March 18, 2011

Confession #22: Bloggers are going mainstream

Having a morbid-enough curiosity, I listen to a lot of panel discussions on so-called new media. They're largely the same, telling people – mostly journalists and media-savvy individuals – that everything's going online, print is dying (if not dead already) and those of us fortunate enough to be pursuing our degrees now should really be sensible and pick something else.

Not one to listen to those who refer to any form of media that isn't online as "fossil media," I resisted entering the blogosphere until two years ago, by which time it was already entering the mainstream. Even then, I hardly call myself a committed blogger.

Unlike Steven Wade, who spent the better part of six years putting his passion for Saabs on digital ink with, and its predecessor, The Hobart resident (that's in Tasmania, which is part of Australia) took his interest to the Internet and caught a wave of enthusiasm for the former General Motors subsidiary and manufacturer of idiosyncratic cars for thinking types and Bostonians.

Wade's efforts, for which he was unpaid for, were rewarded March 14 when Saab Automobile announced he would be hired to join the company's marketing and social media efforts. He, in turn, also announced that he had sold SaabsUnited to new leadership and it would continue to be an enthusiast's site.

As SaabsUnited became synonymous for Saab scoop, passionate essays and fantastic photography, it also became a catalyst in GM's eventual sale of the brand to Spyker Cars last year, after it seemed all hope had been lost, with the recently bankrupt auto giant preparing to liquidate Saab. Along with other social media, Wade and other supporters organized rallies around the world to support the brand and convince GM executives to sell rather than shut-down their beloved company.

2012 Saab 9-3 Independence Edition Convertible
(Saab Automobile photo)
Recognizing the importance of brand loyalty and the still-emerging power of social media, the new Saab management – headed by the charismatic Dutch chairman Victor Muller – made a wise move by scooping up an enthusiasts to connect to both current Saab customers and lure possible conquest buyers. Already, Saab has gone to great lengths to inspire a better sense of community between employees and owners, holding an independence-from-GM celebration in February, releasing a special edition car – this year, the 9-3 Independence Edition Convertible – and offering owners the chance to create their own web banner ads, using some testimonials and the like. These are things that would likely have been unheard of under corporate ownership.

Most significantly however, it represents the greater level of respect and credibility bloggers are enjoying. Just this week, Jalopnik broke the story of Detroit News auto critic Scott Burgess' resignation, an event related not only to automotive writing, but the field of journalism as a whole.

Bloggers haven't replaced reporters and newsrooms, but they've definitely provided a much-needed boost in criticism and analysis, much of which has become unfeasible as news gathering organizations contract in the current media environment.

After following the Saab blogs from 2005, I watched how spy pictures and analysis from some very persistent Trollhattan, Sweden residents, techies working late at night and truly dedicated Saab fans, turned into a site that was being referenced by other auto journalists as a jumping-off point to spark reporting. It became a great asset, along with countless other similar sites for other brands, that likely gauges interest for automakers.

Saab had a powerful ally in Wade, and one who found a strong way of communicating with the customers the company so desperately wants to keep coming back for another car. Having him on the payroll now probably means good things for the brand's renaissance.

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