The PR car is idling at the intersection of social media and Toyota’s response to their disastrous debacle. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Toyota, through a series of missteps, has virtually destroyed their market growth and given their public image a flat tire. However, they’re earning points for being more forthright (even though it’s pretty late in the roadtrip) for their unvarnished use of social media in the form of “Toyota Conversations,” a site that aggregates Toyota news as well as Toyota’s Twitter updates and recall information.
…”given the rise of social media, jumping into a conversation when it’s most against you is perhaps the only way that a major company can appropriately handle PR these days.”
She’s right. There’s only so much good–and frankly much more damage–that a one-way conversation (read: “traditional PR”) about an event this catastrophic can do. Taylor said she has “quibbles” with the site in that it doesn’t offer Twitter comments from the public. I agree, but have to say that with a corporate culture like Toyota’s, “Toyota Conversations” is a huge step.
In my career I’ve managed or worked on teams that handled some pretty sticky crisis com situations. Hands down the worst was when I was part of a hospital crisis communication team during the terrorist attack in Oklahoma City in 1995. The team did an incredible job under excruciatingly tough circumstances. Though not by any means the “bad guy” in that horrific event, we were still absolutely inundated with media requests and visits from agencies spanning the globe and a daily deluge of calls from victim families, their friends and concerned citizens. A large amount of our time was spent responding to misinformation and rumors.
Despite our best efforts, much of the information that made it out was incorrect, embroidered or unnecessarily dramatized (as if any drama needed to be added to that horror). Looking back, I can only imagine the positives of having the social media tools we have now to get information out, quash rumors and more effectively manage a chaotic communications event. Certainly social media would also have provided millions of “channels” for misinformation, but we would have had the ability–like the better-late-than-never-Toyota–to inform the public more effectively and perhaps alleviate much of the panic and misinformation.