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MySpace the Place for Some Dealers

The growth of online social networking has been phenomenal. Worldwide, there are 122 million users, 70 million of them in the U.S.

TAMPA – Despite popular misconceptions, the average age of someone with a Web page is not 12. It is 31, a demographically attractive age to automotive marketers.

“This is your market,” Larry Bruce, president of marketing firm AIMData, tells dealers at the Ward’s Automotive Spring Training Conference presented by Autobytel here.

More and more marketers are looking to online social networking sites as places to advertise, especially to targeted audiences.

There are about 240 such sites, including MySpace, MyFace, FriendWise, FriendFinder, Yahoo! 360, Facebook, Orkut and Classmates. Individual users build their own pages filled with personal information and profiles, but prime space is reserved for ads.

The growth of social networking has been phenomenal. Worldwide, there are 122 million users, 70 million of them in the U.S.

“Those numbers didn’t exist four-five years ago,” says Michael Barrett, executive vice president of Fox Interactive Media, a News Corp. division that runs MySpace.

Some executives at Fox Interactive were skeptical when MySpace was acquired in 2005, he says. “It was first thought of as a wasteland of teens.”

But doubts soon disappeared. “There has been huge traction and a huge interest by marketers,” Barrett says. “It’s not just for kids. Moms and dads are in their own network. You can’t reach 70 million people without spanning demographics.”

Social networkers check out each other’s profiles, upload photos, read comments and post them. Marketers hope they also are checking out adjacent ads.

“The information they are posting creates fertile territory for marketing,” Barrett says.

For instance, social networks of vehicle enthusiasts are a no-brainer for ads from auto makers, virtually all of which have a presence on MySpace. So do many dealers, with varying degrees of success.

“There are thousands of dealers involved in social networks, but it is unorganized for the most part and not terribly well done after the initial effort,” Barrett says.

He emphasizes the need for fresh content. “You are not doing social networking if you are not alive and active.”

Bruce recommends dealerships set up social-network Web pages as a way to garner leads.

One way for a car dealership to draw people to its own social-network site is to offer a section where consumers rate the store, Bruce says. That presumes customer-satisfaction levels are high to avoid getting rapped by discontents.

“People are talking about their dealership purchase experiences on places like MySpace and FaceBook,” says Famous Rhodes, director-parts and accessories for eBay Motors.

He predicts such websites will play a bigger role in vehicle-sales and dealership referrals.

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