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Are automotive marketers playing social media war games?

While the latest move by GM to withdraw advertising from Facebook before its IPO is a business decision, it also reflects far more than just advertising dollars - increasing attempts to control and dominate the social media agenda.

Think about all those social media commentaries which now use political-like tactics, especially as they challenge auto journalists, including commentaries on what is expressed in automotive opinion pieces and reviews. At risk is freedom of reporting and expression. Then ask yourself how free was that last writer who wrote a positive piece ad nauseum on some new luxury model, especially after they may have been perked at OEM marketing expense. Suddenly you get the drift: Someone is attempting to control the automotive social media agenda.

There are at least three types of journalistic pieces within the auto world today. They include: news, reviews and news/opinion pieces; and all are under close scrutiny these days by automakers as they attempt to control their marketing messages. While a news release is hard to revise, reviews and opinion pieces about a news release and a product are loose cannons in the minds of auto marketers.

Whether it is GM, Ford, Toyota, Fiat-Chrysler, or any other auto corporate entity, control over corporate and brand marketing messages, is a fiduciary right. However, I’m finding more and more that the game is changing fast, as automakers with their newfound power of social media teams and departments attempt to control social media thinking itself, by permeating their own marketing messages at every article, blog, post and forum that challenges their message. In the early email days, that was called blasting.

It is not wrong to monitor or respond to correct inaccuracies. However there is a bold line that is being crossed which places auto writers and their employers in precarious positions. Especially at risk is truth and freedom within auto reviews due to increasing comments which use anonymity to hide personal attacks to reestablish the marketing message agenda.

War by Other Means

War by other means is still war; and pressure, regardless of the type is still pressure. And nowhere has that kind of war and pressure been honed better than with the Japanese automakers and their Kaizan friends, who practiced business in such a way that it would have resembled the best of any Pentagon and covert CIA plans.

Nonetheless, do not be fooled into thinking the American automotive OEM marketing machines do not have their own set of war plans. With the advent of the new freedoms of expression via the social media outlets, companies have now waged their own form of battle plans for control of the social media itself.

While advertising is a powerful tool, I have been deeply suspicious for well over a year now that these same teams of marketing types which create social media messages are now infiltrating the web deeper to attack, challenge and through both subtle and not so subtle manipulation of words ultimately control what is written in reviews, blogs, forums and those comment boxes at the bottom of most article sites. The battle lines drawn compare now to religious and political sides, where zealotry or a paycheck overrides respect for a different viewpoint.

Freedom of speech and expression is a precious commodity in American culture that is has been under attack in just about every venue. That is why I never delete them. However, with the creation of the social media, the arena has now become an open pool whereby the public has grabbed power from the traditional journalistic power entities. It’s easy, for example, for automotive marketers to control a few traditional journalistic entities via advertising dollars; not so easy with social media especially as long as they remain truly open and free; and that is about to change as well.

Truth is, while it is now open for the public to have their say on social media sites, it also brings out the marketing tacticians to take back control of the messages; and that is precisely what I’m finding as I peruse articles, write opinion pieces and interact with readers via email.

Of course, nowhere is the act of message control more prevalent than in politics. Control the discussion and they (whoever they may be) control the message, and any opposing message gets trashed by belittlement, overtalking, overwriting, attacking without real substance. The latest, though, is to state that anyone who does not think according to someone’s Hoyle is unAmerican, or not part of some journalistic club, like the auto review circle. In this regard I refer now to auto reviews, especially opinions that challenge the marketing messages within news releases.

I expect a news release to provide information. I understand the drive towards hype, but it gets overdone sometimes, especially when facts and statistics are given more weight than their numbers really prove. Of course, if you challenge that then you become subject to open ridicule. Question is, by whom?

Now notice how rude people have become on Facebook and other social media sites. They will write whatever comes to mind with so much hatred and insult, and where allowed, more often hiding behind false names and identifications so as to remain anonymous. They will get in your written face without having to get in your face where you might punch out their lights.

Behind the Attack of the Marketing Machines

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