Automakers love marketing on Facebook. They share videos, photos and chatter with millions of fans of their brands.
But converting Facebook fans into paying customers? Well, that's a work in progress.
Social media experts say companies need to see Facebook less as a retailing tool than as brand advertising -- creating word-of-mouth advocacy and affinity for brands. That hasn't stopped some automakers from using sales tactics on the online community.
A few examples show why marketers are tantalized by the sales potential of Facebook:
-- Jeep's 2.7 million U.S. Facebook fans convinced the brand to offer its Altitude edition on all vehicles this year rather than just on the Grand Cherokee.
-- Audi is selling its racy TT RS coupe here as well as in Europe because 12,000 Facebook fans signed a petition pledging to plunk down $50,000 if Audi would bring it.
-- At the dealer level, an "employee pricing" advertisement posted on the Facebook page of Rick Case Honda in Davie, Fla., resulted in 100 cars sold the first weekend of June, said Richard Bustillo, the dealership's general manager.
-- Fiat is using an old-school marketing technique -- coupons -- in an effort to convert those who click the "like" buttons on its Facebook page into paying customers.
"We're asking what our efforts are worth in ROI" -- or return on investment, said Casey Hurbis, head of advertising for Fiat in North America.
After Fiat surpassed 500,000 fans on Facebook in February, it offered each of those fans a $500 coupon on a Fiat 500 subcompact and a chance to win one of 12 500s by using a code at a Fiat dealership.
In early July, after the coupons expire, Fiat will know whether the coupons and contest moved the sales needle, Hurbis said.
"We know we induced some dealer traffic," Hurbis said, adding that "it was an opportunity to gauge the return on investment in the social media space."
For most brands there's a mix of encouraging results and frustration as executives explore the potential of Facebook marketing. And the relatively low cost of social media marketing relieves some of the pressure on marketers to harvest sales from Facebook.
General Motors recently signaled its dissatisfaction with a related aspect of Facebook marketing -- paid advertising and sponsored content -- by yanking a $10 million budget. Sponsored content is the practice of paying Facebook for better placement of News Feed items on fans' personal pages.
GM said it plans to add the $10 million -- and possibly more -- to the $30 million a year it already spends to create free content for Facebook pages, which it deems more effective.
"We will continue to have a huge content presence on Facebook," a GM spokesman wrote in an e-mail. "We expect to significantly increase our spending on Facebook content. We've had great success engaging customers and fans on our product and brand pages."
GM's $30 million for Facebook is a small portion of the automaker's $1.8 billion U.S. advertising budget.
Owen Peacock, Scion's manager of marketing communications, said that just because a company has 1 million fans, that doesn't mean all 1 million will receive a company's update on their News Feeds. Facebook's algorithms and formulas don't allow it -- unless the automaker pays Facebook a premium.
Honda is sticking with sponsored Facebook content, said John Watts, manager of digital marketing at American Honda. Honda's recent Facebook activity launching the redesigned CR-V has contributed to five months of record sales, he said.
"We're happy with what we're getting," Watts said, speaking last week at the TLS Automotive Social Media summit, a meeting of automaker executives and dealers in Marina del Rey, Calif. He said sponsored content is "worth it" for the increased reach Honda's message receives.
Watts said that Honda's Facebook spending is "modest" compared with GM's $30 million Facebook budget.