Q&A: Fiat Torques Up Social Media

Fiat-BFiat is going to have a big presence at the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) next month in Vegas -- the second year the brand, whose U.S. office is under the roof of Chrysler, LLC, has had a presence there. But Fiat is using next month's auto-customizing and aftermarket show as much to get electricity flowing on social media platforms as on the showroom floor in Las Vegas. After all, SEMA -- unlike traditional auto shows -- is not open to the public. 

Fiat's efforts around SEMA show how it uses social to proselytize for its lifestyle. Take the SEMA program, "Confessions of a Customizer," accessible at facebook.com/Fiat, www.fiatusa.com/en/social/, Fiat's blog and FiatUSA.com. A parody of those addiction confession ads -- where a subject, whose face is in shadow, lays bare his or her addictions -- the video series has people talking about their addiction to customizing Fiat cars. Linked is a sweepstakes ending this week, where the best uploaded "confession" gets the car-customizing "victim" and a guest a four-day trip to Sin City (where hopefully they will keep their other addictions in check) and entrance to the 2012 SEMA Show starting Oct. 30. 

Casey Hurbis, head of advertising and communications for Fiat North America, has a "Customizers Anonymous" meeting with Marketing Daily about social strategy. 

Q: Why is Fiat making hay of its SEMA show?

A: People love to customize and accessorize [our cars.] Last year was our first time at SEMA, and we got a huge reaction. This year we will have multiple customized cars there. So we started looking at it as a way to build the Fiat brand. We have gotten to hear peoples' stories -- enthusiasts, owners, intenders. And not just professional customizers -- we have seen folks from every walk of life participating in this. It's a unique opportunity to speak with them and hear their stories. 

Q: Is social media an ad platform for Fiat? 

A: While we are fortunate to have a huge social footprint as a platform for building brand awareness, we also use social to educate and engage, and it allows us to have conversations with people in that space to get input and suggestions on everything from products to marketing. It's a two-way conversation -- as much as we talk to them, we want to hear back from them as well, so we monitor the space to better understand how our programs and products are being perceived. We use social sites like YouTube as defacto focus groups. For example, we wanted to get consumer feedback on the Charlie Sheen commercial [for the Fiat 500 Abarth performance variant, an ad that was pulled at the last minute for a tamer one]. In a sense the interest and engagement we got running on YouTube gave us confidence to run the commercial in the Super Bowl. [The ad has gotten some 4 million views on YouTube]

Q: How much have you grown your audience on social media? 

A: People who want to be Fiat owners are buying into a lifestyle. We knew that coming over to the U.S. And, really, that's where social plays well. Right now we have about 530,000 fans on Facebook, and 58,000 on Twitter. On YouTube this year alone, we have gotten about 16 million views of Fiat content. We are getting 900,000 visits per month to the Fiat Web site. Our new blog, Fiat Backstage [blog.FiatUSA.com, launched in late June] is yet another great forum for additional stories. And we have had some 300,000 people come to that already.

Q: Are you getting those kinds of numbers in the mobile space?

A: In mobile, we have seen a sharp increase in Web site traffic over the past six to eight months. It's growing very quickly, so we are concentrating on the digital creative and media space in terms of how to invest wisely; the percentage of smartphone users is increasing fast. 

Q: What about tablet and mobile apps? Isn't there an inherent  "download and forget" problem with apps if there isn't compelling, updated content?  

A: We do have a Fiat app we update several times a year, because if you launch it and put it out there and don't keep people engaged, they will forget it and not come back. So we are always putting more interesting content and experiences on the app. 

Q: The big challenge for marketers now has to be sifting through all of the digital options, and dealing with endless pitches from third-party "solutions" people.

A: I have five people standing outside my door right now who want to come talk to me. There are 15 mobile media companies who have set up Detroit offices in the past year and a half. But what I find interesting is how fast everything is moving, and the challenge is how we can tag along for that ride. It's so refreshing to sit in room with bright people and see how media space is expanding. That's probably the most exciting part of the job.

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