GM Is Back On Facebook, But Is It To Make Fans?

So General Motors is back on Facebook. Less than one year after its very public split from Facebook, right before the social network’s initial public offering, the old-school advertising behemoth is back and is looking to Facebook — specifically Facebook mobile — to help add luster to the launch of its new Chevrolet Sonic, aimed at young people. So why? And why now? What’s changed since May 2012? Has GM adjusted its opinion of the potential of Facebook as an advertising vehicle? Or has Facebook learned from the experience and figured out how to sell its advertising story to brands with deep pockets like GM?

Well, it’s both. And here’s why.

Recent history has seen GM struggling to connect with its consumers. The company’s previous chief marketing officer, Joel Ewanick, was specifically tasked with rebuilding loyalty and affection with its consumers in America and around the world — in essence, building community. But community building isn’t in GM’s DNA. Remember in the 1980s, when GM launched Saturn, “a different kind of car company?” Saturn quickly became popular with buyers, but not with GM itself, and it was shuttered in 2009 despite a thriving community of owners. And in May 2012, it walked away from the one place where community reigns supreme: Facebook.

But now GM is back. And we should ask: Is it because GM now wants to tap the power of the Facebook social community? To build an active fan base of engaged consumers? I would really like to hope so, but I don’t think it is. At least not yet.  Instead, I believe GM is simply acknowledging that Facebook owns the people it wants to reach, and it plans to take up residence in the mobile News Feed with the message it wants to convey to those people. Just as advertisers favor billboards in boomtowns versus ghost towns, GM is following the audience to Facebook — specifically, Facebook mobile. It’s simply going where its consumers can be found.

But Facebook had a huge audience back in May 2012, too, so what changed? Today, Facebook has more sophisticated and attractive advertising options available than it did one year ago — options that follow more traditional digital advertising approaches, like retargeting based on browsing and purchasing history. Plus, Facebook has a much broader range of social and mobile-optimized ad units than it had last year, as well as a far superior mobile application, now optimized for both iOS and Android. Facebook Exchange offers highly targeted promotions right in users’ News Feeds, both on desktop and on mobile. These promotions will increase the likelihood of users seeing and clicking on more ads. Now this is the kind of advertising GM understands. This is the kind of advertising it can get behind.

As a brand, GM is the kind of old-school, “one-to-many” advertiser that can find it so hard to get behind building social communities that foster innovative, creative, “word-of-mouth” marketing so beautifully suited to Facebook. Instead, it’s looking for targeting, for scale, for click-through rates, and for conversion. It’s what GM knows. It’s what the automaker is used to. And Facebook now has the products GM can understand.

Which leaves social community-driven marketing to the more innovative brands: Where large brands like GM feel comfortable with advertising systems they understand, community-focused brands are comfortable trying innovative ways to connect with their consumers. From car brands like the Mini Cooper, to craft breweries like New Belgium Brewing, and clothing manufacturers like SmartWool, social-savvy brands are selling community passion as much as they are selling cars, beer, and outdoor clothing. These are brands that want to hear from their consumers, that want to share their consumers’ stories, and that want to encourage their consumers to participate in marketing the brand. You just have to look at GM’s presence on Facebook to see that, as a brand, GM, has still got a way to go to figure this out.

But I sincerely hope it does figure it out. Because until then, instead of starting to build the community, passion, love, and loyalty that Ewanick was tasked with building, it’ll be all about traditional, inherently unsocial, one-to-many advertising. I guess the good news is that it’s all up from here.

Roger Katz founded Friend2Friend in 2006, with a powerful conviction that the social graph of Facebook was an incredible opportunity for brands and products to ignite true “word-of-mouth” marketing online. Since then, he has led the company to increased profitability year over year, while establishing it in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Barcelona, Spain. He has focused his company’s efforts on finding solutions that meet the social media marketing challenges facing brands and agencies today — building scalable technology solutions that can still be customized — and has since built solutions that go beyond Facebook to include YouTube, Twitter, and mobile platforms.

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