Some say that there are none so blind as those who cannot see. I have no idea what this means, but in a discussion about social media, none are so blind as those who happen to be me. That is until now. Social media is an infinite, nebulous web that connects everyone to everyone else, and the smart companies (i.e. the ones that will actually last) take full advantage of this technology. Profit generating in a digital era is almost impossible without media presence.
The automotive industry is no stranger to this, and any visit to a manufacturer’s website or private dealer’s Facebook page offers ample evidence of how crucial a digital identity has become. In my rural/agrarian area, however, the emphasis erodes just after the integration of web presence. My region is mostly agricultural, and farmers like a much different sort of social media, an older form. Leaning over the bed of a pick-up truck or standing in the middle of a vast expanse of crops, farmers generally network face to face. That is not to say that advertising doesn’t work here, it certainly does, but the majority of sales come from “good ol’ boys” routinely buying new vehicles like clockwork (or is it calendarwork since it’s bi-annually… I don’t know the rules here).
The interesting thing about this is that the guidelines for social media still apply. On a fundamental level both mediums involve valuated communication between people of similar interests and backgrounds using an intricate rhetorical foundation. With digital media, one must be fluent in the language of fast-paced tech talk and become well-versed in the art of the “quick gab.” Our social media does have to be cognizant of a multi-cultural world because we have a university campus that hosts international students and we assume they like cars, too. The farmer network (Face-to-Face-book?) requires its own level of discourse expertise. In order to participate in a serious conversation one must speak like a farmer or no one will take you seriously (I have amassed enough jargon to be taken seriously for almost twenty minutes… after that I Cinderella into a “city slicker”). As Barbara Fagan-Smith noted in her text, the fundamentals don’t necessarily change even when the tools improve.
In order to explore this dynamic, I spoke to an intern we had from the local university who had tried to implement some more modern social media tactics to our provincial store. For the sake of anonymity I’ll call him Justin (he’s not me, I just have a fabulous name). Justin tried for a number of months to implement a text network for the customers in all of our departments. The platform was basic, simply signs everywhere that read “Text: ‘everyday value’ to #####” and then that number would be stored on a mass text list for regular communiques and updates. Justin had some professionally printed ad cards that were vivid and noticeable yet small and non-obtrusive. His fresh-from-business-class logic told him that the advertising needed to be significant yet subtle.
With all of the ads printed and posted in the areas most visible to customers, Justin thought he would meet his initial goal of fifty text numbers within the first month. The reality took two months to set in as Justin had no trouble reaching the dozen or so customers who wanted to be bothered with “unbeatable rates” and “best prices around.” Justin had not failed to consider his audience, he knew that the customer base in our region is somewhat technologically stagnant. He also had designs on drawing in the younger university crowd with the more youthful venue. Both assumptions failed, not because Justin was ignorant of certain attributes, but because those attributes were more influential than his rhetorical strategy. The people in our area with money to spend don’t use digital content, and the people in our area who use digital content don’t have money. This is a Catch-22 that has yet to be caught.
Not all of our social media is impotent, however. Our website is full of new and used car information for customers who don’t want to drive here and look. Our Facebook page is a thriving effort to perpetuate the manufacturer’s advertising campaigns as well as a shrewd broadcaster of local values and colloquial solidarity. We learned a lot from Justin’s efforts to modernize our technological presence even though that lesson came from watching public interest fizzle before it even really ignited. Perhaps it was simply too soon. Discussions about this phenomenon regularly include the optimistic reminder that the next generation of farmers is highly tech savvy, and that such advertising and communication could one day succeed. The important lesson to draw from this, however, is that the tools we use as a business are not as important as the rhetorical foundations upon which we build.