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AutoTrader’s Social Media Survey is a Total Sham

They say that if you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything. In the case of AutoTrader’s recent “study” about car shopping habits, it’s not just a matter of torturing the data. It’s about coercing the study to produce a result that puts into a negative light the biggest threat to their core business model.

In a recent post on Automotive News, the advertising giant determined that a mere “1 percent of car buyers use social sites to shop for a vehicle.” Seriously? You needed to pay for a study to determine that Americans are not complete morons? I’m actually pretty shocked that as many as 1% of people would go to social media sites with the intention of shopping for a car there. It’s more likely that a handful of the 1900 people surveyed either misread the question or filled out a false response in order to be obtuse. Nobody goes to social media sites to shop for a vehicle.

That’s not the point of social media marketing. It’s much more like television – people go to social media sites when they’re in entertainment mode. If you were to survey the same people and ask them whether they turn on the television to shop for a vehicle, the numbers would probably be about the same. Nobody says, “Hmmm, we really need to shop for a vehicle today. Let’s turn on the television!” By AutoTrader’s reckoning, social media and television are worthless when it comes to advertising vehicles.

Of course, their actions do not match their study. They spend a ton of money on television, NASCAR sponsorships, and yes, even social media. Their recent MyCarMyWay campaign was advertised heavily on social media and even starred “Overly Attached Girlfriend”, a young lady whose meme turned her into a social media celebrity.

Social media marketing, just like television, is all about reaching people intending to buy a vehicle with a message that can compel them to visit the dealership online or in person. Nobody shops on social media. They go there to be entertained, to see what’s happening in the lives of their friends and family, and to share their own experiences. However, the cost to advertise on social media is extremely low while the hyper-targeting abilities of the medium allow dealers to focus their budget specifically on people who want to buy a particular make or model in the near future.

Look, I totally understand why AutoTrader is doing this. They have seen savvy dealers shifting their budgets away from the extremely pricy advertising methods that they sell (presumably at a nice margin considering how much money they sink into social media, television, NASCAR promotions, and dozens of other forms of advertising that they consider to be worthless) and pointing those dollars to social media campaigns that yield a higher return on investment. However, if they had put the same time and effort into developing a strong social media solution that they put into their bogus study, they would have been in a better place than trying to defend themselves in comments across the web from people who saw through their subterfuge.


How are you using SM to incorporate and push your inventory?

How open is your GM and DP to using SM to brand your dealership – not, think it will instantly sell 10 more vehicles per month?

JD Rucker is the Founder of Dealer Authority, an automotive digital marketing agency specializing in social media, search, and content marketing. A ve...