Along with the normal upgrades and improvements that come with any software release, Apple’s iTunes version 10 contained an accompanying twist – the first distributed version of Ping, a combination social networking / music purchasing platform.
If you haven’t seen or tried it, the premise is pretty simple: like Facebook, you can connect with your friends, family members, and colleagues through your Ping profile; and, as with Twitter, you can see feeds and updates from celebrity artists who want to share news and thoughts.
What makes Ping different than other social networking sites, however, is that it’s all built around the iTunes store. In other words, the whole point of sharing your taste in music, the interaction with stars from different genres, and the feedback you can give and receive in moments, is set to help you make a better buying decision.
On the surface, this is a win-win for both Apple and its customers; on a deeper level, it’s a huge win for that company, and probably a sign of things to come.
The reasons are simple: first, social media marketing is growing at an astounding rate. There are hundreds of millions of people using sites like Facebook and LinkedIn right now, and hundreds of thousands more joining every month. Companies have been looking for a way to tap into these markets more effectively for quite some time, and Apple seems to have figured out a relatively seamless way to do it.
And secondly, it’s just good old branding. The more you use Ping, the more likely you are to keep buying your music, and music players, from Apple. What’s more, the more accustomed you become to using it, the more likely you are to bring your friends and family into the network, too. In that way, Apple is turning social networking into a constantly-strengthening storm of new revenue.
Besides being the case of savvy Internet marketing strategy, though, what does any of this have to do with independent auto dealers?
Well, the music and auto industries have something very particular in common: people feel very strongly about their personal tastes and preferences. It’s not just about the car, or the band, it’s about the feeling that being associated with them gives you. For that reason, it’s a smart bet that the ties between social networking and the auto industry are going to deepen in the years to come.
Of course, a lot of that growth is going to come to and from the major manufacturers. But that doesn’t mean that independent dealers like you can afford to sit the game out. To take advantage – and reach your customers more effectively – you’re going to have to not only keep an eye on what the bigger players are doing in social networking, but also what kinds of industry and location-specific social media platforms are going to pop up over the next couple of years.
The real winners in social media so far – the companies like Facebook and Apple – are doing well because they’ve anticipated the next steps and made sure to be in front of them. Even if you aren’t going to be launching your own social networking site soon, there’s no reason your dealership can’t do the same. Auto dealers and manufacturers are going to rely more and more on social networking in the years ahead, so pay attention to where tomorrow’s customers are headed and try to get there first.