Friday, February 12, 2010

A Billion Good Reasons for Social Media

Recipe for Disaster
The general consensus at the New York Times seems to be that post-bankruptcy General Motors must develop new and inexpensive ways to gain supporters. And rather than doing the same old things in the same old ways—which turned out to be Detroit’s recipe for disaster—they must become innovators in the global automotive market. They must continue to make the hard choices when it comes to their products and employees, but they must also get the word out to the motoring public in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Advertising on a Shoestring
The days of million-dollar media buys are over for GM. At least, they are while I’m in charge, and until they pay back that thirty billion, I definitely intend to have my say. The car-buyers of today are a different breed, and GM must change with the times if they are to survive. In light of this new reality, it appears that the General Motors Corporation is embracing social media as one tool in its bag as it explores different ways to keep its potential customers informed.

Blogging for Motorists
Blogging is one good example. GM has seven official blogs, all of which can be found at They are well-done, professional affairs written by a variety of General Motors executives and employees. The blog I explored in-depth—the Fastlane—used many of the methodologies espoused by John Blossom in Content Nation and by Safko and Brake in The Social Media Bible. Thus there were plenty of internally-linked photos, links to videos and podcasts, a scheduled webchat, short, well-written text blocks, and a good measure of interaction with the site’s 2059 registered readers.

Another medium that GM seems to be successfully employing is Facebook. Once I arrived at the GM Facebook page, the first thing I noticed was that they had over 112,000 fans at the site. This may not be an impressive number to General Motors, but it certainly got my attention. In addition to a selection of posts from GM executives and employees, there were videos, fan videos, over 1000 fan photos, a well-used discussion board, and a Chevrolet Volt naming contest. In all, it seemed to be a successful site with plenty of interactivity.

After viewing the Facebook page, I clicked over to GM’s Twitter page for a look. They listed over 13,000 followers and have sent over 4000 Tweets since they began using the service. On the day I checked it out, there were over 6900 active followers waiting for the next Tweet, and there had been 20 Tweets during the previous 24 hours. As you might assume, GM uses Twitter to disseminate news about its products and services, and they appear to employ several full-time Tweeters.

Other Sites
In addition to these main sites, General Motors also posts on Flickr, Posterous, MySpace, and of course, on their own website. At first glance, all of this activity looks promising. GM appears to be making the right moves at the right times, and their message seems to be getting out to the right people. But one of the problems with teaching old dogs new tricks is that, in the end, old dogs are still old dogs. All of the sites and posts I explored were exceptionally well-done, as if a large, multi-layered corporate media department had done them.

Staying the Course
No, there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as GM is able to stay focused on the fact that they’re in a new ballgame now. They were once the world's largest automaker, and for most of my life they were one of the top ten financial entities anywhere, ahead of such notables as General Electric, IBM, and The Soviet Union. The year before they crashed and burned, GM’s advertising budget was 1.3 billion dollars. That’s billion with a B. The year before that, it was 1.5 billion.

The thing is, I would hate to see them backslide. And maybe they won’t. But old habits die hard, and if GM’s social media efforts are carried out by the same people in the same departments with the same mindset as the folks who spent 1.5 billion dollars in 2005 on the way to losing over 8 billion dollars that same year, you have to wonder how long they can remain born-again. I may never get my $30 billion back.

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting concept. I wonder how social media has affect overall advertising budgets -- and people's jobs? Do corporations like GM really need large PR and marketing departments these days? Or are they streamlining these departments in favor of utilizing people more versed in social media? Definitely seems that will be the way of the future.