Top Fans Commented on Buick (& That’s Not a Good Thing)

An older man confused at a computer is shown next to a post that says

While the majority of Google users on Friday, April 26th were distracted by searching the word ‘Thanos’ and harnessing the power of the Infinity Gauntlet to wipe out Avengers: Endgame spoilers, those seeking ‘Buick Dealership Near Me’ found their own hopes turned to dust and scattered to the winds thanks to a new social media marketing trend.

In May of 2019, a large percentage of American car buyers seem largely ignorant to the realities of digital marketing. For example, think of how many times you’ve looked at our Facebook newsfeed and have seen someone commenting on their surprise at the inclusion of an ad or article pertaining to something that they were just talking about. Simply by granting Facebook Messenger access to their smartphone’s microphone, or by equipping their home with an Amazon Echo they’ve made themselves the recipient of a barrage of advertisements. Maybe you’ve done the same.

Bottom-line, the majority of consumers are less in control of their buying impulses than they realize. This kind of subliminal advertising is the digital equivalent of dropping hints until someone does what you want them to do – all while thinking it’s their own idea.

But by the close of April 2019, one of the most prevalent social media trends appreciable by almost every Facebook user worldwide was the increased visibility of any other user who had been declared a ‘Top Fan’ by a page or group. In most cases, the bestowment of the ‘Top Fan’ title meant that particular user was being rewarded by the page or group administrators for prompt and regular engagement with the page or group, normally in a positive manner. The end result is that ‘Top Fan’ comments are valued higher by Facebook, positioning them above those of other users as if they are somehow more important. Creating an almost Pavlovian conditioning, the desire to be a ‘Top Fan’ has fueled spikes in engagement for many pages and groups, increasing a sense of zealotry and driving up positive engagement.

A post that says You're a Top Fan and gives the option to show your badge is displayed.
Wait, is this person a Top Fan of… Prostate Cancer? If so, what do they have against the people of the United Kingdom?

But since the quality of social media engagement also plays a role in how Google interprets the worthiness of a business or brand, a lack of engagement can do a lot to damage one’s visibility in the all-seeing eye of Google. And therein lies the struggle faced by Buick.

In an effort to reinvigorate the Buick brand, General Motors recently commissioned research into their target demographic (Millennial through Gen-Z consumers aged 35 and below, earning a minimum individual annual income of $40,000+) and establish the most effective means of marketing to them. The intention was to marry that strategy with current marketing trends, aiming to appeal to a wider, younger consumer base.

“What we failed to anticipate,” explains Buick Marketing Director, Samuel C. Russell, Jr. “was the comparatively low-level social media presence of our current demographic (Baby Boomer consumers aged 55+ with a median household income of $125,000+). While many of our valued customers are active on Facebook, a surprising amount of their activity is limited to (i) Facebook games (ii) the posting of uber-patriotic albeit vaguely racist right-leaning political memes and (iii) writing what should be private messages on people’s public-facing walls. Many have yet to even “Like” our corporate Facebook page, so there’s little opportunity for engagement. But those who do are usually complaining about how Buick used to be better. Unfortunately, this limits our ability to use the ‘Top Fan’ feature in a manner that actually benefits our brand. Not that we didn’t try.”

Meet Gordon Koch, age 68, a retired truck driver and Vietnam veteran. Gordon has been happily married to his second wife since 1982, has two children and two stepchildren, and is the proud grandparent of seven grandchildren. Gordon also enjoys the distinction of being Buick’s very first ‘Top Fan’.

“I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean,” he explains. “Back in my day, no-one gave you a trophy for having an opinion. In most cases, it only earned you a punch in the face, so you just kept your mouth shut in the first place. But now everyone has to share their opinion. I’m only on the Facebook so I can see pictures of my grandkids, damn it. My wife bought a Buick Encore last year and the salesman offered a complimentary satellite radio subscription if we liked Buick and the dealership on Facebook, so now I get all this sh*t popping up on my screen all the time. Idiots. I remember when GM cared more about making cars than getting a thumbs up from the computer and collecting them in some crowded, stinking room over in India. Damn right I’m going to give them a piece of my mind.”

“That’s what we’re dealing with,” explains Samuel Russell. “And we’re dealing with a hell of a lot of it. And because of the controversial nature of the engagement being offered, Google is devaluing the Buick brand, making us increasingly less accessible in online searches. Basically, the ‘Top Fan’ feature is hurting us more than is helping us. That said, we’re planning to discontinue its use in the hopes of becoming visible to Google again.


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