How to suck at social – what Tesla, Ford, and Honda can tell you about social engagement

Most businesses feel the need to ”be on social”, but how do you measure the outcome and is that a channel you should prioritize? We took a look at a number of big and small car brands in the US to gain some insight into what works, and what doesn't.

For most consumer brands, and also some B2B brands, it seems inevitable to have a presence in social channels. While some of these have been successful, many don't perceive that they don't get the traction they want. With organic reach on networks like Facebook is racing towards zero, paying for reach is the only option for many.

We wanted to see if there are some insights to be gained from looking at a number of brands and their Facebook presence, and in order to do a fair comparison we chose car brands in the US.

There are many different ways to measure social. A good one is measuring the applause rate (likes per post), conversation rate (comments per post) and amplification rate (shares per post), as initially explained by Avinash Kaushik, and later updated here.

We looked at 10 car brands, big and small, and reviewed their latest Facebook posts. We also wanted to see how big their possible audience, and we chose to compare their engagement numbers with the number of cars they sell each year in the US.

What are the results?

The brand that performed best is Tesla – which isn't all that surprising given that they have a very active fan base of both customers and yet-to-be customers. Also, in Elon Musk they have a charismatic (and in many ways brilliant) leader, and they appear as a very value-driven company.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ford, which obviously sells a huge number of cars, but doesn't seem to have a very engaged customer base. This also makes sense – a brand that caters to a very large audience will often be less differentiated (and opinionated) than niche brands.

What did surprise us is that Honda came out pretty good, being a fairly big brand but still having an engaged customer base. What you should remember, though, is that we assume that most of these posts have been promoted, so it's not just organic reach we measure.

What does it mean for you?

Looking at this data, we can draw at least one conclusion. If your customers’ brand affinity is high (see brand affinity vs. brand loyalty at Quora), it most likely make sense for you to engage with your customers in social channels (and in particular those that encourage two-way communication like Facebook, compared to the more publishing-like platforms like Twitter).

If your brand affinity isn’t high, you are faced with two options: either try to change that, or prioritize other channels than social. Also, brands that are now successful on social tap into new social networks that haven't yet been fully monetized (or well understood by competitors).

In closing, being ”on social” is not a strategy in itself. Yes, social channels can be important both for organic and paid outreach, but you need to figure out whether it makes sense for your brand and your audience.