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Is Listening Enough?

March 8, 2010
Since the recall of 12 vehicles beginning January 26, the volume of discussion in social media around Toyota has grown significantly and sentiment is trending extremely negative. This drop in sentiment was a leading indicator of sales which fell 8.7% YOY in February.

So far they have taken the appropriate steps with traditional PR and have web page addressing the recall, but I have not seen as much engagement in social media as I would have expected. There have been few tweets or facebook posts in response to the numerous comments. Toyota shut down their corporate blog “Open Road” several months ago. Although it was not getting much traffic, it would have been a great forum for discussion with customers right now.

AdAge recently reported that Toyota has established a social media response team consisting of “six to eight people monitoring the online conversation and responding at all times.” Toyota is reaching out to advocates by retweeting and reposting their positive content.

In addition Toyota is partnering with Federated Media to host a branded channel called “Toyota Conversations” on TweetMeme. As TechCrunch noted, the feed looks mostly positive signaling that they might be pulling in the more “friendlier ones.”

But is that enough to help flip the negative sentiment? Turning that negativity isn’t something Toyota can do overnight. It’s going to take time to regain that trust and loyalty. They are headed in the right direction by dedicating a full-time staff to respond. And Doug Frisbie, Toyota Motor Sales USA’s national social media and marketing integration manager, seems to be the right guy heading it all up. He understands that listening to customers is key. In time, however, you need to take your engagement beyond listening. Here are some more ideas that could help regain that trust and bring back loyalty:

1. Take Customer Service to Twitter. Set up a Twitter customer service channel specifically to answer customer’s questions about their vehicles

2. Utilize Your Dealers. Set up a Twitter channel where dealers can also join in and help promote the company’s good faith in trying to repair the problems. Best Buy has done something similar with their Geek Squad Twelpforce.

3. Open the Dialogue. Allow customers to post feedback, questions or concerns on Toyota’s Recall site. Toyota could engage in meaningful dialogue right on its own site.

We can see how all three could be seemingly scary for the brand. But engaging — carefully and honestly — is the only way to help shift that negative sentiment. How do you think Toyota should be engaging with customers right now?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Threeminds. Co-authored with Russ Hopinkson.

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