General Motors' decision to cancel paid advertising on Facebook highlights a crucial marketing dilemma facing the entire industry: how to connect with shoppers who have embraced Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Facebook is best seen as a cocktail party, a social setting where people enjoy each other's company with shared interests, pictures, videos and more than a few good laughs. Selling vehicles or anything else at a cocktail party is out of place.
And young consumers who use social media are allergic to overt selling. They evade traditional TV commercials with digital video recorders, for instance.
This vast new media landscape is populated by affluent, trend-setting potential customers who are too busy doing other things to pay attention to advertising.
But there are things auto marketers can do.
To start, have some fun at the party. Nearly all automakers have Facebook pages, and they are getting creative in designing contests, posting videos and relating to social media users in ways those users appreciate.
Paid advertising has a role, but a minor one. Paid banners and boxes can be used for the few consumers who want overt pitches or routes to find more information. Advertisers also can pay Facebook to post articles on the personal pages of interested consumers.
More important, automakers must recognize how digital media are changing their companies. At many companies, change is being driven by two groups: savvy leaders who understand the digital dynamic; and 20- and 30-somethings who live their lives through the screens of smartphones and can't understand why their companies don't share information and collaborate as freely as they do.
In between, there can be middle- and upper-middle managers who often resist change because it's usually safer to make no decision than a risky one that could fail.
Top executives must make extra efforts to explain their strategy. It's also important for top executives to give the frozen middle the comfort to make mistakes.
Automakers whose managers -- at all levels -- feel free to try new ways to connect with customers will make the most effective use of rapidly changing digital media.