agents have so far generated plenty of positive mentions on its Twitter account, a Facebook group, as well as a number of videos on YouTube.
It's not just Ford either; GM also has an active presence on Twitter, and a number of blogs for car owners to discuss products, issues and latest news.
Examples from the UK
While there are plenty from the US, I'm struggling to find too many UK examples of social media use.
Nissan's campaign to promote the launch of its luxury brand Infiniti seems to have taken social media into consideration for its marketing strategy, to create a buzz around the launch.
However, the Facebook group, with 560 fans, seems a little bit corporate, while the YouTube videos haven't attracted too many views so far. I may have missed its efforts in other areas, but it doesn't seem to match the efforts of Ford.
The company also seems to have a wasteful and expensive PPC strategy in place, buying ads for the term 'new car' which seems way to broad for what is supposed to be an exclusive product, as well as for its own brand name when it ranks top anyway.
VW's campaign for the new Tiguan is more innovative, with its 'People's Reviewer' competition which has invited people to apply to review the car via YouTube, while there is also a Twitter account linked to the campaign.
UGC on websites
Auto websites could do a lot better too, and could learn from etailers' use of user-generated content to promote their products. Reviews are a proven sales driver, yet no UK car websites offer car reviews from customers.
People will want to do their research online before deciding which car to buy and whether to buy it, and reviews from both 'experts' and users will form part of this research for many customers, providing information on long term reliability.
If users cannot find this information on manufacturers' or dealer's websites, they'll look elsewhere for it, so why not provide objective user reviews to keep them on the site. Perhaps there is a fear of negative reviews, but showing these reviews will make positive comments more credible and increase customer trust.
Social media can also be a great customer service tool, if companies are prepared to get involved and listen to customer complaints.
If your customers have a problem with your car or service, they can easily blog about it, or post negative comments on Twitter, or various forums and message boards, all of which may be picked up by Google and viewed by other prospective customers.
Nissan seems to have had this problem with some of its Navarra models, leading frustrated customers to set up a forum around the issue. After engaging directly with customers on the forum, Nissan seems to have turned the problem around, and you can now find plenty of positive comments about the company on the site.
I'd like to know what people from the car industry think about the issue. Have I missed some great examples of social media use in the UK? Are you working in the auto industry and have an opinion on this? Let me know below...