As General Motors pulls back on its Facebook presence
, at least
in terms of advertising, and Ford pushes ahead full throttle, Nissan continues to weigh the best approach.
"You don't necessarily want to be diving into the deep end on something as murky as social media," says Ehrich Marx, Nissan's director of interactive and
social media marketing. "We're going to play in a responsible, reasonable way."
That's why Nissan is keeping its social media budget relatively modest for a major automaker—less than $500,000—while remaining aware of what Marx calls
the "COI," or cost of ignoring. The company's approach, which includes unveiling five new car models over the next year in a campaign that includes a
strong social component, is working well so far.
At the moment, Nissan's top brass is more interested in "interaction, not transaction" from its social media efforts, Marx says. They know that the
connection between social media and sales numbers is not as direct as the old way of communicating.
"The business model for 100 years has been for big corporations to talk at the customers," Marx says. "If the brands are ignoring the fact that they are
being talked about and evaluated, you lose control of your brand at a much faster rate."
Even if individual platforms such as Facebook and Twitter disappear in a few years, customer attitudes have changed permanently, he says.
"Customers now expect and want to have a relationship with a brand," Marx says. "They don't just want to be an owner; they want to be a participant."
That said, Nissan isn't going to throw everything it has behind media that aren't tested.
"It's still a bit of the Wild West, as far as what social media is and what it can offer to a brand," he says. "If I went to [top executives] and said I
want to double my budget next year, believe me, the ROI conversation would arise."
A yearlong plan
Starting this month, Nissan is celebrating a "year of innovation" in which it will unveil five completely redesigned models of its cars. Though social
media "is not the lead media" for the launches, it is playing a pretty big role.
"Each model is going to have its own social media campaign," Marx says. Planning for the launches started last November, he says.
For example, the Altima's campaign has already started. In May, the brand asked its Facebook fans to write a
100-word essay explaining why they should get a test drive of the 2013 Altima. Why start on Facebook?
"You've got to go where the eyeballs are," he says. "It dwarfs any other platform that we could look to."
Including its various model pages, Nissan has a total of about 1.4 million fans. Marx said he didn't know offhand how many people entered the essay
The company selected five drivers, took them to a test track and videoed their experiences. So far, two of those videos have gone up on YouTube. In one, a driver proposed to his girlfriend on the test track immediately after the drive. The other features a serviceman set to be deployed to Afghanistan this year.
The video with the proposal got more than 100,000 views in just five days, and the one with the military couple is nearing 80,000.
In a video that's yet to go up, Nissan gives one driver who is also a rapper the chance to shine.
"We gave him an opportunity to make a highly produced rap video," Marx says. "He was blown away."
A campaign for the Sentra focused on college football starts later this summer, and one for the Pathfinder is already in the early stages.
A through-line for the whole campaign will be the soon-to-launch Innovation Garage, an online forum where Nissan fans can pitch ideas for new gadgets or
"We're going to invite our fans to come back to us with ways they innovate in their lives," Marx says. "We're going to celebrate innovation."
Nissan could back some fan ideas to make them into realities, he says. "We're still putting together the details on that."
Marx says Nissan's going to be looking at two things once the year of innovation is over: growth and engagement rates. The company is looking to improve
"like" counts on its specific model pages, but it isn't seeking that alone.
"Growth is easy," Marx says. "All you've got to do is run a sweepstakes, and you'll double your community size, but we all know the vast majority of those
people actually won't have anything to do with the brand in the long run. The key is engagement."
With growth, the brand will be looking for comments, shares, and "likes."
Three phases of social space
Nissan's Ehrich Marx says he sees three main areas of using social media for a brand:
"We're doing very well in what I call phase one," Marx says. "Just being a cool brand to hang out with."
2. Social customer relationship management/issue resolution.
Rather than simply answering complaints, you should ask customers what
they need, Marx says. "Show them that it's more than just a sale and
3. Research. Lots of brands are "still very analog" in how they
measure customer sentiment, Marx says. Social media offers a large,
educated audience to learn from.
"How can we harness the passion and energy of almost 2 million people
who have raised their hands?" he asks.
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.