How Social Media Has Changed The Automobile Industry

Simon Davies

Cars have changed a lot since the Ford Model T first rolled onto the market. But along with the vehicles themselves, the way the automobile industry sells cars has changed too, and it’s largely thanks to social media. Social media has completely transformed the conventions of car sales in many ways. Here are just a few of them.

Social media marketing for cars is now essential to attract buyers

Car manufacturers have traditionally relied on flashy television advertisements to promote their brands. But with the ever-changing media landscape shifting into social media, this all looks set to change.

A mass of research data, compiled into one article by V12 Data, revealed a number of insights into why car sales are now so reliant on social media. First, 84% of automobile buyers are on Facebook, and 66% of car buyers or owners who saw a Facebook ad clicked on it. That’s a 100% increase on 2014’s figure, meaning that car buyers’ interactions with Facebook advertisements are growing fast.

If the willingness of car shoppers to click on Facebook ads sounds unusually high, that’s because it is. A study from Unified found that Facebook adverts for cars are twice as likely to be clicked than other ads on the platform.

Those shopping for cars don’t just sit back and wait to be bombarded with ads, either. They actively seek out information on cars on the Internet. Three-quarters of car buyers surveyed said they used the Internet, including social media, to help them choose a dealership to visit. Half of car buyers said they visited only one dealership before buying.

With figures like these emerging from several different studies, any car dealership or manufacturer that is not using social media marketing is likely doing considerable harm to their business prospects.

Cars are now more about appearance than ever

The look of a car has always been an important buying factor, but the growth of social media has made it more crucial than ever.

Several of the most popular social networks place emphasis on users sharing images. Unsurprisingly, cars frequently pop up in these images. Instagram, in particular, is as crowded with cars as an airport car park.

Instagram users, especially wealthy ones, are keen to post pictures of their cars online to garner as many “likes” as they can. Browse the accounts of the so-called “Rich Kids Of Instagram,” and you will see many images of young car owners either driving or simply sitting on their new car purchases – often Porsches, Ferraris, and Bentleys.

One particular Instagram Rich Kid, Jack Watkin, amassed a car collection worth £1.7 million after having his driving license for just a month. The fleet includes two Bentleys, two Mercedes-Benzes, one Rolls-Royce, one Porsche, and one Range Rover, all of which have seen more mileage on social media than they have on the road.

This fondness of photographing their vehicles comes with a love of customizing them. Luxuries like custom number plates, rims, and elaborate paint jobs are increasingly popular ways for Insta-fans to put their personal stamps on their new rides.

Now car brands are using social media to reach their target market directly. Audi’s Instagram page, for example, is full of original visual content portraying the beauty of its vehicles that reassure potential rich-kid buyers that their Audi purchases would look good on their favorite image-sharing platform. The page has garnered 7.4 million followers, each one of whom has the potential to become a loyal customer.

The car buying process has moved online

Social media in the automotive industry is about far more than just attracting customers by placing adverts and aping their Instagram habits. In fact, increasingly the entire car-buying process takes place over social media.

Late last year, one driver bought an £825,000 Aston Martin DB5 over a social media app called Vero. Vero is a next-generation social network with the slogan “True Social.” Its primary goal is officially to “make online sharing more like real life,” though judging by this transaction, its true strength may lie in high-value automobile sales.

It’s not just newer social networks that are hawking car dealers’ wares. Facebook’s Marketplace feature allows users to buy and sell products from their local areas including, you guessed it, cars.

Less formal car sales are also taking place online between brands and social network users. Recently, Spanish driver Raul Escolano used the hashtag “#compraruncocheportwitter” (translation: ‘#buyacarontwitter’) to challenge car manufacturers to sell him a vehicle over the social network. Nissan took up his challenge and Escolano became the proud owner of a Nissan X-Trail.

Reporting on the story, Verge said: “Given how awful car purchasing experiences can be, this probably won’t be the last car sold on a social network.” It also suggested that any online expertise will be highly advantageous to car manufacturers and dealers going forward. Based on what we’ve seen, they are not mistaken.

For more on motivating shoppers, see Primed: Prompting Customers to Buy.


About Simon Davies

Simon Davies is a London-based freelance writer with an interest in startup culture, issues, and solutions. He works explores new markets and disruptive technologies and communicates those recent developments to a wide, public audience. Simon is also a contributor at socialbarrel.com, socialnomics.net, and tech.co. Follow Simon @simontheodavies on Twitter.