A visit with AskPatty.com

The importance of online car information is a common theme among websites that offer automotive advice for women. On AskPatty.com, founder Jody Devere answers questions addressing the development of car advice websites, and the subsequent influence of such sites on the female consumer as well as the auto industry. As Devere remarks, “women are passionate about researching [and] sharing information and their opinions on what they’ve found.”  The rapid growth of the blogosphere, social media, and networking sites have provided women with the opportunity to discuss what they have found online and more importantly, to be heard. The automobile companies have taken notice, and have developed websites and interactive forums to engage the female consumer and provide her with information. Devere cites the efforts of General Motors and the BlogHer Conference, as well as Ford’s introduction of experiential social media as examples of auto industry efforts to engage the female consumer.

In a past project, I investigated how women used car forums, bulletin boards, and mailing lists to participate in car culture. I discovered that women participated in these locations primarily to acquire automotive knowledge, share driving experiences, and to meet and socialize with fellow female car enthusiasts. The women who participate in car groups on a regular basis are most often not potential car customers, but rather, are women who attach special meanings to the automobile and who seek to connect with others who feel the same way. Websites such as AskPatty.com, while having interactive features, are used primarily as reliable and accessible sources of car buying and maintenance information. However, what my research indicated, and which websites such as AskPatty.com confirm, is that women’s online automotive websites  – whether interactional or informational – provide a safe space for women to seek knowledge about cars. Women who express an interest in cars – as drivers and consumers – are often belittled or patronized in public spaces. Thus many women who participate on interactive automotive websites do so as observers rather than contributors. As one of the respondents to my study remarked, “a lot of females don’t speak out as much nor do they post as much because there’s always a fear of being made fun of.” Online information centers  – such as AskPatty or Edmunds.com – equip women with the knowledge and information necessary to gain confidence as consumers and drivers without the fear of rudeness or harassment. In addition, the labeling of automotives sites as “female” often turns away male consumers, which lessens the opportunity for negative commentary.

Devere asserts that car advice websites have not only helped brands connect with women, but have provided women with the knowledge of their own purchase power, and the impact they can have on manufacturers, retailers, and other consumers via social media. While it is impossible to tell through observation how many women visit car repair websites on a regular basis, my prior research suggests that women who are serious about obtaining information before car purchase or service find websites such as Edmunds.com and AskPatty.com invaluable.

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