Tesla: How to Leverage Social Media to Build a Top Brand

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When the topic of electric vehicles is brought up what is the first company that comes to mind? For millions around the world, Tesla is synonymous with electric vehicles (EV). This strong association is the result of powerful branding. So how does a company that has an advertising budget of only $6 per car build one of the most successful luxury brands in the world?

This may come as a surprise but Tesla is in fact not the leading EV maker. In the first quarter of 2017, the Renault-Nissan Alliance sold nearly 50% more vehicles than Tesla. So why does Tesla appear to be the face of the EV market? Well, let’s analyze the stats. Most car companies have large advertising budgets which are used to promote their vehicles through paid mediums such as television, radio, print, and billboards. Tesla uses a more organic approach to advertising by leveraging popular social media platforms. Over 25% of all conversations about electric cars on social media are connected to Tesla. Tesla’s social media growth from 2017 to 2018 dwarfed all of its competitors. This is now more important than ever with 95% of vehicle consumers researching through social media; Tesla is only at the forefront of future success.

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Tesla “ranks third out of 29 of the world’s car brands in its social media visibility, outperforming legacy brands such as VW, Ford, and Toyota”. — Management Today

Here’s how Tesla and Elon Musk leverage social media to create a powerful international brand.

Many companies partner with individuals who have a strong social media following. These individuals are referred to as influencers for their ability to influence a buyer's decisions. Tesla’s most important influence is their CEO, Elon Musk. Musk’s power as an influencer is evident when comparing the CEO’s companies’ social media accounts with his own. Musk’s has 23.4 million followers on Twitter while Tesla only has 3.1 million. Rather than pay influencers, Musk focuses on building his personal brand to promote his companies. Not only does this cut cost, but also personalizes the company brand. A personalized brand creates more opportunities for consumers to connect with the brand’s vision. Musk’s involvement in social media also gives the company a face. The result is consumers who are more comfortable and trusting.

While many brands adhere to photoshoot-quality photos and themes, Tesla prefers to upload content that is more spontaneous. The majority of their Instagram post are photos and videos of their vehicles in action, either at events or driving. Tesla’s candid approach removes the “smoke and mirrors”, creating an authentic connection and trust with consumers and followers. Showing their vehicles in action effectively demonstrates the functionality of their products in an entertaining way. A demand for the vehicles is generated without the need of list and stats and specifications.

Musk is a rock star in the tech world; however, he still finds the time in his busy schedule to update his followers. Tesla uses social media to build and engage with their community. They have a loyal fanbase who promote the brand through word of mouth. Musk personally responds to comments on his social media network. This is why fans of Tesla feel empowered, they have the opportunity to engage with the company’s CEO and founder. In the end, this is beneficial to Tesla because this allows their followers to be more informed and in return, they will support Tesla’s vision.

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Tesla’s competition consists of many legacy brands. These brands have built a strong following roughout their long history. Their reputation and prestige are the most valuable part of their brand. Musk’s competitive advantage comes from his strong and personal community engagement. Tesla keeps the public up to date with their products starting in the development and production phases. While other companies simply use social media post as advertisements, Tesla tells the story of their company with frequent and regular updates. Once again, transparency humanizes the brand. Tesla also thrives on its positive messages. The company promotes environmentally sustainable technology and shares their passion with community followers. This adds a visceral connection to the company. Musk even hosted a ask me anything thread on Reddit open to anyone.

Tesla also generates a lot of organic growth through the post that features their vehicles. The brand has permeated the hip-hop culture and is often seen in social media post of rappers like Snoop Dogg, Jay Z, and Dr. Dre. These rappers are quickly growing Tesla’s prestige and have a large positive influence on their social media followers.

Along with his personal brand, Musk also leverages his other companies to grow Tesla’s social presence. SpaceX launched a Tesla Roadster into space. The stunt required no investment from the car company; however, it generated massive social media traction.

In total Tesla has about 7 million social media fans. In comparison, BMW has 35 million. In fact, Tesla only has the eighth largest social media following out of car companies. Their true success is due to an extremely high rate of engagement. This engagement is what makes the young company a force in the automotive industry. Tesla’s social media accounts are as successful or at times more successful than companies that have four times as many aggregate followers.

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As a company, Tesla strives and relies on momentum to compete with larger brands. This model is followed in their social media strategy as well. Tesla builds on their previously obtained momentum by engaging with post and posting updated content. On Twitter, Tesla uses multiple tweets to get followers excited about new announcements. The first tweet generates buzz while the second share news.

It’s hard to critique Tesla’s social media strategy since they use a wide variety of tactics consistently. However, it is important for Tesla to maintain frequent content uploads to engage their audience. They should also focus on demonstrating the use of their products in terms of how consumers will use them in their everyday lives. This will help create a tangible demand for potential end buyers. Although Musk is Tesla’s greatest asset on social media, he is also great vulnerability. Musk’s reputation has a direct impact on the success of Tesla. For this reason, Tesla should continue to build a strong following who advocate for the brand independent of Musk success. If Tesla continues to grow at their current rate, they will most likely be the biggest car brand in the world.

Written by

Actor, Musician and Creative Industries student at Ryerson University.

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