For the past few years, General Motors has managed its efforts on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, online video and other social media activities from within its communications group. In 2011, GM will be moving social media marketing into its brand groups. Christopher Barger, global director of social media, spoke with eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson about the challenges of this transition, how GM allots budget for social media within digital marketing, and what measurements the company needs to have in place to increase spending on social media marketing.
eMarketer: How are you budgeting for social media marketing in 2011?
Christopher Barger: Until now, social media has been led and budgeted out of communications rather than marketing. We are in the middle of social becoming part of marketing. That means there will be a bucket [of funds] for Chevrolet for the year. There’ll be a certain bucket for Volt; there’ll be a certain bucket for Cadillac. And so on.
The brand communication teams and the brand marketing teams have never budgeted their own line items [for social media marketing]. It’s all come out of [my budget]. What’s happening is that marketing rightfully is becoming more involved in the planning and the budgeting piece, and also the strategic side of it.
That means the brands are now baking social into their overall marketing budget. It’s incorporated into all the programs. So, if you’re launching a vehicle, you just increase the amount of money that goes into the vehicle launch program in order to accommodate social tactics as well.
eMarketer: That’s going to happen with other marketers, and GM may be ahead of the curve in getting the social integrated into the marketing budget.
Barger: It’s been a long time in coming, so I know we finally have the right structure in place, and the right mix of skill sets and the disciplines that are involved.
But frankly, one of the things that I wish I could do over, if we were starting over again, is that we’ve been picking off [social media marketing] opportunities as they occurred to us. You know, South by Southwest is coming up, or ComiCon is going on, and gosh, wouldn’t it be great if we could get a Camaro down there? We’ve been ticking those off one by one as we see them.
Now, by getting the marketing teams more involved, we can say, these are the vehicles that are specifically being launched. These are the specific things that we’re trying to accomplish with our audiences that we’re trying to reach. Now, we can start thinking about a social strategy that is more in line with the rest of the strategy for marketing, rather than picking off opportunities piecemeal and hoping that they fit.
eMarketer: How much of a marketer’s online marketing budget do you think should go toward social media?
Barger: Companies have begun to grasp the need to move a significant portion of their marketing budget to digital. But I don’t think that nuance between digital and social is fully comprehended by everyone yet.
It’s impossible to do one well without the other. I would argue that online advertising and online marketing have their place but can very well be supplemented by campaigns of engagement with social networks. If you’re doing nothing but talking within the social networks, and it’s not tying back to your other online marketing, it’s probably not as effective as it could be.
There are other people in the GM organization who will probably have different opinions than me, but I’d probably want to try to go as evenly split as possible: Half of the effort you put in, both from a financial resource and a time resource standpoint, ought to be spent engaging in the networks and then trying to figure out how to physically get people into your product or experiencing your product. The other half ought to be making them aware of your product, and continuing to go where the audience goes, to do standard digital marketing.
[But] up until this point, my standalone budget for social has been the only budget that’s been allotted. So, I’m sure the percentage is in the single digits.
eMarketer: And as companies really start integrating social into the rest of their marketing, as you’re doing, it might be even harder and harder to figure out what percentage is going toward social media.
Barger: At some point, it’s all indistinguishable. Whether you’re doing social, whether you’re doing marketing, whether you’re doing digital, whether you’re doing communication, at some point that all kind of blends.
So, as social gets further integrated and just becomes part of how you do standard marketing, I think it’s going to be a lot harder to define where those lines are and which percentage of budgets are going where.
eMarketer: Are you at the point where you’re able to measure and track that influence? And then say, yes, this is working; we need to shift more budget toward social.
Barger: Not as well as I would like. I can definitely measure levels of engagement, how often something is tracked, or how often a particular message or particular thing goes out into the social networks and carries through. We can measure tone and analysis of sentiment. What I wish we could do is say that because we did something in social we moved more vehicles than we would have, had we used traditional routes.
The measurement, frankly, for traditional forms of marketing, in advertising, even PR, is far better established, because they have had a longer chance to get it right. We’re not quite able, yet, to definitively prove our [results via social media].
eMarketer: What metrics, if you had them, would 100% make the case that GM needs to invest even more heavily in social media marketing?
Barger: There are two different angles to approach that. First is trying to determine the correlation between how often something is mentioned in Twitter or Facebook or on blogs, with intent to purchase, or purchase consideration. If something was put up on Twitter this many times, or we have this many followers, or we had 21 comments on our Facebook page, how does that translate? Does it mean anything or is it just online chatter?
Then, I’d love to be able to track that back to actual sales. How often does what you’re doing online translate to offline? For example, if we’re doing a tweet-up, and we’re scheduling something around a particular vehicle, we get 53 people to get in the car. And then as a result, six of those went to a dealership and actually bought one. If I could track that, that’d be fabulous.
Look, we’re selling cars here. Being able to demonstrably prove that social media actually sells cars would be great.