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As social media evolves, it increasingly means companies do not start conversations about themselves — individual consumers do, and they may not take kindly to the companies getting involved in those conversations. That dynamic is forcing change upon corporate marketing arms, even at companies that are used to being talked about.
One such company is BMW. The high-profile luxury car company has 14 million followers on Facebook, posting more than a quarter million times a day. Someone tweets about BMW every seven seconds. More than 2 million pictures of BMWs have been posted on Instagram.
“Those are very impressive figures, and give us the feeling that, wow, we’re very successful at this and do everything right!” jokes Wolfgang Breyer, BMW’s head of international advertising, online communication and social media. The catch? Clicks and figures aren’t what social media is about — and Breyer knows it.
The burning question for a company, Breyer says, has to be, “What is their worth? What impact do clicks and figures have on people’s behavior and attitude towards the brand?” And, of course — does it help sell products? Car buyers generally do intensive research before purchasing a car, and the opinions of other consumers matter a great deal.
The challenge for a company like BMW is that it does not shape these conversations and posts. When consumers talk about what they like or dislike about a product, it’s usually a direct, word-of-mouth discussion — and even online, it happens away from corporate sites or fan pages. Such conversations may have little to do with, or even contradict, a company’s official messaging.
Many companies try to monitor these conversations and engage where they can, but it’s a process fraught with potential for missteps, especially if the company appears intrusive. When consumers communicate, Breyer says, “they are not just telling marketing blah blah; there is substance with it.” He also notes that BMW aims to make sure its communications feel genuine.
But when it comes to communicating with customers, new technologies like microvideo and mobile sharing present entirely new use cases.
BMW wants to learn more about them, so it is planning an experiment in consumer-to-consumer marketing to see what happens when it tries to shape some conversations about it in the mobile environment.