NEW DELHI: Leading automakers like Ford, Maruti Sazuki and BMW are leveraging social media in India as they seek to find new ways to connect with consumers.

Ford's roll out of its Fiesta and Figo cars in India made considerable use of this channel, drawing on customer research which found that offline and online word of mouth was a key purchase driver.

"Our study told us clearly, the number one is word of mouth ... When we talk in those terms, word of mouth is not [only] talking to your friends and family, it also includes blogging, on social media," Nigel Wark, Ford India's executive director, marketing, sales and service, told Livemint.

"So our digital platform used real people for the launch of the celebratory aspects of the Figo who had a passion for the product. For the Fiesta, we got more people involved through social media as a study told us that our Fiesta buyers spend twice as much of their time on digital compared to TV."

Elsewhere, Maruti Suzuki redesigned one of its models, the Swift hatchback, based on customer comments on sites like Facebook, Orkut and Twitter, such as criticisms about its "plasticky" interior.

Social media now takes 8% of the firm's advertising and marketing spend - standing at Rs200 crore ($39m) annually - over the 12 months to March 2011. This total should reach 16% by the end of the fiscal year.

Shashank Srivastava, chief general manager, Maruti, told Livemint: "Social media is a very engaging medium. It helps get feedback on both products and services and in making a reputation online."

"Compared to advanced markets like the UK, we as a country are still not very digitized, but the direction is very clear."

Hyundai, the Korean automaker, also dedicates 8% of its communications expenditure to social channels, a figure which has grown from 2–3% just three years ago.

"We have a lot of young customers and most are hooked to social media in some way or the other," Arvind Saxena, director, sales and marketing, Hyundai, said. "It's important that we talk in their language to connect with them."

At the Auto Expo 2012, BMW, the high-end marque, gave visitors a digital card linked to their Facebook account. Visitors could then use this card to log in to Facebook via iPad devices made available at BMW's stand, and post updates and photos from the event.

"It's a very cost-effective tool," said Christian Saffer, director, marketing, BMW India. "It's much cheaper than placing an advertisement in a newspaper."

Data sourced from Livemint; additional content by Warc staff