General Motors recent announcement to stop buying advertising on Facebook may have been the backfire heard in agencies around the world. GM didn’t just turn off the engine, it slammed the breaks with such force that it had the advertising industry and social media world bouncing off the air bags. That tends to happen when any brand cancels a $10M buy. GM argued the Facebook ads and were simply ineffective.
To be sure, social media is a constantly shifting platform that challenges brands in finding a cost effective way of using multiple social channels to target customers. But as a customer engagement platform, is GM really using Facebook effectively to drive conversations with its customers?
Let’s start with a simple look at the Facebook cover photos of both GM and Ford. (Figures 1 & 2) One of these pages immediately tells the user its company is about people, the other is about objects. At its core, social media is about having relationships with other people.
Extensive research on social media engagement indicates a strong correlation between seeking gratification and fulfilling psychological needs. Louis Leung found a significant draw to social media by people who needed recognition and empowerment. Brand new research from the University of Boston shows that Facebook use is motivated by the need to belong and a secondary need for self-presentation. Additionally, John Eighmey and Lola McCord established how the need for entertainment is vitally important to maintaining an online relationship. But among the most important insights for brands comes from Mihaela Vorvorneanu at Purdue University whose research found a desire for consumer interaction with corporations on Facebook only if it gives them a badge of personal identity, or a tangible reward such as a discount on products or services.
On the later point, Ford seems to deeply understand these motivations. During the final week of its American Idol sponsorship on Fox, Ford ran a Facebook post inviting viewers to enter the Ford Video Music Challenge and have a chance at winning a new car. (Figure 3) Another engagement strategy by Ford is asking its followers to contribute their own ideas on topics such as designing their own Ford Fusion or what they’d do with the gas money they’d save if they owned an electric car.
GM’s Facebook page tends to look more like a corporate newsroom site. One recent posting trumpeted May’s sales growth. (Figure 4) Another linked to a CNN.com interview GM CEO Dan Akerson. While it all defends and defines the corporation, it’s not exactly the kind of content that invites a personal dialog with the brand. In fairness, there are some moments of truly cool engagement, such as the picture it recently posted of the new top-secret Chevy SS prototype. (Figure 5) The posting builds intrigue and anticipation at the same time serving as a sneak-peek reward for any GM Facebook follower.
The one thing GM has going for it is its social media maven, Mary Henige. She is a walking, talking, one-woman evangelist for General Motors. Henige has more energy than a fully charged Chevy Volt and is not afraid to use Twitter and various other channels to engage customers in the GM brand. (Follow Henige on Twitter @maryhenige) One good example is the Facebook page for Chevrolet. It uses more of the follower-involving content utilized by Ford to draw people into a relationship with the brand.
It could be reasonably argued that GM’s core customers have stronger emotional bonds to their individual car brands than to the corporation behind them. In that regard it could make sense to let the GM Facebook page be more of a corporate PR blog. But that’s not what social media is about, and GM may be missing an opportunity to make true relationship drivers of all of its social media channels.