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At Detroit Show, Automakers Show They "Get" Social Media

DETROIT--Social media and bloggers are becoming increasingly important to automakers, including General Motors, whose Chris Barger ("telling the world about GM, one tweet at a time") brought a team of young Internet-savvy posters to the North American International Auto Show this year. Since most of them toil in unlit basements, the glitter of GM's fairy dust--which included meals at Wolfgang Puck in the MGM Grand--was probably quite dazzling.

Other companies with social media directors (it sounds like something related to a cruise boat) include Honda, Toyota, Ford and Hyundai. Nissan and Audi are also getting into the concept. I sat down with Chris Barger, who's been on the job since 2007, at the Detroit Show. He is not what you would call a "car guy"; in fact he came to GM from IBM, where he started a personal blog as a creative outlet around 2003. "I was called in at IBM and told, 'We've been looking at your blog.' I thought I was going to be fired. Instead, they made me blogger in chief."

GM started its own successful blog, Fast Lane, around 2004, but wanted to move beyond it. "They brought me in and said they were looking for someone who would 'scare the hell out of us,' be a change agent, shake things up a bit,'" Barger said. And you could say that bringing independent bloggers from sites like and Canada's to the auto show is a major shake up. But it's one that very much needed to happen, because the small fraternity of car writers--some in place for half a century--needed shaking up.

"We have to stop letting the industry dictate how and when we engage," Barger said. Communities on Facebook may tell GM more about its cars than any focus group the companies could hire.

Ford's social media director is Scott Monty, who has his own blog on social media. Ford has used the medium well, in one case handing Fiestas to young bloggers who promised to maintain an online presence about their cars. "Scott and I have a friendly rivalry," Barger said. "We play a game of 'can you top this.'"

Over at American Honda, the twittering job is handed to Alicia Jones. Here's one of her tweets from today: "We'll be live streaming our news conference for global debut of Honda CR-Z sport hybrid coupe Monday 1:35pm ET, check back here for link!" If you want to follow her tweets, it's "Alicia_at_Honda."

It's about time automakers started doing thing kind of thing.

GM photo