Tesla’s successful marketing strategy shows that it’s time for CEOs to get social
Why is Elon Musk all over social? What lessons can be learned by auto manufacturers and CEOs when it comes to using social media effectively? Christophe Folschette, Talkwalker founder, shares his insights with you.
It’s no secret that the car has always been a status symbol. An extension of your character. Are you a BMW or an Audi person? Are you about fuel efficiency or speed? Are you trying to wow onlookers or are you trying to get your family from A to B?
Auto manufacturers have known this for years, with car marketing and branding always looking to reflect aspirational values. We’ve all seen the ad of the immaculately engineered car gliding effortlessly along an impossibly beautiful mountain road.
But as with many industries, the automotive industry is starting to experience the kind of disruption that is altering the status quo. BMW, Ford, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Toyota, and other big names are facing challenges from a new generation of electric and autonomous vehicles. From relatively new brands like Tesla to non-automotive brands like Google and Apple.
Data source: Twitter, July 23 - August 19, 2017.
With over 95% of vehicle shoppers now using digital channels to research cars, social media is pivotal. It’s a virtual showroom where we can see the latest products on the market, and what's on the horizon.
For the full report on Tesla, BMW, Toyota and over 20 other auto brands, take a look at our analysis of the automotive industry on social media, but here's my quick take on what Tesla, in particular, are doing right.
Tesla – The social media darling of the car industry
There are many facets of our report that merit discussion, but to me, the most fascinating is the incredible strength of Tesla from a social media marketing perspective. It's a brand founded just 15 years ago, makes little money compared to auto giants, yet on social media, it's in the top 3 – outperforming Volkswagen, Ford and Toyota.
We’ve done a great deal of industry social media analyses in our time and as a general rule, bigger companies tend to outperform their smaller rivals. There are exceptions of course, but for a company that is almost 30 times smaller than its rivals to perform so well is almost unheard of.
Below is a graph showing the total mentions across social channels of 29 of the world’s biggest car brands:
So how do they do it?
Elon Musk – The ultimate social Media CEO?
There’s still some hesitancy from CEOs when using social media, but Elon Musk doesn’t fit into that category. I'd go so far as to say that Musk’s public popularity has a greater impact on his company than any other business leader.
Only Bill Gates with 38m+ followers can overcome Musk’s 12.5 million on Twitter, but it’s more than just his “numbers”.
Musk likes to get personal on social media. Talking about his new business ideas during his drive home, to live tweeting rocket launches. He gives an inside view of what he cares about and is interested in at any particular moment. And he’s not afraid to talk about failure either:
Putting together SpaceX rocket landing blooper reel. We messed up a lot before it finally worked, but there's some epic explosion footage …— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 31, 2017
Compare this to other CEOs on social with similar name recognition - Tim Cook of Apple or Satya Nadella of Microsoft - who focus on corporate updates with occasional forays into current affairs.
Tesla's marketing strategy on social - The “Apple” approach
This approach doesn't work for everyone, but when you’ve built a hype machine as Tesla has, I think the rules of social media start to bend. Instead of following the usual guidelines of “tweet this much, include videos” etc., you make your own rules.
Tesla has only tweeted 4 times this month. Why? Because it didn't really need to do more. Despite this lack of activity they're still in the top 3 most talked about car brands this month.
And when they do tweet?
Tesla hoods signed by paint shop team to mark production milestones. Thanks to all of our teams for your work and commitment to our mission. pic.twitter.com/r8PzdBbOIK— Tesla (@Tesla) September 4, 2017
Naturally, this was the most shared tweet that we examined. It’s not necessarily an approach that everyone can copy, but when you’ve got the world hanging on your every word - less is more.
Innovation in a millennial world
What is it about Tesla that's captured the imagination? It's hard to pinpoint, but I’d say one element of is that a lot of people buy into Musk’s vision of the future. Whether it’s sleek, environmentally friendly electric cars, smart solar panels, smart batteries, or private space exploration. It’s a vision that people want to follow or know more about.
It’s no surprise that Tesla is the car brand most linked to topics like electric cars and autonomous vehicles on social, even though established car makers are investing just as much if not significantly more than Tesla in these areas. The chart below shows the percentage of social discussion by each brand on the subject of electric vehicles:
And the world’s biggest producer of electric vehicles is? Not Tesla. It’s Renault-Nissan, all the way down in 11th place. Tesla and Musk have createe an image of themselves that enables them to compete and outperform auto rivals on social.
What does it mean for auto marketing and beyond?
It’s difficult in for established players to do what Tesla do in putting a single person front and center of their brand. Brands like BMW, Toyota, and Ford were founded decades ago and not every founder has the charisma and 'insane' eccentricity of Elon Musk.
Can’t believe someone leaked this schematic of the Tesla production system!! pic.twitter.com/ylAX3uKTI1— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 26, 2018
But providing a personalized, insider view on social media will help humanize your brand. Whether it’s the CEO, another executive, or a group of employees, consumers are increasingly interested in the people and values behind a brand (especially a big one), not just the products. Musk’s – and by proxy, Tesla’s - popularity resides in his willingness to share his random thoughts, ideas, and failures. Where other executives, understandably, play it safe.
Social media is such a noisy landscape that playing it safe isn’t enough to make you stand out. It may be a uncomfortable at the beginning, but now's the time for CEOs and executives to be more visible on social media. Your customers (and investors) are talking about you, being on social lets you at least play some role in shaping their perception.
For a closer look at the social media strategies of automotive brands and to learn what works, and what doesn't, download our Free Report - Driving your Brand on Social - Automotive Industry ranked on Social Media