This year’s BlogWell Austin featured some of the world’s biggest brands showing amazing candor in discussing their experiences with social media. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from the crowd as the presenting social strategists proactively addressed mistakes and bumps in the road, a welcome departure from the pure social media cheerleading we see from speakers at some other conferences.

Two of the most interesting presentations were given by Toyota and UPS, speaking about the power of social media for course-correction and reputation defense. It was a view into a side of social media we don’t often see, and I thought I’d share the highlights below.

Toyota: How to Leverage Social Media to Build Brand Advocacy

Presenting was Kimberley Gardiner, National Digital Marketing and Social Media Manager for Toyota. Kimberley’s social media team saw an opportunity to rebuild trust in the Toyota brand after last year’s high-profile recall. They saw an increase in negative online sentiment that they needed to address, and they realized that the traditional route—“talking about ourselves”—wasn’t going to do the trick. Instead, they devised a way of encouraging their customers to share positive sentiment online with each other (and prospective Toyota customers) through a clever campaign called Auto-Biography. “It’s what everybody else says about Toyota that matters,” said Kimberley. First, they asked owners to share their experiences on Toyota’s Facebook page, from the “wonderful,” to the “crazy,” to the “not-so-happy.” Stories could be text, photos, videos, or all of the above—a rich mix of user-generated content.

The campaign, so far, has resulted in the submission of over 13,000 individual stories, and has been seen by nearly 150,000 visitors. Thousands of these stories were about safety, and served collectively as a powerful asset to counter the public perception of Toyotas as unsafe. The submissions were overwhelmingly positive, but negative stories were not censored. To “extend the life of the content,” as Kimberley put it, six stories were selected for conversion into minute-long animated shorts which have had close to 100,000 views since October.

Interestingly, in response to a question about crisis preparation, Kimberley shared that it often takes a crisis to motivate brands to prepare for the next one.

UPS: Social Media Defense: Protecting Your Brand When It’s Under Attack

This talk was given by Debbie Curtis-Magley, Corporate Public Relations Manager for UPS. One of the most interesting aspects of the presentation was the extent to which UPS has to deal with misinformation that’s not explicitly negative. Case in point, rumors about UPS providing free shipping to Haiti as a hurricane relief measure. Logistically, this just wasn’t possible, and UPS never claimed to do so. But nonetheless, the rumors spread and Debbie and crew needed to address them. Their official response was posted on their blog, to which they directed people talking about the rumor. At the same time, UPS did see this as an opportunity to channel this sudden, perhaps unwanted, attention into something positive for Haiti. They wrote about external relief efforts and linked to some of the agencies that were helping after the hurricane, like Red Cross. According to Debbie, their efforts resulted in a fascinating statistic: 20 people saw UPS’ response to rumors for every one person that only saw the rumors.

Third-party content has played a massive role in UPS’ brand defense. Like Toyota, the company realized early on that the public cares less about what a company says about itself than what others say about it. So, when their customer service personnel on Twitter were responding to instances of negative sentiment or misinformation, they would link to clarifying and positive blog posts by those outside of the organization more often than they would link to official statements by UPS.

During the FedEx’s incredibly-heated Brown Bailout campaign, UPS had to combat a huge uptick in negatively-tinted conversation about its brand, and Debbie’s team proved up to the task. Again, directing people back to supportive third-party content was a crucial element of changing perceptions. Even traditional media was receptive to UPS’ response, and blogs were actively monitored for opportunities to respond within comment threads.

Here are Debbie’s “5 tips for social media defense”:

  1. Start monitoring now
  2. Build a credible online voice
  3. Train and empower your staff
  4. Know when to respond and when not to [emphasis mine]
  5. Issues can offer advantages

Special thanks to the Social Media Business Council for organizing this great event (which was sponsored in part by Bazaarvoice). This recap was drawn largely from my own notes, but was supplemented with information from the valuable live-blogging efforts of Bryan Person and others.

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8 Responses to “How Toyota and UPS use social media as reputation defense”

  1. I agree! I hadn’t even heard of Toyota Friend, but it totally makes sense to build a network of owners that will a) build trust in Toyota products through each other, and b) amplify positive sentiment to hopefully extend beyond the private network. 

    Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention. 

  2. It is interesting that people more care about what others say about it than what a company says about itself. I agree with it. Moreover, people tend to accept other customers’ personal experiences or opinions about products. After the recall, Toyota tried to rebuild customers’ and potential customers’ trust through social media. As mentioned Kimberley, “it often takes a crisis to motivate brands to prepare for the next one”. Toyota seems to be learning by the recall how important social media are. Recently, Toyota announced that “Toyota Friend” will be rolled out; it will act as a private social network for its customers and their cars. Even if, it will start only for owners of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids in its domestic market of Japan, it might be expanded to all Toyota customers soon. I think it would be an important tool for customers and Toyota itself to share information and opinion. Also, it might help rebuild customer trust.

  3. It is interesting that people more care about what others say about it than what a company says about itself. I agree with it. Moreover, people tend to accept other customers’ personal experiences or opinions about products. After the recall, Toyota tried to rebuild customers’ and potential customers’ trust through social media. As mentioned Kimberley, “it often takes a crisis to motivate brands to prepare for the next one”. Toyota seems to be learning by the recall how important social media are. Recently, Toyota announced that “Toyota Friend” will be rolled out; it will act as a private social network for its customers and their cars. Even if, it will start only for owners of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids in its domestic market of Japan, it might be expanded to all Toyota customers soon. I think it would be an important tool for customers and Toyota itself to share information and opinion. Also, it might help rebuild customer trust.

  4. Anonymous

    Good catching up with you at BlogWell, Ian! I found Kimberley’s presentation particularly interesting, as she shared some of the challenges Toyota has faced in ramping up its response efforts in this social-media age.

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