For you Risky Business fans out there, the title may ring a bell. Joel may have driven his dad’s Porsche in the movie, but today, it’s social media driving the Porsche brand. Much like what’s happening in other industries (think retail, financial services, and sports, just to name a few), the social media tide has swept up the automotive industry as well. The widespread use of social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, at the recent L.A. Auto Show is testament to this. Nearly every car manufacturer utilized a social media tactic to drive awareness and brand recognition for its new car launches. For instance, Porsche hosted a live tweet chat with one of its top product managers. Audi made its head of design available for interviews to bloggers and social media power-users. Even the more traditional US firms, Ford and GM, used Facebook and Twitter to spark interest in its Fiesta and Camaro models, respectively.
And then there’s Toyota. Fresh off its stuck accelerator debacle, Toyota kicked its social media strategy into high gear to make amends with the public and its customers. It turned to Facebook and Twitter to set the record straight and to give customers an opportunity to vent, submit feedback, suggest improvements, etc. Toyota’s Facebook page has nearly 300,000 folks “liking” it, and the company was lauded for using real people in its Twitter activity. In fact, it tweeted photos of the launch of its latest-generation RAV4 EV at the L.A. Auto Show. Pretty impressive comeback for a company that was the butt of many a joke earlier this year.
What does this all mean? It’s all well and good that the automakers have warmed up to social media as extensions of their marketing department. In times where there’s a premium on fiscal pragmatism, firms like Ford and GM must rely on getting the most out of their marketing dollars. And it’s the social media sites that enable them to extend their brand reach without breaking the bank. Now, sites like Foursquare and Twitter allow these car manufacturers to get the message out quickly and cost-effectively. However, the carmakers must exercise a wee bit of caution when using these sites. It’s way too easy these days for sensitive or confidential information to be leaked out. Companies of all industries, not just the auto industry, are constantly wary of protecting their reputation and safeguarding their confidential information. We all saw what a beating Toyota took in the press when it was trying to limit the PR damage done by its accelerator problems.
Social media can cut both ways. Just as quickly as something positive can traverse the Internet, damaging information can move just as rapidly. That’s why it’s important to have controls in place to manage and monitor the content that your employees are sending via social media tools. Perhaps it might be OK for a Porsche product manager to speak on behalf of the company, but it might not be OK for Hans the Assembly Line Worker to do the same. Fortunately, there’s a company like FaceTime that has solutions available to help carmakers protect sensitive information while also allowing them to fully exploit the marketing benefits of social media.
Remember, if Joel can get into Princeton with his pimp daddy ways, certainly, one should be able to use social media tools safely without giving up the family jewels.