The automotive industry has a long history of trying its hardest to come up with the most innovative commercials, promotions, and means of garnering fresh views and interest. With so many dealerships to choose from, customers must be courted expertly in order to be convinced to choose a particular brand, style, or business location.
So what does a company do when its brand goes south?
Toyota is a classic example. This dependable, award-winning brand has encountered some tough luck over the last several years – but it chose not to let its misfortunes dictate its future success.
In this article from Ragan.com, Russell Working points out that social media has been a big part of Toyota’s road to recovery. Using this online space to market to potential clients has helped Toyota restore its good name, and there is a lot to be learned from this industry giant’s strategies. Read on to see how your own business can employ social media marketing to help bring new business, fresh visibility, and positive reviews to the table.
Follow this link to see the article in its original location at Ragan.com.
A recall crisis damaged a respected brand; the carmaker has employed Digg, Facebook and other venues to restore its good name.
By Russell Working | Posted: April 18, 2011
What do you do when your brand’s reputation—considered one of the best in the business—crashes, leaving damage that will take years to repair?
This is the situation Toyota was thrown into when it was forced to recall 9 million vehicles in the United States because of accelerator pedals that could become stuck or trapped by floor mats, potentially causing high-speed accidents.
Toyota even stopped sales, and it marshaled its social media resources to respond to the crisis, reassure customers and rebuild its good name.
The carmaker used platforms like Digg, Facebook and Twitter to respond to criticism at a time it was taking a beating from consumers, comedians and Congress. Along the way, it changed its corporate culture.
“The reputation damage is one of the hardest things to repair,” says Kimberley Gardiner, national interactive marketing manager, “because it gets back to what people perceive as what went wrong, what happened, how did they handle it? To rebuild that trust, and rebuild the sense of Toyota is a strong brand, it’s a long-lasting brand, it’s a brand that cares—those things take time.”
In August 2009, four people were killed in an accident in San Diego after the accelerator in a Lexus was stuck and the vehicle could not stop. Owners were soon notified to remove floor mats, and by early last year, Toyota was issuing orders to stop sales and production of its vehicles.
Some critics also claimed that electronic flaws were causing its cars to accelerate, but a study released by NASA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration debunked that. Unfortunately, that came in February, a year after the height of the recall.
So what lessons do Toyota’s social media efforts offer in the rebuilding of consumer trust?
1. Have a team in place.
In late 2009, Toyota created a social media group that integrated PR, marketing, customer relations and agency partners. This came at the beginning of a crisis that made it the lead story on national news broadcasts on many nights for weeks.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time for us,” says Florence Drakton, social media and integration manager.
2. Plan for the worst.
No one expects a crisis, but you should prepare for one anyway, Gardiner says. “Have the communications channels available and open so that, as you go through something like a crisis, you have the immediate means to get to the right people to provide information,” she says.
3. Get your executives out in front.
During the height of the recall, in February 2010, key Toyota leaders held community chats via Digg Dialogg and Twitter. This put executives like Jim Lentz— president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales, USA—before the public in new ways.
This had not been the protocol, Gardiner says. Toyota’s identity lay in the collective, but it realized that consumers needed to see a face and know that high-level executives were taking their concerns seriously.
Says Gardiner: “It personifies the idea that, yes, Toyota is a brand, but Toyota is also a collection of leaders and people who care and who want to assure customers that we’re making every effort to do the right thing. … It humanizes the brand.”
4. Inform and direct consumers.
Toyota used Facebook and Twitter to update drivers who were worried about the accelerator issue and the subsequent recall but weren’t clear about what to do, Gardiner says. “They were thinking, ‘Is it my car that’s involved? What do I need to do? What’s the next step? When am I going to hear from Toyota? What does it mean?’”
Toyota directed customers to its “recall hub,” a micro-site that enabled the company to inform the public directly, says Toyota spokeswoman Carly Schaffner. This helped people cut through the whirlwind of information and misinformation about the recall, officials say.
In June it created a “safety hub” amid a campaign that included another Digg Dialogg, this time with Dino Triantafyllos, vice president of quality.
5. Let consumers be your advocate.
One might think the wake of a public relations disaster would be a bad time to invite customer responses. But Toyota was gathering support on Facebook from loyal drivers. “We found a lot of owners who were really positive and who’d advocate for our brand,” Drakton says.
So Toyota created Auto-Biography on Facebook as a platform for owners to share stories about their experiences with the brand. Cars tend to be one of the largest purchases people make, after a home and a college education, Toyota officials say. And people tend to have strong memories of their experiences in the car.
Toyota played on those affinities, getting responses ranging from family vacations to memories of driving cross-country to college. Thousands of stories were submitted, and the number of Facebook “likes” shot up.
6. Blend traditional and social media.
Toyota launched a nationwide promotion of its Sienna van, and its “Swagger Wagon” campaign took off on YouTube as self-proclaimed “world’s greatest parents” touted their own coolness to a hip-hop beat.
“A lot of parents, and a lot of people, can relate,” Gardiner says. “Minivans aren’t necessarily the coolest thing on the block. But actually, you know what? They’ve transformed over the years.”
The social media efforts helped contribute to a turnaround. From April 2010 to April 2011, according to polling for Toyota, its brand opinion improved by 22 percent and “purchase consideration”—whether people were thinking about buying Toyota—increased 29 percent, Schaffner says.
The lesson? Social media “strengthens the connection people have with the car itself, with the dealer, with our brand generally speaking,” Gardiner says.