Interview: How Nissan Launched a Passionate Community of Fans

June 22, 2016

Written by NewsWhip
Nissan United feature image

We chatted to Nissan United about passionate social communities, global strategy, and the importance of brands being human.

Recently, we shone a spotlight on Nissan for being one of the best automotive brands on social media. Their content, mostly sourced from their own fan base, consistently drove huge engagement and buzz.
Katie Hollenkamp is the Global Business Integration Director for Nissan United at TBWA\Worldwide. We spoke to her, and Evan Weissbrot, TBWA’s Chief Engagement Officer.
As one of the world’s leading auto brands, we were interested in finding out how the Nissan United team uses social media for their communications strategy on a global scale.
Katie and Evan joined us for a few short questions. Read on for insights into how Nissan activates their users to build an impassioned community, and how that community’s engagement becomes intelligence for the entire brand.
Katie Hollenkamp Evan Weissbrot Nissan

L-R: Katie Hollenkamp, Evan Weissbrot

Can you take us through your team? What does Nissan United seek to do?

Evan: We as an Omnicom family represent 90-95% of Nissan’s agency relationships across the world. What we wanted to do was to create a central governing body in a concerted effort to build Nissan’s presence, and build brand power as efficiently as possible.
Through that, we developed a model called NURVE — Nissan United’s Real-Time Vision for Engagement.

Tell us more about that! How does the NURVE model work?

Evan: I’ll start by saying that none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for the trusting relationship we’ve built with our clients. They got it from the very beginning and that’s been tremendously helpful as we iterated this model first for global, and then other Nissan markets.
So, NURVE is a mix of cross-functional people, very lean processes, and easily actionable insights. All three work together. On a daily basis we listen for data inputs directly from our consumers, owned platforms, media, competitors, and what’s being talked about culturally in the world.
We look at all that and decide if this is something we can watch. Is it a pain point or a passion point for people? What’s the human truth behind this topic, this conversation?
We then proactively come up with a brief that toes the line between human insight and what Nissan cares about right now.
And that’s pretty unique.
It’s an engagement strategy that allows us to iterate on the fly. Maybe a little spark can become a big campaign, start to shape other things outside of marketing.
That’s where we play our heaviest role. We create a lot of content, but we also create a lot of business intelligence that links all of Nissan’s parts.
This team is really meant to be the Central Intelligence Agency for the Nissan brand.
NURVE has been in the field for nearly two years, and has also helped inform TBWA’s Disruption Live operations for other brands, along the way.

Across your platforms, you have this incredible community that is so excited by the user-generated content you post. Can you tell us more about that, how you started that strategy?

Katie: We have an amazing influencer base we’ve built out.
It developed pretty organically. We’re not working with external agencies to identify these people. Organically, we’ve created this magnificent feedback loop of content that was engaging from the get-go.

????⭕️????⭕️???? #OMGTR ????: @gtr_mike

A photo posted by Nissan (@nissan) on

(This photo from a Nissan enthusiast saw over 17,600 likes from fans)
Evan: We have an influencer base able to tap into an additional 100MM fans, including TV celebrities, NFL players, pro BMX riders, and internet gaming stars.
We work with our influencers not just to share their content, but co-create their content. We say, “Would you mind taking the brief we’re going to give you and creating some awesome content?” 9 times out of 10, the answer’s is a resounding yes.
It’s a pretty incredible thing, when you let the voice of the community do the talking for your brand.
We took [Nissan’s Instagram accounts] from 45,000 followers to 700,000 in one year, without any paid support. That’s effect of the community when you hit the sweet spot with what they care about.

That’s quite a success. Can you tell us a little more about your strategies on Instagram?

Evan: We would much rather have an Instagram channel that is 99% user-generated content over stock photos. You start to get members of the community who are recognizable and they encourage others of community to share connect a certain way and that raises the bar of the content.
We look at Instagram as an incredible window into your pals’ lives and what they’re most passionate about. That means honest photography and descriptions of those moments.
When you exclusively feature all of these incredible owners and the stories they have, you’re behaving as a friend would on that platform.

Your social media accounts also have these wonderful community managers who are so active and involved. How did you develop that tactic? How does it fit into the Nissan theme?

Katie: We put priority number one as: “Just Being Human”. It’s a lot of meaningful interactions over time that adds up to a really great relationship.
We really are always on. You need to be operating at full speed 24 hours. That level of responsiveness is so crucial on social channels. Customers expect you to meet their needs no matter where they are.
One thing about social and working at real time speed, you have to give autonomy to the team. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t rigor behind that.
Evan: The thread here for us is credibility. We really go through painstaking, granular, scrutiny of what people are interested in and the ways they engage with that kind of content. We always try to be genuine in intent.

Can you tell us about Nissan’s global strategy? How do you manage your regional markets on social?

Katie: It’s so important to adjust for the local market needs. We’re working very closely with local teams. We want to keep the content at the same level of quality everywhere.
Content is flowing from the markets to our team as well. We share learnings from that out back with the rest of the world.
[fb_pe url=”″ bottom=”30″]
(ed: Nissan United pays attention to what their local markets care about; this campaign for Nissan Mexico let them pair up with the soccer championships.)
Evan: We’re sharing best practices all the time. We find balance between cultural passion points and what’s important to Nissan. It can still have that emotional spark.
The nice thing about the NURVE hub and spoke structure is that we won’t give a market anything without testing on global schedule. Our global team is the beta test, and then we share our learning with regional teams. But that feedback loop goes both ways, and we’re constantly all learning from each other, for smarter outputs every day.

What are your favorite campaigns? Your biggest successes?

Evan: When we’re at our best, it’s the moments that matter, being able to touch a consumer and having them forever be your ally. Being able to reach a fan and being able to create something beautiful that serves their need and the community, that’s a really beautiful thing.
Rather than Nissan saying what it wants to broadcast to the rest of the world, we want to balance what people care about and what Nissan cares about.

With so many emerging technologies on social media like Facebook Live and Snapchat, what’s got you most excited?

Katie: What excites us most is whatever gives us the better ability to connect with our fans. The things where you’re really providing value to your consumer.
[fb_pe url=”” bottom=”30″]
(ed: Posts like this show that whatever technologies emerge, genuine fan passion will continue to push successes)
Evan: It’s always about removing that imposing brand wall and letting people in. We love the new. The new for us is one of our favorite things; it’s an open invitation to get things right, an open invitation to see what people are using and how to maximize it for them.
A lot of brands are afraid of creative platforms, but it’s just another way to tell a very meaningful story and impact their lives.

Before we go, can you reveal to us some of the secret recipe that makes Nissan’s social media so great?  

Evan: Listen to your communities. They’re like having conversations with any one of your friends—those are going to be the most meaningful relationships over time. As long as you’re doing that, you’re going to see engagement.

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