Nissan's New Head of Social Media on How Not to Sell Cars on Twitter

Company Veteran Says It's About Building an Enthusiast Community

By Published on .

Erich Marx
Erich Marx

In July, Erich Marx will celebrate his 20th anniversary at Nissan North America. That means he's been working at the car maker since before computers became a way of life, before email and way, way before Facebook, a platform that is a major part of his new job, which he started April 1, as director of social media and interactive marketing.

This is a parallel move for Mr. Marx, who for the past three years functioned as the director of marketing communications, a position that covered all marketing, including social media. With his role solely dedicated to social media, Nissan is saying that digital is not only a sidekick to traditional media, but that it's here to stay and it deserves its full, undivided attention.

Ad Age : What was it like working at Nissan 20 years ago?

Erich Marx: Only the top execs and senior managers had computers and the irony was that they had no interest in them and didn't use them, some never turned them on. It was the kids like me who would sit at our bosses' desks and teach them how to email. Computers were not pervasive in business -- we used to hand-write memos. Now, here we are.

Ad Age : Are you nostalgic about those times?

Mr. Marx: No! Honestly, I'm fascinated with social media and where we're going. I can't wait for the next cool thing to be invented. I am not nostalgic for the times when i used to hand-write memos.

Ad Age : What is your goal this year in social media for Nissan?

Mr. Marx: Nissan has a number of big new product launches in 2012. The goal is to grow our online presence -- the number of followers on Twitter, the number of likes on Facebook. The goal is to grow those as big as possible so we have maximum opportunity to expose the new product. To date, Nissan has not done any sort of sweepstakes or contest where you are required to be a fan before you can enter -- we haven't done any gimmicks to get fans. We want to build our fan base that 's genuine and authentic, not to just grow the fan base for the sake of growing the fan base -- we want fans who are truly fans and truly engaged with us.

Ad Age : And what do you want to do with those fans?

Mr. Marx: We're using the community in many ways. For example, research -- it's almost like an online focus group of people who have a passion for the brand. We can use their input and apply it to future products. Also, to create Nissan evangelists -- people who like our brand, but take that to the next level. How do we stoke the passion in them?

Nissan Leaf
Nissan Leaf

Ad Age : What do you see as a good opportunity for engagement?

Mr. Marx: A big opportunity is our performance cars. Any news about the GT-R or 350Z, whenever we have news about those products, the engagement and the pass-along is double and triple what we get for our other cars. Our brand has a celebrated history in performance cars, and social media gives us a chance to amplify it to a broader community.

Ad Age : Do you ultimately want to sell more cars through social media?

Mr. Marx: It's not about selling vehicles tomorrow, it's not about a $179 lease on a Nissan car -- it's about building value so if we can offer our customers something that 's of interest or of value to them -- that 's a win.

Ad Age : So what do you offer your customers through social media?

Mr. Marx: Access -- it's information they're not necessarily going to get in magazines or traditional sources. Maybe a sneak peek or a behind the scenes glance. We recently did a feature called "Ask the Chairman" during which the head of Nissan Americas Carlos Tavares [COO of Renault, a Nissan sibling as of July 1] answered questions in video format, right off the top of his head. He's not just a great businessman, but he's a car enthusiast, so he can answer questions that a lot of people can't answer. We want to leverage that kind of expertise, so we went on Facebook and Twitter and said, "Hey, ask our chairman anything." We filmed his answers on the floor of the New York Auto show in April. He spoke directly to the consumers, unscripted, spontaneous and genuine -- we got a great response from that . More than 535,000 Facebook impressions on those videos. This kind of activity adds value and that 's what we want to bring to the social space.

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