Opinion Leaders Flood Social Media Channels During 2011 SEMA Show

SEMA News—February 2012

By Carr Winn

Likes, Tweets and Posts

Opinion Leaders Flood Social-Media Channels During the 2011 SEMA Show

  auto enthusiasts, aftermarket news, auto trade shows,
Enthusiasts selected to serve as opinion leaders at the 2011 SEMA Show spent between eight and 16 hours posting real-time updates directly from the Show floor.
  auto enthusiasts, aftermarket news, auto trade shows,
The Opinion Leader Program provides valuable data and consumer insight into trends and products that will be in high demand throughout the year. Look for an overview of the 2011 Program’s comprehensive report in next month’s issue of SEMA News.
  auto enthusiasts, aftermarket news, auto trade shows,
As part of SEMA’s third annual Opinion Leader Program, these lucky gearheads and shade-tree mechanics suddenly found themselves not only inside the Show, but actually participating in covering the event
The SEMA Show is a trade-only event, exclusive to those working in the specialty-equipment industry. For consumers, this means that catching a glimpse of the Show floor is possible only by scanning the latest newspapers, magazines and webpages for articles filed by attending media. During the 2011 SEMA Show, however, a special group of enthusiasts were granted access to the Las Vegas Convention Center on Thursday, November 3. Invited by SEMA to participate in a social-media campaign, these attendees had a special mission—identify at least five hot, new products and broadcast their opinions across the Internet.

As part of SEMA’s third annual Opinion Leader Program, these lucky gearheads and shade-tree mechanics suddenly found themselves not only inside the Show, but actually participating in covering the event on behalf of the thousands of people in their social networks. And for enthusiasts, such as Philip Weaver, it was a dream come true.

“I really enjoyed seeing all the new products that are coming to market,” said Weaver. “I was also able to meet some of my heroes, such as Chip Foose and Walker Evans. The entire experience was mind-blowing.”

Adding to the excitement this year, enthusiasts such as Weaver were also allowed to attend the Show on Friday, provided they arrived on time Thursday and completed their assignments. In addition to updating their social networks with real-time coverage from the 2011 SEMA Show, Opinion Leaders also submitted a handwritten list of five products that they would place at the top of their “wish list.” This data created a buzz online and provided content that will be complied into an upcoming report. SEMA’s Tom Myroniak, vice president of marketing and member services, explained the value in collecting this special type of feedback.

“The information that we gathered from the program will give SEMA-member companies a better understanding of their end users, which will help them make better-informed business decisions,” Myroniak said. “It will also raise the visibility of their products and, we hope, help them sell more.”

In selecting their top five products, the opinion leaders essentially cast ballots for the types of products and applications that they would willingly open their wallets to purchase. While exhibitors have a direct interest in receiving this type of feedback from their customers, this unique group was actually able to “testify” on behalf of manufacturers by uploading pictures and comments to their networks of followers.

This type of exposure is incredibly impactful, especially because the social media platforms allow users to share information from “trusted” sources. Given this type of dynamic, the messages that opinion leaders delivered using social networks therefore represented powerful endorsements as they spread the word about their initial impressions from the Show.

Social-media channels, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr, were bombarded with countless updates as Opinion Leaders explored various sections of the 2011 SEMA Show—especially the Ideas Alive: Featuring the New Products Showcase area. Between the products, vehicles and celebrities, many participants also built up a healthy archive of photos to share when they returned to their local communities.

“I truly loved the experience,” said opinion leader Chad Dandron. Logging a full 16 hours in the convention center, Dandron couldn’t put his camera down. “I took more than a thousand photos as well as wrote down a large amount of information to share with people on forums, e-mail as well as locally.”

Distributing photos, opinions and updates has never been easier with the continual integration of social media into almost every handheld communications device. And while everyone has a unique profile within various online communities, participants were allowed to register their Twitter accounts on one of SEMA’s own websites, In this way, every Tweet received further syndication, and every message that included #SEMAShow represented an entry into a drawing for Amazon gift cards and a Sony PlayStation.

Between the giveaways, prizes, free T-shirts and access to the 2011 SEMA Show for two days, most Opinion Leaders had only one additional request: Can I do this again next year? While registration for the 2012 program is not yet open, questions can be addressed to SEMA Market Research Special Projects Manager Megan McKernan.

For SEMA members interested in the upcoming Opinion Leader Report compiled by the SEMA market research team, stay tuned to next month’s issue of SEMA News. In the March edition, SEMA Senior Manager of Market Research Gavin Knapp will unveil statistics and data based on the opinions delivered via social networks, in feedback surveys and during special focus groups. The goal of this project is to synthesize the Tweets, Likes, posts and opinions that flooded social networks and identify consumer trends. The upcoming article will serve as an overview of the report and offer complete details for obtaining the entire publication.