Tesla’s marketing strategy shows that it’s time for CEOs to get social
Elon Musk is all over social! "Elon Musk hires meme maker as Tesla's social media manager", "Tesla's new social media manager used a sheep to land the job..." See what I mean? What lessons can we learn from brands and CEOs that rock a social media marketing strategy? Let's take a look...
Before you dive into this post, take a look at our brand report on Tesla and its share of voice in the automotive industry.
You'll also get to see how great your reports can look with our example social media report template.
Heads up...the content in this post has been updated, again...
Early in 2021 we saw Elon Musk trending on Twitter big time. when he bought $1.5bn of Bitcoin, causing currency to spike, pledged $100m to carbon capture contest, and - drum roll - posted a one-word tweet, causing Dogecoin's stock value to increase by 25%...
Literally pic.twitter.com/XBAUqiVsPH— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 24, 2021
Big news in October 2020 - Tesla decided to dissolve its PR department. The company's going to use its social media channels for communication with its followers.
Why is this important?
Tesla’s PR department has always been small, and Elon Musk’s profile has always received a higher amount of engagement for the brand. For a direct marketing campaign, they'll now depend on Tesla’s and Musk’s Twitter accounts which have 6.3M and 39M followers respectively. We can expect to see Tesla announce new launches through Twitter, and count on Elon Musk’s tweets and retweets to share this information to a larger audience.
Mentions around Tesla and Elon Musk follow a similar pattern, as Tesla tends to spike when its CEO’s name spikes.
In 2020, Elon Musk and Grimes - Canadian musician, real name Claire Elise Boucher - had a baby.
Not one to ignore his fans, and being a social media rock star, Musk shared the news on his fave channel...
Along with the baby's name...
X Æ A-12 Musk— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 5, 2020
Due to a Californian law, that stipulates names can only consist of the 26 letters of the English alphabet, the name was changed to "X Æ A-Xii".
But, before the update, Grimes shared the meaning behind baby Musk's name...
•X, the unknown variable ⚔️— ꧁ ༒ Gℜiꪔ⃕es ༒꧂ BLM (@Grimezsz) May 6, 2020
•Æ, my elven spelling of Ai (love &/or Artificial intelligence)
•A-12 = precursor to SR-17 (our favorite aircraft). No weapons, no defenses, just speed. Great in battle, but non-violent 🤍
(A=Archangel, my favorite song)
(⚔️🐁 metal rat)
Okay. Back to cars...
The car is a status symbol. An extension of your character. Are you a BMW or a Mini person? Do you care about fuel efficiency or speed? Are you trying to impress with your cool wheels or are you trying to get your family from A to B? Do you have something to prove? Is it just a tool?
Auto manufacturers have understood this for years, with car marketing and branding reflecting aspirational values. You've see the ads. The immaculately engineered car - driven by a catwalk model - gliding effortlessly along an impossibly beautiful country road. It's a fairy tale. That we want to be part of. We aspire to. Automobile marketing teams know this, and they're quick to exploit our dreams.
Industries are experiencing disruption. Things are changing. Social media, new technology, new generations coming of age. The automotive industry is no different.
BMW, Ford, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Toyota, and other big names are facing challenges from electric and autonomous vehicles. Challenges coming from new brands like Tesla, to non-automotive brands like Google and Apple.
Twitter engagement podium crowns Tesla as number one automotive brand.
Social marketing strategy - data source: Twitter, July 23 - August 19, 2017.
Over 95% of consumers looking to buy a car, use digital channels to research automobiles. Social media being the most popular channel for checking out reviews, listening to peers, and following influencers. It’s your virtual showroom where you can see the latest products on the market, and what's on the horizon.
For the full report on Tesla, BMW, Toyota, and 20+ other auto brands, take a look at our analysis of The Automotive Industry on Social Media. You'll find the answer to questions...
- Which brand is the champion of hybrid?
- Which auto brands are rocking Instagram?
- Lamborghini vs Maserati - who's winning the luxury likes?
- Where's BMW in the race for autonomous driving?
- What brand do marketers prize?
- Do journalists prefer Chrysler or Cadillac?
For this post, I'm going to zoom in on Tesla, and give you my take on the brand's achievements on social and its marketing strategy. See what you think...
Download our brand report on Tesla - share of voice and marketing strategy on social.
Tesla | Driving success with social media marketing strategy
Our report has a heap of results with regard to auto brands' social media marketing strategies. Winning. Failing. New initiatives.
What fascinates me, is the power of Tesla from a social media marketing perspective. It's a brand founded in 2003. Compared to auto giants, it doesn't make a fortune. It wears its crown 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, and as a general rule, bigger companies outperform their smaller rivals. No great surprise there. More resources - money, employees, etc. Of course, there are exceptions, but for a company that is almost 30 times smaller than its rivals to perform so well is impressive.
Tesla takes the chequered flag!
Below is a graph showing the total mentions across social channels of 29 of the world’s biggest car brands:
Auto brands' performance with regard to mentions - inclusion of brand name.
Social marketing strategy - data source: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter 23 July - 19 August, 2017.
So how do they do it?
Elon Musk | The ultimate social media CEO?
There are CEOs that are hesitant about using social media for business. They choose their words carefully. Avoid controversy. Elon Musk isn't one of them. His public image - good and bad - has a huge impact on the brand. Tesla's brand awareness and brand reputation are greatly determined by the actions of its CEO.
Apologies to Tesla customers for shifting delivery dates. It’s a crazy world out there!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 25, 2020
Seriously, how many CEOs respond personally, to apologize for a delay in delivery?!!
With Tesla not spending on advertising, Musk's social media activity is critical. The darling of the auto industry, Musk is busy on YouTube. Teaming up with PewDiePie to host Meme Review, and rating memes with Justin Roiland - co-creator of Rick and Morty. He doesn't follow the rules that other CEOs follow, engaging with fans and detractors alike.
Unfortunately, this random social media behavior can backfire. Musk is a maverick. He veers off track and hits the occasional wall. In 2018, during an interview on a live web show, the CEO upset investors and caused Tesla share prices to drop when he drank whisky and smoked weed on camera. While Musk increases brand awareness, a PR crisis plan with social media best practices, became a Tesla priority.
On the other side of the coin, Musk can tweet song lyrics, and get 649K likes, and over 100K retweets...
Open your eyes, look up to the skies— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 22, 2020
Musk likes to get up close and personal on social media. He'll share his new business ideas during his drive home. Live tweet rocket launches. He'll let his followers know what he cares about and is interested in at any particular moment. His opinions can be controversial. He doesn't care about upsetting people. He’s not afraid to talk about failure...
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
Musk's social media strategy... Don't hold back. Share everything!
Tesla's marketing strategy on social media
This approach doesn't work for everyone. It would make your average CEO nervous, but Musk isn't your average CEO. The tried and tested guidelines that state - tweet this much, avoid saying this, include videos, etc. - have been ignored.
Tesla tweeted 4 times during the month. Why only 4? It didn't need to do more. Despite this lack of activity, the brand remained in the top 3 most talked about car brands for the 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
Most shared tweet... less is more.
This was the most shared tweet that we looked at. It might not be a marketing strategy that other brands can copy or would even consider, 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?
I think one element is that people buy into Musk’s vision of the future. Whether it’s eco-friendly electric cars, smart solar panels, smart batteries, private space exploration, or talking about aliens...
And, no, I'm not an alien...but I used to be one— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 12, 2016
Musk's social media marketing strategy!!!
It intrigues us and we follow, to know more, or ensure we don't miss his next uttering.
It’s no surprise that Tesla is the car brand most linked to topics like electric cars and autonomous vehicles on social. Despite established car makers investing just as much, if not more than Tesla in these areas. The chart below shows the percentage of social discussion by each brand on the subject of electric vehicles...
Tesla rules pioneering tech with mentions of electric cars and autonomous.
Social marketing strategy - data source: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter 23 July - 19 August, 2017.
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.
Why the Gen Y mention? Because marketing to millennials is a fine art. They favor authentic content. Whether it's MoonPie portraying itself as an uncool human, pining for someone called Linda. Or, a CEO who appears to be breaking all the marketing rules.
What does it mean for auto marketing strategies and beyond?
Not all established players can do what Tesla have done, 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 or '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
Providing a personalized, insider view on social media helps humanize a brand. Regardless of industry. Whether it’s the CEO, other C-levels, or employees, we're increasingly interested in the people and values behind a brand (especially a big one). It's no longer all about the products. Musk’s – and by proxy, Tesla’s - popularity sits with his willingness to share his random thoughts, ideas, failures, quirks. Where other executives play it safe. Which is a shame.
Social media is a noisy landscape in which playing it safe no longer works. You'll be lost in the crowd. It may be a struggle at the beginning, but now's the time for CEOs and executives to be more visible on social media. Your customers, investors, and prospects are talking about you. Being on social lets you play a role in shaping their perception.
Download this awesome, brand report about Tesla and its share of voice in the automotive industry. Drive the success of your brand!