Social networks have become a matter of course for the Facebook generation. And companies in the auto industry are working hard to establish a presence in the world of Web 2.0. New communication initiatives are essential, both to make contact with young talent and to connect with a new generation of car buyers.

Since July 1, 2010, BMW Group job offers have been posted on Facebook and Twitter.

Students, graduates and experienced professionals can find information there. If a suitable job isn’t available, BMW sends offers to interested parties via Twitter ”“ they can be passed on to friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

“With our activities in the social media field, we want to give users the possibility of exchanging information with us on career issues,” said Christine Regler, manager of international human resources marketing at BMW.

The Munich automaker is proceeding systematically with social media. On Facebook, the firm maintains its corporate page, BMW Group View, as well as sites for its core BMW brand, BMW Motorcycle and Mini.

“Automobile companies like all the others need social media to be attractive to potential employees and even to address them,” said Wolfgang Jäger, proprietor of Dr. Jäger Management.

Jäger, who also teaches business administration and media management at RheinMain University in Wiesbaden, said social media usage is rising exponentially. “No company can get around StudiVZ, Xing and Facebook any longer,” he said.

Companies are transferring requirements, opportunities and possibilities for communication into the world of Web 2.0 and social networks.

“It is no longer possible to imagine that these forms of communication are not part of the lives of the younger generation,” said Jäger. “Anyone who wants to have a conversation with them has to enter this new world of communication.”

All premium carmakers do it

Next to BMW, Germany’s other two premium carmakers have been moving ahead with social media.

Audi, a division of the Volkswagen group, uses social networks to find future employees using “active sourcing.”

But Daimler has been moving particularly rapidly. In early June ”“ and thus four weeks earlier than BMW ”“ Daimler started its HR career portal on Facebook. The company even posted open positions there.

The site is dialog-driven, so it’s possible to hold discussions and have questions and answers.

Since October 2007, Daimler has operated a blog managed by Uwe Knaus. “Corporate blogs are an important tool allowing large firms in particular to function humanely and manageably despite their size,” he said.

“With the blog, the readers no longer experience our company as a black box, but rather communicate on a par with the people who work at Daimler,” Knaus said,.

The Daimler site has about 100,000 page views a month. The target group includes people that Daimler has had a harder time reaching with conventional media ”“ “the digital natives manufactured in 1980 or later,” as Knaus likes to put it.

Market researchers such as Eike Wenzel and Matthias Horx say the Facebook generation is “between 14 and 32 years old. About 80 percent of them sleep within reach of their mobile phones, and two-thirds communicate via SMS while driving. For them, social media are the norm and Wenzel and Horx say they consider e-mail to be too slow and nearing extinction.

Daimler’s Knaus says the Facebook generation is crucial for Daimler. “They are our future employees and customers.”

Estimates, put the number of employees with an Internet connection at Daimler at between 150,000 and 180,000 out of a total work force of 250,000.

Daimler’s social media guideline

The company has published a social media guideline. The two-page, document is publicly available and regulates employees’ conduct on the social networks -- calling on them to act openly, be honest, and cite names and sources in their statements, for example.

In these cases, Daimler employees act like all of their fellow players on social networks: as investigative disseminators.

Any interested party can directly seize upon lapses or deficiencies in a company’s performance and publicly make an issue of them using the so-called weblogs, wikis and social networks.

Given the constantly increasing networking of these new forms of community, the criticisms are spread in the shortest possible time. And traditional media pick them up.

The speed at which information moves through social media is a major issue. The Institute for Marketing at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, warns: “A wide-ranging danger to a company’s reputation and brand integrity may result if firms do not react to this process equally quickly and with adequate resources.”

The Swiss organization, which is investigating social media’s prospects for marketing and corporate communication, recently held a workshop with university press spokespersons and corporate representatives.

“All agreed that so far no exact indicator can show what social media can do for companies,” said Franco Rota, dean of research at the Stuttgart Media University.

But he added that companies’ motivation in using new forms of communication is clear. “There is no purpose other than a commercial purpose,” he said. “And that’s collecting and sharpening customer profiles.”

By Peter Ilg