As most of the world now knows, Toyota’s US unit has announced the recall of approximately 2.3 million vehicles to repair a condition that has resulted in gas pedals sticking while the car is being driven. Safety issues are perhaps an automaker’s greatest threat, and Toyota clearly is taking the situation seriously. The company has even halted production of the affected vehicles until the problem can be solved. Nevertheless, according to auto blog The Truth About Cars, the Japanese business publication Nikkei (think Wall Street Journal) claims that the crisis “is seen as a major dent in the side of the leading Japanese automaker’s reputation as a builder of reliable automobiles.”
The Toyota issue is the largest product recall since the rise of Social Media, but it is not the first. In November, 2009, UK stroller manufacturer Maclaren recalled approximately one million strollers after reports that children were getting their fingers caught in the folding mechanism. The company put recall information on its web site, which, according to the New York Times, promptly crashed. Like Toyota, Maclaren’s stellar reputation resulted in a case of “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Time reported that parent blogs were merciless toward the company. Maclaren posted a video PSA to YouTube announcing the recall and the availability of a repair kit, but apparently did not take advantage of either Facebook or Twitter to communicate with parents.
Toyota is already receiving some criticism for being insufficiently engaged with its customers. The company has a page on its site dedicated to the recall, with links to FAQs and a video news release consisting of talking head sound bites from COO Jim Lentz along with ad-quality footage of the cars and the factory. The video is disappointing: Lentz’s comments sound blandly reassuring but never manage to engage. Today’s Ad Age reports that Toyota’s video is now on the company’s Facebook page, where it is said to have been well received. If the video is posted on the Toyota page, however, the company has not made it easy to find. Most of the wall postings appear to be from car owners and most are in the “I love my Toyota!” genre (it’s not called a fan page for nothing). There appears to be no company-supplied content relating to the recall (unless that video is there somewhere) and certainly no conspicuous attempt to leverage Toyota’s 70,000+ Facebook fans.
Toyota does have a presence on Twitter, but until yesterday the company was using the feed to point to information on the company’s web site. On Monday afternoon Lentz spent 20 minutes fielding questions on Twitter. The Q&A was announced only shortly before it began, and greater lead time might have yielded more participants. However, car bloggers such as @jalopnik and its editor @raywert were on the feed as well as several Toyota dealers. Although this was not the smoothest exercise, it strikes us as a good first step toward engaging with customers, not just making announcements to them.
Toyota is using a wide range of media to announce that it knows how to repair the faulty parts. Now let’s see how Toyota uses Social Media as it tries to repair its reputation.