Can Facebook save Toyota’s Brand?

For good and bad reasons, many organizations are slow to get
involved with social media. It’s a mistake — a big mistake. A
wait-and-see attitude might have worked in the past, but it’s a clear
indication how out of touch management is with what’s happening in
their marketplace.

One critical reason to start building a fan base on Facebook or
followers on Twitter today is to have an attentive audience when you
need them. To do that you need to be available when they need you, not
when you decide the time is right. That might be too late.

Take Toyota for instance. Who would have thought that one of the
most reliable brands in history would manage its first major recall so
poorly? Yes, I credit Toyota for their candor and unprecedented
decision of this magnitude to halt all sales of recalled vehicles. But
as far as responding to questions, dealers are in the dark. Customers
are angry. 

At least that’s what you hear and read in the traditional media. I
wondered if that was the whole story. So in the words of Paul Harvey,
here’s the “rest of the story.”

Toyota’s Facebook presence is a story of success and missed opportunity.

First, the missed opportunity. 

The first thing I did when I landed on Toyota’s Fan Page was
look for the number of fans. Since a week has passed since Toyota
announced the recall, I was expecting fans for this popular brand would
be in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. My expectation was
promptly crushed. Less than 70,000 fans were following Toyota. In what
could be one of the biggest threats to a brand’s reputation in history,
Toyota has a fraction of a presence compared to other popular brands —
Coca Cola, Starbucks, Red Bull. 

So with only 70,000 member — are they kidding me? Coca Cola has over 4.2 million fans. Red Bull has 2.2 million. Starbucks has
5.2 million. Even brands with questionable customer loyalty like
AT&T and Verizon had more fans than Toyota, with 230,000 and
835,000 fans respectively.

Those are the numbers I expected from Toyota. With a demographic
base that extends from young drivers in their teens to octogenarians,
why wouldn’t they have built a presence on Facebook months ago like
other industry leaders? Was it fear of negativity? Was it arrogance?
How could a brand so widely applauded for its laser focus on customer
service and quality turn a deaf ear to the most popular communication
medium today? Or did they look to their industry peers, competitors Ford (70,000 fans) and GM (107,000), and become complacent that they were doing enough already? 

Whatever their reason (or excuse) Toyota missed a great opportunity
to engage with their customers in real-time to keep a pulse on the
reaction during this crisis and put a lid on bad publicity. With
millions of customers in its database, a fan base of 70,000 just plain
sucks. 

Within this black Toyota cloud however is a silver lining and two valuable lessons for every organization.

While management often focuses on the negative comments that could
be argued publicly and spread virally across the Internet, it misses
the unprecedented opportunity of having raving fans do the grunt work
of defending your reputation for you — in good times and bad.

For instance, one fan named Kris is campaigning hard against Toyota on its very own Facebook page.

Kris is every CEO’s nightmare and corporate attorney’s excuse for
not having a presence on Facebook. In one update he writes, “Toyota’s
are the ugliest vehicles on the road. Oh yeah, they are killing people
too. Thank god they were caught trying to cover it up and forced to
issue recalls and halt production!” He follows this up over several
days with updates with links to negative headlines about how Toyota was
“concealing and destroying evidence.”

I can hear the executives now: “See, you should have listened to me. I told you this kind of thing would happen.”

Jack, another fan, wrote, “Whenever Toyota produces an actual original vehicle it’s simply a hideous piece of trash anyway.”

But the value of having raving fans trumps all negativity. While
Toyota has been noticeably absent from the conversation (which is
likely why its fan numbers are so low), its loyal fans aren’t sitting
idly by. 

Yvonne commented, “To all those that are bashers on this site go
take a pill and chill, find something useful to do with your time.” In
the same vein, Mark responded to Kris with “Kris if you don’t like
Toyota get off site. You are a hypocrite punk!” For raving fans,
criticizing their favorite brand is the equivalent of criticizing
family. You may openly criticize them but beware the outsider who does
the same. 

Every organization needs raving fans. They need fans like Nestor who
wrote, “I still love you Toyota! :)” and Diane who followed with “I
love my Toyota and would not think of buying anything else.” Despite
the recall and the negative press, millions of Toyota owners are
sticking by the company and actively defending it by their own
volition. That’s the silver lining for Toyota.

In a very unscientific analysis of updates and comments on the
Toyota page, positive comments outnumbered negative ones by more than
10:1. Now imagine if Toyota had a million fans instead of 70,000. Can
you imagine the energy behind 900,000 raving fans, defending your
reputation despite 100,000 revelers boasting your demise?

Fortunately, Toyota has these raving fans, ready to enter into
keystroke combat with anyone who denounces their favorite brand. They
build this loyalty over years and years. But despite being one of the
most admired companies, they still have relatively few fans on their
Facebook page — in my opinion, a glaring mistake in managing one of the
world’s best brands. This should be lesson #2 for business leaders
contemplating to be a fan or foe of Facebook. Regardless of your
popularity, building a fan base on Facebook takes more than an
announcement to “Become a Fan.” With so many things competing for your
customer’s attention, you’ve got to create a reason for them to become
your raving fan — today. It takes time to build a Facebook village.
What are you waiting for?

A “retired” Toyota slogan from the 80s said, “I love what you do for
me, Toyota!” Apparently, Toyota’s fans still the love the ride — sticky
pedal and all.

What about your organization? How would it fare if your business was
hit suddenly by an attack on its reputation? Would your customers
voluntarily come to your defense? And if so, would they have the mass
to drown out the negative noise?

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