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Toyotathon of Death
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The 911 call that captured the deaths of four people in a Toyota went viral online when it happened on August 28, 2009. Yet Jim Lentz Toyota CEO for US didn’t speak out online until Feb 2, 2010. By that time, the reputation damage had been done, and the company was already in what appears to be a death spiral.
Toyota apparently believed it could control the message, but they are wrong. No company has complete message control in the Internet age when everyone with a computer or a smart phone has the tools to have his/her opinion heard round the world.
If Toyota understood how to use social media, or that days are like dog years in Internet time, they might have had a chance to survive.
Ham-handed response
The company’s ham-handed response to its vehicles’ mechanical failures, recalls, and consumer deaths will be a what-not-to-do business case study for years to come, and is also quite likely to cause Toyota’s demise.
The butt of jokes, and surely soon to be the target of huge class action lawsuits, Toyota is not only in the midst of a PR crisis, it’s in a fight for its life.

“Toyota today unveiled a new slogan, “Drive a Toyota. You’ll Never Stop,” writes Andy Borowitz in Huffington Post.

Toyota’s handling of its cars’ mechanical failures, recalls, and consumer deaths ranks among the worst handling of a crisis ever. Like so many huge corporations, Toyota has put a toe in the water of social media, but they have yet to start listening and stop broadcasting a message.
Toyota and Lexus recall lawyers are forming Facebook groups and buying Google ad words.
“It thinks it can control this crisis, and in the process has thrown its own credibility out the window,” said Sean Kane, a safety consultant whose firm has documented thousands of reports of unintended acceleration.
Here’s Jim Lentz , Toyota’s US CEO, announcing that “today, Toyotas are starting to get fixed.” And, astoundingly, that’s all he says!
It was not til Feb 1 that Lentz was featured in a YouTube apology video in which he wore a lot of make-up.
That video has only been viewed 41,485 times on YouTube, which, compared to up 38 million or so views for many of Fred Figglehorn’s videos, shows nobody is coming to the Toyota “newsroom” for news.
What should Toyota have done?
– Responded the same day the 911 fatal crash tape was released, to at least acknowledge that there was a problem, and say that they were investigating.
– Set up a place online for consumers to register safety issues
– Had senior executives monitoring and responding to the online conversation 24/7
– Had a dark blog ready to roll in a crisis.
– Acknowledge the recall on every Toyota marketing site, and point consumers to information about it. Toyota Live Web is still live and featuring a College Bowl contest.
– There’s no mention of the recall there, no mention til Jan 28 on the LiveWeb Facebook page of the recalls
– Gotten Lentz on Digg Dialog before February 5th
– Started answering consumer questions 24/7 on Twitter last August, instead of waiting til Dec 23rd, when they denied the issues.
– Stopped posting comments from what appear to be shills on the Facebook page wall. Corporate BS has all the value of real bullshit.
No company can ignore the fact that news will spread on the Internet with or without the participation of the company. The conversation is going on in a wide variety of platforms, and the last place consumers go for accurate information in a situation like this one is the company’s website or press releases.