Edmunds.com Inc. publishes Web sites that empower, engage and educate automotive consumers, enthusiasts and insiders. Edmunds.com, the premier online resource for automotive information, launched in 1995 as the first automotive information Web site and hosts the most established automotive community online. InsideLine.com is the most-read automotive enthusiast Web site. AutoObserver.com provides insightful automotive industry commentary and analysis. Edmunds.com Inc. is headquartered in Santa Monica, California, and maintains a satellite office in suburban Detroit. Edmunds.com Inc. is a private, family owned company with approximately 500 employees.
Edmunds.com is a market leader in the Automotive Online Media industry, one where recent innovations in Internet technology have lowered the barrier to entry, resulting in increased competition. Several competitors exist in major business areas like new cars, used cars, etc. Other players in the market include: Kelly Blue Book, AutoTrader, Cars.com, and TrueCar.
A Publishing Machine… Nothing Personal About it
When we first began our foray into social media, we knew these platforms would be a great way to expose our brand to a new audience, though we weren’t quite sure how to get started. Our initial approach was rooted in what we do best, which is publishing content. We treated Facebook and Twitter as another channel to distribute our content. A handful of employees from our Public Relations, Editorial, and Marketing departments would determine what content to publish, and schedule the posts using Co-Tweet. There was no personality behind the posts, and little to no interaction between Edmunds staff and fans or followers who responded. We were acquiring a few new fans and followers on these platforms each week, but not at the rate we were hoping. Something was missing.
Making it Personal
We quickly realized that what we were missing was the opportunity to create a relationship with our audience using social media. Providing informative advice articles and statistics serves a purpose– but as a company that strives to help consumers find the car that meets their every need (it’s our mission statement), we needed to do more. We needed to use this medium to connect with our audience on a personal level and provide help when they need it most.
- As an initial step, the team trained our entire 35 person Editorial staff to Facebook/Tweet for Edmunds.com to personalize our message. This change drove follower/fan growth on both platforms so we knew we were on to something.
- Next, we identified the enormous social marketing potential we could tap by expanding this strategy to all employees. We have an entire workforce that is passionate about helping people find the right car, so why not educate and empower our own employees to help the people they know?
In January, 2011 we initiated a corporate challenge around Social Media, committing a budget and a team of dedicated resources to focus on this priority. The team’s challenge was simply, “how can Edmunds enable consumers to leverage online/offline social networks to get car-related advice they need from the people they trust and when they need it most?” The team quickly mobilized, beginning their efforts by interviewing real consumers. Consumer research confirmed the need for Edmunds to get personal, which drove the following actions:
The guidelines were crafted to not only convey how employees should represent Edmunds, but also to provide general advice for how to responsibly participate in the social media landscape. These guidelines were distributed to the entire company, and we offered a catered lunch training and discussion session for anyone interested in learning more.
We dedicated 2 new employees to launch the @EdmundsLive Twitter Stream – a service where consumers can reach car shopping experts in near real-time when difficult car research/shopping questions arise. In addition to answering inquiries, the team proactively seeks conversations on Twitter to offer help.
We Launched a Social Samaritan Program
- Every two weeks, we highlight a different feature on Edmunds.com.
- Using a brief YouTube video, we show employees how to use this feature.
3. Each employee is provided a custom bitly link to share with their car shopping friends. The bitly link is tracked within a system where every employee is assigned a random number.
4. At the end of this two week period, a contest ‘entry’ is created for every time a unique link was clicked, and we perform an electronic drawing. The winner receives a $100 tisbest.org gift card, where they can choose from a list of over 250 local and national charitable organizations. Employees have access to all popular social networking platforms at the office, so they can share the links anytime – tweeting, face-booking, emailing, instant messaging, blogging, etc., it’s all fair game!
Challenge: How do we encourage employees to participate in the Social Samaritan contest?
Solution: An all-employee email was sent, and we also used our internal micro-blogging platform (Yammer) to advertise the program. The training was attended by about 50 employees (in-house and offered remotely via WebEx).
Challenge: Overcoming employee fear of not knowing enough about our products.
Solution: Provided training and an on-demand YouTube video explaining the product. The program is also explained on our corporate intranet site (a wiki).
- Continued growth in customer engagement on key social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Increased employee engagement and trust. By empowering our employees to represent our brand, we are educating them about self-moderation and also displaying our trust in their judgment since their social networking activity is not moderated.
- Approximately 10% of our employees (50) participated in the first round of the Social Samaritan Program
Increased employee knowledge of our products.
- Most employees do not have the opportunity to engage with our websites on a daily basis due to the nature of their role. The Social Samaritan program provides a fun, inspiring, and easy way for them to:
- Learn about key products
- Help their friends and family have a better car shopping experience
- Support a charity
- Managing the Social Samaritan Program is easy and inexpensive. We use bitly to quickly generate and manage unique links for each employee.
- Consumers want a conversation. Personalizing our posts on social platforms, rather than simply republishing links to our web site content, drives more consumer engagement.
- Our employees have more extensive and established social networks than we thought.
- Our employees were already actively engaging with their social networks about our brand. It was up to us to harness the potential of this activity.
- Our Social Media Guidelines were specifically written to act as guideposts – not to create additional policies. Creating simple, easy to understand guidelines helps employees feel comfortable being brand ambassadors.
- Make it as easy as possible for our employees to participate in social conversations.
- You can’t force it. Those who were already talking will continue to talk. Those who wanted to talk but weren’t sure how will talk if you provide them with support. Those who have no interest, probably can’t be swayed.