On the Road Again


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Toyota began the year as a brand in crisis. The company that revolutionized the automotive industry with “The Toyota Way” was under siege.  Braking system failures and uncontrolled acceleration allegations plagued the company. It was forced to initiate the largest recall in its storied history. Poor crisis communications, illusions to the Audi scandal of the 1980s, inconsistent explanations and culture all fanned the flames of public outrage and undermined Toyota’s response. For a fleeting moment, it looked as though the unthinkable would happen – the Japanese titan might collapse. 

And then it didn’t. 

Conventional wisdom might tell you that Toyota should have lost loads of money last quarter in the wake of the company’s largest-ever global recall and safety scandal. And if that’s what conventional wisdom would say, conventional wisdom would be wrong. In reality, Toyota finished Q1 with a 1.2B profit. And all this was after spending a little over 1 billion to manage the crisis and fix the recalled vehicles. 

So what happened?

There are many factors that contributed to the ultimate containment and righting of this crisis, but I would argue that none were quite as powerful as the millions happy Toyota owners who spoke out on behalf of the company. They believed in Toyota. They came out in force on message boards, blogs and social networks to share stories of outstanding customer service, quality vehicles, honest dealers and generally good customer service. Even amongst my geeky pack of software engineer friends, who have never willingly promoted a brand in their lives, the phrase, “now is the time to buy a Toyota” echoed throughout our conversations.

The Toyota example illustrates a key point of social media strategy that many organizations misunderstand. Many view Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and the like as creators of public opinion. They therefore look to manage and control them – as though by doing so, they can manipulate the opinion factory into producing any output they want.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Social media does not shape public opinion – it amplifies and catalyzes it. Put another way, if your organization provides terrific value, excellent customer service and responds to the voice of your customer – these channels will reflect that. If you don’t, they won’t. Faking it isn’t an option. 

This means that for many organizations, the first critical step to creating a coherent social media strategy for your brand is not to look without, but within. If you view social media as an amplifier – you need to look at your direct interactions, policies and practices as indicators of what will be amplified. If you don’t understand your customer experience and what is being amplified externally doesn’t match up with what you see internally – it’s time for a reality check. 

In the immortal words of Johnny Mercer – singer, composer and early social media strategist:

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

In the Toyota example, they caught on to this very quickly. They knew how happy their customers were and what a positive experience they provided. They began running advertising designed to spur their customer base to action. You may recall the series of ads that showed happy customers with dutiful dealers talking about their long running relationships and trouble-free vehicles. Owners indentified themselves in these ads – and admittedly nodded their heads and said, “yeah, I do love my Toyota”.

Is Toyota out of the woods? Only time will tell. However, when asked how he planned to boost the profitability of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, the President and CEO, said simply, “offering high quality, reasonably priced vehicles.” And once again proving a model of efficiency, Mr. Toyoda’s plan is also a fantastic basis for a social media strategy too! 

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Richard Stern
Richard Stern is Senior Vice President, Global Marketing for Jacada. Richard brings to Jacada more than 15 years of experience in successfully leading global marketing and new business development initiatives. Most recently, Richard served as Senior Vice President, Growth Telecom for SpinVox, a leading global speech technology company that delivers voice-to-text services for telecommunications providers.


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