Testing the waters with social media

From OEMs to logistics and service companies, social media is being used to create awareness and target potential buyers. How effective is it? Kedar Jaidev logs in

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 21 Jul 2011 Views icon4886 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Faiz Rai, 22, likes the Toyota Etios Liva page on Facebook. Arjun Kapoor, 23, is now following Renault Fluence, the car Renault launched in May – on Twitter. These are among the estimated 29 lakh users in India alone who use social media. It’s an audience that carmakers are keen to tap to create awareness and hopefully sell their cars.

India’s automotive sector – OEMs in particular – don’t want to miss out on the potential of the medium. Nissan Motor India has launched a student brand manager programme coinciding with the launch of the Micra last year. Its FB page also went online at the same time. That, along with appointing Ranbir Kapoor as its brand ambassador, was part of its strategy to create an awareness of the brand as well as get people to buy the car.

Autocar Professional sent out a questionnaire to some OEMs as well as companies that are connected with the sector to ascertain their response to social media. Apart from OEs like Nissan and Toyota, Meru Cabs, which is a call-taxi service, and MapMyIndia, which sells satellite navigation products, are on Facebook Our questions ranged from whether or not the company has a separate person or team to handle its social media pages to the investments made and how they responded to 'negative' feedback.

Typically, every bike or car launch has a dedicated Facebook page with pictures, information, a customer feedback button, contests and videos. The Tata Nano and Toyota’s Etios Liva are some companies that have very active Facebook pages.

Media reports suggest that the Etios homepage alone attracted 13,000 fans in a single day and 3,500 enquiries. A Toyota spokesperson says, “We have initiated an extensive campaign targeting youth through social media and have a dedicated in-house digital/new media team in addition to having a digital agency also.”

Dinesh Jain, CEO, Hover Automotive India (the marketing arm for Nissan India), says: “Nissan is increasing its emphasis on social media and digital engagement worldwide in order to better connect with its customers and other stakeholders, as well as to develop its brand.” Interestingly as this writer discovered, Porsche India has a page started by one of its followers with regular updates and followers, further illustrating the reach and personalisation of social media.

“The online medium was used for creating a buzz around the Tata Aria crossover, during its pre-launch phase. Tata Motors uses the virtual marketing tool to market the Indigo Manza and the Indica Vista range. This was the first time that an Indian manufacturer used this medium to reach its potential customers,” a Tata Motors spokesperson has claimed.

From an automotive company’s point of view, it is important to get on the information superhighway. With technology at one’s fingertips these days as a result of the advancement in technology; the internet has become one of the easiest mediums to communicate. “It has had a very positive impact on brand visibility and from an HRD and sales perspective also,” said a spokesperson from Drive India Enterprise Solutions Ltd, a Mumbai-based logistics company . Mahindra & Mahindra say digital/social media marketing needs a specialist, a person who understands the medium, brand and consumers well. “We have a digital marketing manager who works closely with brand managers and handles social media. We believe the youth are the influencers of today and the buyers of tomorrow, and we are confident lots of present and future sales will be sourced from our social media strategy,” said Vivek Nayer, senior VP, marketing, Automotive Division, M&M. The company has used Facebook to create a sense of community for those who take part in the Mahindra Great Escape, M&M's popular offroad event.

It’s not just automobile manufacturers that are hopping onto the bandwagon, even companies like MapmyIndia, a company that provides in-car navigation solutions, has leveraged social media. “The company’s management is also involved in seeing, reading and monitoring what is being talked about the MapmyIndia brand on the social media pages. They respond to customer queries and feedback. More than sales, social media has helped enhance the brand image and product value proposition,” says Rohan Verma, director. “If it is a new products or feature, it is sure to get attention through social media and drive incremental sales but we don’t view social media as a hardselling opportunity. It is a way to connect directly and more personally with users,” adds Verma. A key advantage of social media is the ability to interact with customers in a more personal manner, which can help improve customer satisfaction and aftersales service.

In the auto sector, those who tweet regularly are Anand Mahindra, MD of M&M, Rajiv Bajaj , MD of Bajaj Auto, and Vijay Mallya who owns the Force India racing team. An estimated 40 percent of the Mahindra community is active every month and contests are a huge success too. According to their spokesperson, the photo contests have given them more than 5,000 pictures uploaded by fans and any interesting posts or uploads typically generate between 500 and 2,000 responses.

The updates from the latest Mahindra Great Escape in Shahpur, near Mumbai, has received more than 2,000 ‘Likes’ and comments and the community has received more than two million page views and 600,000 video and image views, said the spokesperson.

For SkodaAuto India, the online medium has significantly contributed in bringing laurels to the company including Campaign India Digital Media Awards 2011- Fab Ride Contest and Best Communication Strategy at the Goa Adfest 2011.

A spokesperson for Carnation Auto India, headed by Jagdish Khattar, and an independent multi-brand automobile sales and service network said, “Our brand uses social platforms to be present at each point. We look at the social media space holistically and it is not just about ‘Likes’ on a Facebook page.” Social media is out there and at the moment, is like the wild west. It’s still in its early days as far as India is concerned and limited to an urban audience. But the OEMs are logging in.
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