10 Questions and Answers about Global Brand Communications and Social Media Management (for Automotive).

I have been contacted by Martin Loss – a master student in International Business Adminstration at the University of Hamburg – a few weeks ago. He is currently doing an internship at Daimler in Indonesia and conducting some research about “the role of cultural differences in brand communities and social media marketing”. Although his work is focussed on Mercedes-Benz specifically – he came up with some really interesting questions which I find useful for non-Automotive people as well. I picked some of the questions and answers for you:

Q: What are the major reasons for marketing departments to lead automotive brands into social networks?

A: Brands need to be where the eye-balls are. People spend more and more time online and specifically on social networks. The number of users and time spend on social media platforms like Facebook has gone through the roof over the past few years and therefore every brand needs to consider this in their marketing strategy and media mix. Brands need to be where their prospects and customers hang out and social media provide a great solution to expand reach and visibility. However – social media is not about broadcasting only to which many brands are used to from the past. The challenge is to become part of the community, actively engage and enter the conversations. Something that puts a lot of pressure to the current set up of most organizations where only a few spokespeople are authorized to speak on behalf of a brand.

Q: What is a successful brand communication strategy on Facebook and how can external consultants/expert help with it?

A: As mentioned above the biggest challenge is that we are leaving the good old one-way street and enter a conversation. It`s not about one- to- many anymore. Brands need to learn and consider many-to- one and many-to-many communications. Because of the fact that advertising has been a one way street in the past – it makes a lot of sense to have “experts” on board who can guide the process from broadcasting only to becoming an engaged brand that is part of a community. But this means that change needs to happen on multiple levels: Culture, processes, roles/responsibilities, content/messages, etc… An experienced consultant can guide a brand through this transformation and prevent or at least minimize the risk of failure. I always apply a step-by-step approach for my clients which proved to be very effective:

  1. Listen first and gather insights and data via web-monitoring
  2. Build your strategy, define your goals and responsibilities
  3. Only then start being active by setting up your social media properties
  4. Move from broadcasting to conversation over time
  5. Adapt your activities to the needs of the community. Stay flexible and learn from your experiences or experiences of other industries.

Q: What does it mean to have several millions of fans on Facebook?

A: People trust their peers more than advertising. It is a different story to see or hear from a friend that he/she loves your brand or product than looking at your billboard or newspaper ad. Having millions of fans around you who obviously “like” you is extremely valuable because it means that they entered a permission-based relationship with you. Isn`t it great that today a brand can be in touch with millions of people on regular basis? And from my experience there are more and more people among those fans who are real customers! An analysis of the fan base of one of my clients from the fashion industry revealed that about 35% of their fans were actual customer card holders who participate in their customer loyalty programme. This is an additional and very personal communication channel. Every marketer should be really happy to have an opportunity like this! And that is the real power of social media- if you ask me.

Q: Why is it important to have global and local fanpages and can you differentiate their roles? How important is global/local content?

A: I´d like to compare a global presence to a lighthouse. It stands out and shines. It is where the brand sheds its light beyond borders where the global brand community hangs out and experiences the full spectrum of the brand`s values. It`s like an umbrella that covers the global brand community and brings people together from all over the world. People want to be part of something that is bigger than themselves and a global brand community provides a place for exactly that.

However, you can only go so far on a global level, because when it comes to sales or more specific product requirements there are huge differences across different countries. Not every model is available in each country, there is a difference in pricing and marketing and of course there are sometimes cultural barriers as well. The local presences of a brand needs to make sure that the brand is translated to the needs and set up of the local market place and it`s the local representative who caters to the needs of the local fanbase. The motto should be: Think Global. Act Local!

Q: How does the collaboration between HQ and local brand managers work best?

A: From my experience it makes a lot of sense that the HQ takes the lead in such global activities. Somebody has to create guidelines and a framework which allows a consistent brand appearance and communication across borders, but also enables local efforts which cater to the needs of the local customer/fan. It`s important to understand that there is technology involved that needs to be established centrally and shared with local partners. Think of web-monitoring solutions for example. It would be not very wise to establish local monitoring tools for every single market. At least it would be not the most efficient way. Other than that the HQ has to provide everything that makes the lives and work of their local colleagues easier, e.g. editioral plans, adaptable content, crisis management support, etc… And content is still king as we all know. Just because you have a strong brand behind you – it does not mean that people will stay with you. They expect great and relevant content on a regular basis. Looking at the local resources of some smaller markets this can become a big challenge. So HQ needs to create pools of great content that can be locally adapted and used. One last and very important thing is to allow knowledge exchange and to be a mediator between different  markets. For example pilot projects can be done within a smaller market and if successful they could be turned into a toolbox for other markets who can adapt the idea/campaign.

Q: Do you believe that user behavior differs between cultures? Do you have an example?

A: Of course! There is a big difference between users in the US and Germany for example. In the US many people are very active and talk online a lot. They share their love and passion and also their frustration with a brand or product. In general social media has become an integral part of the US culture. Walk through New York and you will see signs and badges everywhere encouraging people to follow a brand, to become a fan to check-in or to download an app or pay with their mobile device. Germany is a little bit behind like most of the other regions except Asia maybe. In Germany people are also a little bit more hesitant regarding actively commenting and publishing content. They will speak up when they really have to complain about something. In the past few weeks there have been multiple “shitstorms” on Facebook pages of big brands in Germany, e.g. Vodafone and Mc Donald`s. A single unsatisfied customers started an avalance of complains reaching hundreds of thousands of people online. Also content-wise there needs to be a filter. Think about religious backgrounds or other cultural that could cause problems, e.g. a white car is maybe not so popular in South Africa due to the history of the country – at least not in every part of the country. I think it´s clear what I want to say. We need to be sensitive as marketers and make sure that our content fits the local communities.

Q: How can HQ support local efforts and help achieving higher engagement on a regional level?

A: I mentioned before that one big thing could be to provide the technology and tools needed to run a local brand community. It makes sense to have global licence agreements with service providers and just allow local colleagues to use these tools for their work. A positive side effect is that there wil be full transparency in terms of insights and data which can be used for management reports and presentations. Content is definitely crucial for successful local activities because in most cases it cannot be easily produced locally – at least not with the given resources and capacities. Also it makes sense to be the trendscout as HQ which makes sure that the latest trends are on the map and filtered. Look at Pinterest for example. It is currently one of the hottest startups in the social media space and a great platform for brand communication activities. But does this mean that every local market needs to build a presence and become active there? Certainly not! HQ needs to inform about the latest trends and provide information and a framework for a consistent approach. Last, but not least HQ must provide trainings and information which allows the local staff to thrive. Think about how to-guides about successful community management, dos and don`ts of content marketing, golden rules of crisis management, etc…. Every colleague involved in social media management has to become a an expert and have a deep understanding of these topics – no matter if he/she is acting him/herself or with the help of specialized agencies.

Q: What does a globally consistent communitcation strategy within social media mean to you?

A: It means to me nothing more or less than consistent communication in all other media or touch points. Eveything communicates! No matter – if you call the customer service or post on a facebook wall – you have to make sure that the brand experience is always the same. The basics for a consistent communication within social networks would be:

  • CI/CD: Consistent brand appearance in form of profice pictures, cover pictures, graphics, etc.
  • Tonality: Same communication style and wording.
  • Netiquette: Same rules of engagement, e.g. availability, secrets, etc.
  • Content: Content quality and formats are the same across borders, e.g. same URL-shortener, same tools/platforms (youtube for video).

I think it is very clear that it`s all about providing a consistent brand experience on- and offline!

Q: What do you recommend for the future of Automotive social media activities?

A: I believe that by now everybody has understood that the world is changing. And especially conservative industries should have seen the impact of social media on communication and the way people consume media. What needs to happen next is that we have to move forward and become part of the brand communities out there. We have to live within them and make them part of our daily business! And when I say that I mean that it`s not only about looking good on the surface, but digging deeper into it. Most of the brands have successfully established accounts and profiles and have gathered huge audiences around them. Now it`s time to “work” with them and find new ways to serve customers better, to build better products and provide the best service ever. It`s time to connect the dots in order to maximize the value we provide to our customers. Life is complex in many ways and I believe that the latest (social) technologies can help simplify life again. At least some aspects of it. We just need to listen more and learn from the communities around us.

Q: Anything else you want to say at the end of this interview?

A: I want to encourage organizations to trust in their people and communities more. It´s time to break down the walls and allow more human connections to happen. We have the opportunity to build real relationships with our customers beyond the face-to-face contact at a car dealership for example. And this is the most beautiful part of our work today. We can go beyond spending stupid marketing dollars to disturb as many people as possible and be there to serve them when and where they need us by applying the advanced social technologies available. Let`s move forward into the age of people centric organizations based on social technlogies. Let`s build more social enterprises!

You can listen to the full version of the original audio recording of the interview here.

If you`re specifically interested in how social media can help you sell cars – I would like to share the following two videos and reports with some helpful advice and actionable steps:

  1. How Automotive Dealers can use social media
  2. How Social Media sells cars
  3. Connecting the Car: 3 years in Social Media and the Automotive industry

I hope you found some value in this post and please feel free to share your points with us in the comments. What experiences have you made in managing global accounts?

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