"It's hard to put a specific dollar value on this, but it's something we have to do," said Natalie Johnson, GM's social media manager, in an interview after she spoke Monday at the MIXX Canada digital marketing and advertising conference in Toronto.
GM, like many automakers, is faced with declining sales as credit tightens and gasoline prices rise. The company lost $15.5 billion in its second quarter. Johnson hopes the new media efforts will, at the very least, create a loyal base of potential customers who will be inclined to choose GM when things turn around for the auto industry.
"We're creating the opportunity to interact directly with consumers," said Johnson, who called GMnext.com "a landing page" that will act as an umbrella site for GM's numerous Web 2.0 initiatives. The page features links to blogs, wikis, photo- and video-sharing tools, and messaging areas where car enthusiasts can engage each other and also communicate with the company. "We want to be able to talk to our customers," said Johnson.
Johnson wouldn't say how much GM is spending on its Internet efforts, but noted that some media and marketing budgets at the company are in flux as the automaker deals with the current downturn. "There are some challenges" getting corporate funds for all the projects that Johnson wants to undertake, she conceded, but noted that, overall, the initiatives are receiving high-level support from chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner's office on down.
Wagoner recently posted a video blog to answer questions about the company's financial picture. Such social media tools allow company execs "to answer some tough questions in a very candid and frank way," said Johnson.
Shares of GM were unchanged at $9.75 in late-morning trading Monday.