Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Toyota and Twitter

The Toyota disaster gives every PR “practitioner” a chance to wag a finger and trot out the ol’ dos and don’ts. Act fast… admit wrong… fix the problem… communicate round the clock.

In this case you could add: Don't blame the floor mats. Don’t fidget when meeting the press. And don’t drive away from the interview in an Audi.

All fine and true. God love PR professionals and these moments for them to shine. What good are experts in crisis communications unless a company comes along now and then and really botches a crisis.

Toyota’s failure of communications is a symptom of problems behind the scenes, of course – namely the characteristics of its culture. Deference to superiors, reluctance to listen to customers, embarrassed avoidance in the face of failure – these traits underlay Toyota’s inept response to the mushrooming disaster.

How should companies manage their reputation in the 21st century? The answer: Twitter! It’s so obvious. At least that’s what the pundits are saying. From now on, any crisis – from a collapsed highway to a collapsed soufflé – will spark a pseudo-wise invocation of “social media” followed by ready agreement. Twitter – it caused the problem (“Companies can’t contain their story anymore!”).

And Twitter provides the solution (“Reach out… use Twitter… that’s how you win over today’s wireless consumers!”)

Well, LOL. PR consultants are desperate to be on top of this phenomenon – social media – lest they be thought of as people who read newspapers and wear white socks with black shoes.

The fact is, what matters most is a company’s prompt grasp of the nature of a crisis, not the communications channels it uses. If you sell cars with faulty brakes and sticky gas pedals you better start here: Find out why, develop a fix, and get the news out promptly. How you get the news out is secondary.

I am not recommending that beleaguered CEOs write “I’m sorry” on a Big Chief note pad, stuff it in a bottle and cast it out to sea. But content is king here. Everyone is covering your story. Better get it right and make a good case.

Then go back and have a look at that corporate culture.



喜早 said...


brandsinger said...

Your response is very compelling but off subject. Our conversation is about Toyota's missed opportunity not about nominating a new Miss Toyota.

Derek said...

I dare say a new Miss Toyota would provide welcome distraction right now...

Anyway, I appreciate this shot of reality into the whole hype around social media. I work in the communications office at a not-for-profit, and I don't know how many emails I get a week asking me to sign up for some free seminar (which is actually just a shallow two hour ad for a paid seminar/service) on "adapting your organization for social media!" or "measuring the effectiveness of social media!" or "Social Media: Are you Keeping Up?"

I've only been in PR/Branding for five years, and I would love someone to send me an email advertising a free seminar - heck, even a paid seminar - on the time-tested principles of PR, instead of making vague guesses on how I can capitalize on the hype. It reminds me of where web design was in 1998.

Beyond what you wisely counsel above, Claude, I would also suggest that the best use of social media in Toyota's situation would have been well before the crisis itself - creating a valuable facebook presence or tweeting in a way that helps the customers love the product better, so that when a crisis hits there is a higher capacity for forgiveness.

brandsinger said...

Thanks for the kind words, apt examples, and insightful suggestion.


Joshua's Law said...

It's looking like in coming day's Big companies like Toyota, GM, Honda etc.. would need to hear social networking professionals to provide customer support (or) replay to the peoples concerns.

Coming to Toyota they need to make sure that their apology can reach the hearts of consumers and try to provide better assistant in each & every format like in phone, live chat, twitter facebook etc... to aware the people able the step they taking to prevent any future damage also need to provide the how safe they are compared with others which will bring some good results.