In the past, if someone was looking to buy a car, the norm was to ask around, then go and visit dealers to see the individual cars and hear what the dealers had to say. Not only was it hard to get an accurate comparison of the different vehicles after talking with biased salesman; it was also a hassle driving around to each of the dealerships. In the end, a consumer could end up buying the car because one salesman had a better pitch, or looked better in the light of the showroom. All of that changed with the arrival of social media. Now there were online forums where one could inquire about a certain type of car, as well as blogs and sites dedicated to informing someone about the kinds of vehicles out there. This development has made the process much more simple and straightforward for consumers, and enabled them to make smarter decisions when purchasing a vehicle.
The first way that the availability of social media has helped make the car buying process smoother is by giving people the ability to ask a large group of friends about something. To be more specific, if I wanted to learn more about a 2007 Ford F-150, I can post a Facebook status inquiring about that specific vehicle. If any of my 780 friends know about or maybe even own this car, they can comment on my status, and a discussion ensues. According to a study done by Dr. Sunil Gupta at Harvard Business School, the purchases of forty percent of Internet users are affected by their interaction with others through social media (http://drfd.hbs.edu/fit/public/facultyInfo.do?facInfo=pub&facId=261323). In addition to examples of direct questions like this, people on Facebook and Twitter also will see information they are interested in. If a user is looking at buying a new car, they can become friends with pages like Car and Driver or Motor Trend, which provide updates on new cars and comparisons of the vehicles the prospective buyer may be interested in. If someone wants to learn more, all they have to do is click on a link.
In the past, lack of knowledge and reliable sources has made it difficult for uninformed consumers to make the correct choice when it comes to cars. This is why it is essential that people realize the effect social media has had on the automotive industry. Before this technology, those interested in buying a new car would base their decision solely off of the words of a salesmen or an advertisement they saw on television. In the essay Raising Awareness and Signaling Quality to Uninformed Consumers, Hao Zhao states that in a 1995 study he ‘…did not find a significant positive relationship between advertising spending and product quality.’ (http://www.jstor.org/stable/193269) In other words, a car advertisement can contribute to a consumer’s decision to buy a car, but it doesn’t mean that the car is better than another that wasn’t advertised. Without social media, advertising was one of the only influences affecting the decision of consumers, and as a result, there were more misinformed purchases.
Another way that social media has helped to inform a car buyer is through automotive forums and blogs. Sites like automotiveforums.com and Edmunds.com/forums give less car-savvy people access to experts and allow them to ask questions and get answers from people who won’t be as biased as the salesmen at the dealers. With the growing access to many sources of information, one may worry about being misinformed by an untrustworthy source. The rating scales for members of these forums make sure that those inquiring know whether their source is trustworthy or not. The lack of anonymity gives members of the blogs and forums a sense of accountability; no one wants to be given a negative rating, so all of the responses are well thought out and in good taste. In her TED talk, The Case for Collaborative Consumption, Rachel Botsman talks about the development of a new type of ‘online credit rating’, which she believes may one day become more valuable than one’s actual credit rating (http://collaborativeconsumption.com/). The rating scale on these forums is what gives the users accountability and ensures that someone surfing the web can find information easily and can still trust what they find.
In closing, not only has social media made the process of buying a new car easier, it has given people better tools to find the best product for them. This means that in turn companies will have to heighten the quality of their products in order to compete in an informed market, and the quality level of automobiles will rise at its fastest rate yet. Social media has given people the ability to bypass biased influences and force companies to sell their product the way they should: based on how well they are made.