SEMA eNews Vol. 12, No. 9, March 5, 2009

Half of Gen Y is on Facebook—Are You?

Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube: What do these names all have in common? 

They are all social networking sites that attract millions of users worldwide. In a fast-paced society that relies on such networking websites to relay information and keep up-to-date on anything from news to gossip, it is curious to wonder why more automotive companies have not used these websites to help promote and market their products. This is especially important for younger audiences. 

Some progressive SEMA members are engaging in these new forms of communication.

“Turbonetics has always tried to be aggressive in emerging technologies and various forms of marketing," says Tyler Tanaka, marketing brand manager of Turbonetics. "It seems that social media networks have been lying in wait for businesses to realize their branding potential and are now catching on as excellent low-cost alternatives to traditional advertising.”

Ford recently announced a competition facilitated with the use of online social mediums. It has prepared to release 100 Fiestas—a subcompact it hopes will energize a new generation of buyers—to chosen participants on its www.Fiestamovement.com website. The competition represents a big step forward in utilizing social networking in its marketing campaign.

Under this new venture, participants will be loaned new Fiestas to drive, documenting the experience publicly along the way. Ford is hoping to capitalize on the hype and press that these participants will generate on websites, such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter, by having them complete objectives and missions every month.

With the Fiesta already a successful platform in Europe, Ford hopes to bring its success here to the United States amidst the pushes to go green and minimize carbon footprints. 

With more than 120 million users alone of Facebook and 110 million users on MySpace, companies and manufacturers have the chance to reach millions of people via social networking sites. 

Tanaka sees potential with existing and new consumers alike.

"MySpace and YouTube started it all with a free way to communicate with enthusiasts, and Facebook has taken it to a new level," he explains. "Our ability to directly communicate with our product fans, enthusiasts and general consumers is greatly enhanced by participating inside these communities.”

Since 2007, SEMA has polled automotive enthusiasts about the websites they visit regularly. Automotive and lifestyle sites have been the focus of the research and indicate where consumers go for information and entertainment. Each year SEMA surveys more than 3,000 enthusiasts about their online activity and one striking statistic is the merging of these two messages; information and entertainment often overlap within the automotive lifestyle. 

With this convergence, it is important to recognize the need to abide by social etiquette.

"Much like smart companies are finding out about forum sponsorships, users are not there to be hard sold products, nor are they always looking to buy," according to Tanaka. "It's a leisure activity that they enjoy and a community of very tight-knit people. Branding still has incredible leverage in the long term to help generate revenue.

Tanaka continues, "We all need to be cognizant of the right times to separate selling and branding. Do not overwhelm them. Spam in your e-mail inbox is the same thing as getting 'Poked', 'Mob-Wars invites', 'Passing A Drink,' etc. The list of digital garbage in social networks goes on and on. Treat people like you want to be treated electronically. Send out good content and people will thank you.”

Of the 16-to-27 age group, nearly 90% of enthusiasts visit YouTube each month and roughly half (48%) have a Facebook account and are active with their profiles. MySpace, the once dominant portal, still remains the largest pool of the sites. Usage has remained somewhat flat as enthusiasts shift their attention elsewhere, however. As the leading automotive-focus community, CarDomain has sustained growth year over year, especially with the younger demographic.

One tempting feature of these types of sites is their accessibility; they are free to join. The initial costs to companies and manufacturers are minimal. As pointed out by Business Week however, maintaining a site or launching a successful marketing campaign can be more costly if expectations are set too high.

To build an audience, maintain a profile, create assets and sustain interaction with your target audience takes labor and expertise, usually in the form of a web-savvy employee.

“We invest a minimum of 30 minutes per day," Tanaka says. "It can be answering messages, posting pictures or videos or placing links to other cool and fun information. There is something else that I want to make sure people understand, however. Everything is digitally tied together to catch anyone that visits any one of our sites and expose them to as much information and branding as possible." — SEMA Research & Information Center

For more original market research, visit www.sema.org/research.

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