WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — The most useful automotive websites consistently integrate access to social media platforms throughout their pages, a new study by J.D. Power and Associates indicates.

Released this week, the 2012 Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study measures the usefulness of automotive manufacturer websites during the new-vehicle shopping process by examining speed, appearance, navigation and information/content. According to the semiannual study, all automotive brand websites provide users with the ability to access various social media platforms to connect with the brand's social media presence or share information about a brand or model under consideration.

There was, however, wide variation among websites in the pervasiveness of social media access (i.e., whether it's available from only the site's home page, or from a variety of pages).

Websites that are the most useful tend to provide users with social media access from a variety of pages, including the home page, model pages, configurator tool and photo gallery, according to the study. Brands that do not perform well in usefulness tend to have limited social media availability throughout their sites, such as access only from the home page and model pages.

"The widespread usage of social media has created an expectation of constant availability," said Arianne Walker, senior director of media and marketing solutions at J.D. Power and Associates. "By integrating links to social media platforms throughout several site features, automotive brand websites enhance convenience for users and also increase the possibility that website users will promote the brand within their social networks."

Overall satisfaction with the usefulness of automotive brand websites decreased to an average of 772 on a 1,000-point scale in Wave 1 of the 2012 study from 784 in Wave 2 of the 2011 study, which was released in August 2011. Much of this decline is due to decreased satisfaction with navigation and information/content. These declines may be attributable to the challenges that automotive brand websites are facing in designing sites that are usable on both tablets and desktop computers.

While only 20 percent of new-vehicle shoppers say they own a tablet, among those who do, 47 percent say they have used their tablet to access automotive information, according to the study.

"As automotive brand websites attempt to accommodate the dimensions, resolution and layout best suited for tablet use, some have changed their design in ways that inhibit usage on desktop computers," Walker said. "For example, pages that require scrolling to view all of the content on a particular page may be preferred by tablet users, but they are quite frustrating for desktop computer users, who are used to clicking to access content directly rather than finding it on the page by scrolling."

Acura's website ranks highest with a score of 808 on a 1,000-point scale, and performs particularly well in the navigation and speed measures. Rounding out the five highest performing automotive websites were Honda (806), Hyundai (803) and Infiniti and Lincoln in a tie (802 each).

Wave 1 of the 2012 Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study is based on evaluations from more than 9,400 new-vehicle shoppers who indicated they will be in the market for a new vehicle within the next 24 months, according to J.D. Power and Associates. The study was fielded in November 2011. For more information, visit www.jdpower.com.