Why Facebook Isn't Screwed When It Comes to Auto Marketing

A Guide For Those Who Sell Cars or Buy Facebook Stock

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Yesterday, the U.S. news media sent a powerful message to the world -- General Motors is pulling its entire Facebook ad spend and going to tune out more than 900 million users of the network to focus on the fan base that they can message for free. The headline of the day was that Facebook is not as effective an advertising vehicle to drive messaging as it had originally been deemed by GM.

Considering the size of the audience and the frequency in which they engage, it seems hard to believe GM is going to prematurely and permanently check out from the social network's paid marketing. But rather than amaze you with my ability to create charts and infographics worthy of your newsfeed, I've elected to focus on the factors that would lead to a marketer's decision to discontinue buying Facebook ads -- and the things that are critical to understand if they want to stay and get it right.

Facebook marketing for a big brand is hard. It's even harder in a category like auto, when success and sales come from a well-connected network of dealers who have perfected the art of selling and luring generations of buyers to take test drives. Legacy practices, partners' CRM and brand tracking, backed by a billion-dollar ad budget, tend to create an organization that can prove results based on what it wants to. But the impact and variability of creativity is hard to measure and almost impossible to attribute to any single channel in a sure-fire manner. The real questions we should be asking ourselves, before we blame Facebook for GM's marketing effectiveness, are were they doing it right and were they measuring it right?

Auto will be a big spending category for Facebook if marketers can get it right. The silos with the walls of auto are strong. However, I have confidence that a marketer can break through and turn the opportunity into a powerful company-wide marketing advantage. Here are the areas in which Facebook should see big advertising spend from auto marketers who get it right.

Brand Marketing: A casting call for great content Companies like General Motors spend billions each decade on brand marketing. TV, sponsorships, street teams, radio, digital and outdoor are all part of the "marketing mix." The wrong content or idea, across any of these media, renders them ineffective (and can amplify failure). However, the right concept, properly executed on Facebook, sees ad dollars amplify success. The too often cited Old Spice campaign is an example of how Facebook and social media can amplify marketing value, if the right high-quality content is present. Great content spreads faster with ad spend -- no infographic required.

The real money for Facebook is at the dealer level. This year, we launched a powerful new technology to help corporate marketers activate their dealers or franchisees at the local level. Why? Successful social marketing, for categories like auto, is local because sales are local. How the dealer and the local salesperson promote themselves and interact with their local community will become a competitive advantage to the companies who get it right. Local dealers and dealer groups alike should be spending money on locally targeted advertising to drive local relationships, events and test drives. This should be a massive part of the local marketing mix and represent significant global spending.

Loyalty and social CRM are not #FREE When a brand publishes a story to its fans and followers on Facebook, it reaches a subset of that audience. The size of the subset depends on the level of engagement that the community experiences. To reach everyone with an optimal frequency, you need to spend ad dollars to amplify your message and leverage the social graph. You would never run an email CRM campaign to reach only a subset of your database, so why would you do that on social?

Measurement is key. Ok, so now you know what to do, how are we going to measure these tactics and hold both Facebook and your agencies accountable, you ask?

Brand Marketing: It's not about clicks. It's about developing measures (which we have) that understand and track the reach, frequency and impact of the message across Facebook and social media. Paid media needs to drive this as sharing spreads the content and increases the marketing ROI, provided it is good. If the content sucks, don't expect anyone to share it and the amplification opportunity is lost. Even worse, if you are not engaging your fans, they will also be lost.

Dealer: Once you give the dealers technology and content, understanding metrics -- ranging from test drive requests to event attendance -- become easier. This can all be tracked and contained in a central dashboard.

Loyalty: Facebook will only be one part of a loyalty platform. Product quality, service and dealer experience, among many other factors, all play into effectiveness. Survey- based research can help brands like GM understand how much more fans spend on their favorite brands than do non-fans.

Remember, even though Facebook's IPO is looming, it's very early in the game. The stock will go up and down. Facebook will adapt and shift based on what is working and what isn't. It will launch new products, some of which will work, others that won't. At the end of the day, it remains important for every CMO to understand Facebook and to think and act holistically, by having an effective paid and earned media strategy for the web platform that hosts 900-plus million people. In the words from our past: Don't blame the channel, blame the message.

Michael Scissons is president-CEO of Syncapse, a full-service social-technology company that helps advertisers build, manage and measure their connections with consumers in the digital landscape. Find him online at @scissons
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