LOS ANGELES – Ed Allen recalls his grandfather enthusiastically telling family and friends how much he loved his old Ford F-150 pickup.

“Fast-forward a few generations,” says Allen, vice president-automotive industry business unit for information technology firm Oracle. “My daughter bought a new car and was so excited about it, she posted photos and comments on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.”

She’s an owner advocate, just like her great-granddad was.

“The difference is that my grandfather influenced maybe 20 people, while my daughter influences thousands,” Allen says at the Automotive Customer Centricity Summit, hosted by Thought Leadership Summits here.

That is the power and reach of social media. It plays a starring role in how people express themselves to a world that has become larger.

That is why Allen and other conference attendees say it pays for auto makers and dealers to use social networking and related technology to stay in touch with customers, stoke their enthusiasm and aim a fire hose at problems that may flare up.

“You need to get your customers talking about you,” says Dean Evans, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Subaru of America. “If you don’t understand that, you are missing the point.”

Building loyalty is nothing new, but the way it is done today requires agility and the ability to adapt to fast-changing times, says Patrick Reininger, vice president-aftersales for data-cruncher Polk.

“YouTube was founded in 2005, and now gets 3 billion views a day,” he says. “Smartphone household usage has gone from 4% to 50% between 2005 and now.”

Playing to a larger audience in the Internet age, brand advocates are just as enthusiastic as ever. But their ranks are thinning.

“Only 47% of consumers return to the same brand when buying or leasing another car,” Reininger says. “And for dealers, service retention is at an all-time low, 28.1% last year compared to 33% in 2000.”

One way to shore up that erosion is for dealers and auto makers to collaboratively use modern technology such as customer-relationship management software during “the entire vehicle ownership lifecycle,” he says.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com