As the auto industry struggles to recover from the downturn, many firms are seeking new ways to engage with potential customers, Toyota being the latest to set up a social networking campaign.

Toyota has launched a new social media marketing drive to support sales of the 3rd Generation Prius. The campaign, based on social networking site Facebook and incorporating Apps for the Apple iPhone, allows fans to play Prius-inspired games and explore the features of the new model from their computer.

Toyota's efforts are the latest from an industry eager to exploit social/multimedia channels and reduce the reliance on traditional showroom sales. Most car manufacturers already produce sophisticated, media-rich websites to engage with their target audience and showcase the features of new models. However,  companies are now supplementing these with an online presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or others. New functions often include competitions, guided tours, multimedia items or in Toyota's case, interactive games.

Earlier this year, Ford used Facebook and other social media tools intensively to promote the launch of the 2010 Fiesta in the US. One hundred drivers were given the new model and asked to blog, Tweet and provide YouTube videos about it in an attempt to generate independent content for a car aimed at today's digital consumer market. Since then, the company claims to have received more than 4.3 million YouTube views and over 3 million Twitter impressions.

"We didn't break the bank. We didn't use traditional media. We tried something different, and it is working" said Connie Fontaine, Ford Brand and Content Alliances manager.

Prius: http://www.facebook.com/prius
Ford: http://www.facebook.com/fiestamovement

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