Can Facebook Save Toyota — and Your Business?

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.

Continue reading.

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