• Mar 25th 2010 at 12:00AM
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Toyota needs to use social media sites to its advantage... Toyota needs to use social media sites to its advantage (webtreats, Flickr).

Follow me.

This is just one of Toyota's latest requests to its loyal (and not so loyal) public. In recent days, Toyota has jumped on the social marketing bandwagon with some gusto. Prior to their much-discussed recall, Toyota had what I would consider a rather lackluster effort in the social marketing arena.

Today however, you can go to http://www.toyotaconversations.com to follow the latest happenings on Toyota, from Toyota and others. This is a branded channel on TweetMeme that was produced with the help of Federated Media. When you come here you can read their latest posts from their Twitter page, http//www.twitter.com/Toyota, as well as video, press releases and some feeds from larger publications.

For instance, just last week I found the latest article from the Washington Post and USA Today talking about NHTSA's belief that the latest runaway Prius incident in New York was due to driver error. There was also an article on their "loyalty" deals (0% financing on select models) as well as several others talking about reasons to buy a Toyota and more.

The tone is, well, decidedly positive. Is that in line with what's going on elsewhere in the web?

The LA Times covered this story too (March 2, 2010 Toyota, Looking for Positive Spins, turns to Twitter) and suggested that Toyota may be filtering out some "unwanted" criticism. But Toyota's reps at Federated Media replied by saying that "Negative stories are not filtered out of ToyotaConversations in any way whatsoever except for offensive content and the like".

Given the commentary to my last two Toyota blogs on AOL Autos (Toyota's Female Problem: Women Buyers Considering Other Brands, Some Revolutionary Ideas For Toyota To Right Itself), I would guess that those are the kind of comments that they are filtering, likely falling into the "and the like" category.

We have all talked endlessly that Toyota's biggest mistake (outside of some obvious engineering and quality control issues) was their handling and communication, or lack thereof, of the situation. Rule #1 in any good crisis management campaign is to control your message. Saying nothing may seem like taking the high road but in this day and age, particularly for a large, public company, all it serves to do is to fuel the speculation for what's REALLY going on.

So, entering into the social marketing fray, particularly Twitter, is the right thing to do, even if they were a bit late. It has worked for other brands and it has worked against brands too.

Take the latest high profile Twitter issues that have erupted in the transportation segment. Filmmaker Kevin Smith was accused of being too fat for Southwest Airlines seats and promptly Tweeted his case that resulted in a big black eye for the airline company. But, Southwest handled it quickly by responding in the same medium. This was made more successful due in part to the fact that Southwest already had a strong commitment to the social landscape and has over 1 million Twitter followers. @Toyota as of today has just over 18,000.

The point is, without a strong understanding and presence in the Twitter and social landscape, it is very hard to get on top of these issues and harder yet to seed good will before bad has a chance to root.

To further prove this point, I searched for companies or groups that have analyzed the Twitter activity of Toyota since the recall debacle began and found a good analysis on Buzz Study (http://infegy.com/buzzstudy/what-happened-with-toyota/). A few of their slides are transposed here (Dated March 12, 2010).

First you can see that the quantity of posts has almost quadrupled up to what BuzzStudy says was a highpoint of 120,000 posts in one day.

Then looking at the left side you can see that there has been about a 30% decrease in Toyota sentiment that occurred right after the first incident.

You will note in this next illustration that this is a downward trend, not the end of the story, at least not yet. So expect to see a continued downward slope for a while.

This slide is one I would recommend all Toyota Marketing and PR executives keep on their dashboards. It is a classification of the buzz going on about Toyota, by social site. Obviously, Twitter is the place to start. But Facebook has potential. Unfortunately, while Toyota does have a Facebook page, they very rarely update it and therefore are violating Rule #1 again...they have lost control of the message there.

Finally, I think it is pretty clear that in this technological age, you can run but you cannot hide and while Toyota is starting to approach the problem in the right way (in fact, the buildout of their Toyota.com/recall is a good example of a lot of great info refreshed frequently, but it shouldn't be the only place), they are lacking that truth and transparency aspect that people are clamoring for from them. Like it or not, this is happening more on social media sites rather than on manufacturer websites.

They have their Twitter pages and Facebook pages but they don't appear focused on them. The tone is far different from that of the rest of the ecosystem, which only helps to solidify the idea that they are presenting a message out of balance. These social media spaces can serve them well if they show more of an effort towards personalization and transparency. Brands do not win over crowds by simply showing up. Today you have to be a true participant if you want people to "Follow Me."



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