Forbes Motors and social media: A match made in cyber heaven

C. Laughren    July 9, 2015

Forbes logo



Organization: Forbes Motors

Industry: Automotive (Retail Sector)

Name of contact: Leigh Forbes, Online Marketing Coordinator

Web references: Forbes Automotive Family, Facebook, Dealer Marketing, Automotive Digital Marketing, Mobile Marketer


People use social media to express themselves and share the things they love. So, if it’s true that people identify their cars as reflections on important life events, then it’s no wonder cars are a natural fit for postings on social media. Look on any social site and you’ll see references to cars – vacations; car purchases; getting a driver’s license; summer drive-ins; accidents; fix-it projects; racing events; and so on. It’s not unusual to scroll through Facebook feeds to see pictures of friends, family members, and then car-related advertisements. Our century-old attraction towards cars allows automakers to subtly insert their messages and reap the financial benefits.

In a 2014 Chief Marketing Officer Council report, social analytics within the automotive industry indicated that it’s the passion behind car buying which translates over social networking sites. Of particular note:

  • 23% of car buyers use social media to share a recent purchase experience.
  • 38% of customers report they’ll consult social media next time they purchase a car.
  • 84% of all automotive shoppers are on Facebook, with 24% using the site as a resource to research their last vehicle purchase.

While the average person seems to really connect with their car, it’s not any particular hidden meaning behind social media─it’s the actual cars themselves. Are they nostalgic? Or social status symbols? Perhaps environmental statements? Regardless, cars and trucks─the product, the technology, the engines, the look─are universally cool. They get people excited. And social media makes it easy to market those cars and trucks to their potential drivers.

Toyota goes big with social campaigns

Image_Corolla campaign 2014

Promotion ad for Corolla’s test drive on social media.

Image_Virtual test drive

Image of Corolla’s virtual test drive in 2014 Elevate campaign.

After watching car brands like Mini, BMW and Nissan launch highly successful social campaigns, Toyota has now made mobile a staple in their product promotions. Take their Elevate campaign for the 2014 Corolla model, for instance. Using a variety of tactics and platforms to promote the campaign, Toyota leveraged social media to drive traffic to a special site (now updated for their 2015 model). A button on the (former) site encouraged customers to take the car for a spin through a visually rich multi-media experience. A simple swipe of the finger accelerated the car down a street. As it moved forward, users could tap to learn more about different areas of the car. Then, at the end of the test drive, users were taken to a landing page where they could customize a new Corolla, book a test drive, find a dealership, or request a quote.

And this was just one aspect of their Elevate campaign. Toyota was also running an iAd campaign which gave out free music downloads in exchange for exploring features of the car. Mobile videos also incorporated the hashtag #CorollaStyle with a separate campaign encouraging consumers to submit clips that showed off their own style.

Sounds like a tough act to follow for car dealerships! With all Toyota`s creative (and costly) social and mobile marketing activity at the national level, how do dealerships follow-up with their local customers?

The handshakes remain local

Image_1923 photo

Russell Forbes (second from left) and his brother, Stanley, are seen in front of their Ford Dealership in Tilbury, Ontario in 1923.

After being in the automotive business for 68 years and counting, the Forbes Family in Waterloo, Ontario knows a thing or two about keeping up with trends in selling cars. It all started back in 1921 when Russell A. Forbes served as personal secretary to Henry Ford (yes, that Henry Ford). The dawn of the automotive industry is where car dealerships started.

1948 Forbes start

Ralph and Jack Forbes opened the doors of Forbes Motors in Welland, Ontario on July 6, 1948.

From the showroom to the hand shake, it’s always been about the product, and it still is. Social media has simply expanded the opportunity to showcase and interact with the manufacturer’s latest and greatest model.

While Toyota’s larger social marketing campaigns are run nationally, the local Forbes Toyota dealership focuses uses social media to make community connections and develop relationships with their current and potential customers.

“We need to be where our customers are. We need to engage where our customers engage. We need to understand what our customers want from us. Our goal is to make every customer in our community feel part of our dealership family,” confirms Leigh Forbes, Online Marketing Coordinator for Forbes Waterloo Toyota.

And, it helps to have new car models with stylish and interesting features too. Kirk Scott, Vice President and General Manager, Forbes Waterloo Toyota explains:


The Forbes Automotive Family’s success with the local community has meant extending into the Mazda, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. Each car brand has a different meaning to different customer groups; so, each dealership maintains its own social media presence. The same Forbes approach applies – large marketing campaigns are nationally driven, while community support and the dealer-customer relationships are locally nurtured and supported.Social tools for evety dealers


Leigh describes how she makes the social media management work:

A critical piece of the Forbes Motor’s social networking efforts is the cultivation of their online reputation. Customers (current and potential) can see the interactions with Forbes and make a judgment about their local dealerships. What they read can have a siForbes combiend G+ ratinggnificant impact on which vehicle they purchase and where they buy it. In fact, according to Dealer Marketing, customers are willing to drive farther to reach dealerships with positive online reviews—24% said they would drive 48 km to a dealer with positive reviews, 15% said they would drive as far as 64 km, while 31% said they would drive 80 km or more.

“We want our customers to experience what we’d expect for ourselves. We invest in ensuring a customer’s interaction with a sales associate is the same in-person and online. Whether it’s focused training, using mystery shoppers, or developing a new website, the local Forbes experience closes the deal and brings customers back,” Leigh proudly states.

Just ask me – I’m a Forbes customer!

Lessons for others

 Businesses in every industry can engage in some form of social media marketing. Whether it`s a full campaign or more low-key awareness generation, there are several fundamental marketing elements to keep in mind:

  • Integrate social media activity into the broader marketing plan. A consistent experience with the company brand is important to maintaining integrity and reliability.
  • Tell a story through visuals. The content needs to resonate with the audience. The idea is to get customers to come back for more. By using videos and striking images, the customer is engaged, with their attention captivated by the product.
  • Encourage customers to have a say. Customers no longer want to consume content; they want to participate in its development. Interactive campaigns with social components can get more people active and involved.
  • Participate in two-way communication. Social business pages are designed to ask questions, answer inquiries, and address issues. It is not the place to be passive. Being social is about being active with information.


Submitted by: C. Laughren, University of Waterloo

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