2008

Well, the blog post below “The Big Three Don’t Get Social Media” certainly got some attention. Creating respectful, authentic discussion is what social media is all about and, with a couple of exceptions, it seems that this is what is happening here.

Not everyone posted what they do for a living, but it is interesting to note that most of the comments here come from those involved in online/social media and/or the auto industry. Scott Monty of Ford posted and he also mentioned this post on Twitter, which sent several more people over. I did find it interesting that, at times, the thread on Twitter got a little personal. Rather than agree or disagree with my comments, the conversation focused on my using WordPress, how long it took for responses to be uploaded (yes, this is a moderated blog), and how many followers I have on Twitter. I am not sure how relevant to the conversation those points are. To me, that seems a little like saying I don’t like your shoes, so I am not going to have a conversation with you.

I want to clarify that this post was not a personal attack on Scott or any other communicator that works in the industry – in-house or as a consultant or contractor. That wasn’t my intent and I sincerely apologize if that’s how it came across. Communicators don’t have easy jobs and I think it’s great that Scott is on Twitter and on blogs.  And Jim is right, they deserve credit for “playing in the sandbox.”

Having said that, in my opinion, I don’t think that they really get it. Several posts here told me where I can find GM and Ford – on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs. With the risk of raising the wrath of these good folks again…just because you have a frying pan doesn’t make you a chef. I think we all have a lot to learn – including from each other.

My initial post focused on trying to find information on the bailout.  I wanted to see what was being said out there and what the car companies were doing. I took off my communicator’s hat and I did a basic search, not an in-depth search.  I work in communications and understand how to do a thorough search, but what I did for this was a search that someone who isn’t immersed online might undertake. And I couldn’t find any information.

What I find interesting is that a great many of the people that took the time to respond, came to inform me, correct me or take a little shot at me, but no one asked me anything. There was an opportunity here to perhaps identify and deal with a weakness in how people are finding the information that the automakers would like to share. I think that some of the people who responded were so busy defending their position that actively listening took a backseat.

There are a lot of people that want to know more about what is going on with the Big Three than what we read, see or hear in mainstream media. We want to hear from the people that lead the automakers and that work there. If the only website I found is thefordstory.com, my perception would be that I was being “talked at” not “with.” Perhaps there was an opportunity to put some links on the website to Scott on Twitter or other blogs or online venues where I could voice my opinion.

I don’t know the business objectives or the strategy behind that particular site, so I am making some assumptions. The average person doesn’t know, and probably doesn’t care, about the strategy. They want information and for their concerns to be heard. No matter what organization you work with, as communicators, these are the people that it’s important to speak to.

I certainly learned a great deal from this conversation. I would be interested to hear what others think.

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I have been reading a great deal about the “Big Three” automakers and the controversy surrounding their proposed bailout. I have seen a lot of mainstream media coverage on this issue and wanted to know what was being discussed online. More specifically, I wanted to know what Ford, GM and Chrysler were doing online to open the conversation with consumers and the average person.

 

There has been a lot written online about how these companies were using social media to reach out “to promote the bailout.” Notice the choice of words: “to promote the bailout,” not to open a conversation with consumers, not to create a dialogue with the public, not to hear what their loyal customers or critics have to say… The words they used are: “to promote the bailout.” Sounds like a one-way conversation to me, but I put aside my natural skepticism and went for a look.

 

Silicon Valley Insider has an article on the Big Three being online. While it cites YouTube and even Twitter, I didn’t find much in this article that inspired me to think that maybe there had been a paradigm shift at these huge companies. Oh, and by the way – they bought Google Adwords and ads on sites such as the Wall Street Journal and CNN. Without looking at what ads they bought, I went to Google and searched “bailout,” “Ford,” “Big Three bailout,” and “automakers.” Apparently some of the words Ford used were “Ford Bailout,” “9 billion loan,” and “cash flow.” Perhaps my Google search brain isn’t working today, but those aren’t common phrases in my mind.

 

I also searched Twitter and couldn’t find anything specific. I only spent three minutes searching each company, but in this fast paced world – that’s a lot of time.

 

Ford does have a website. Thefordstory.com is Ford’s attempt at speaking with the average person. The front page has a video with Ford CEO Alan Mulally. It is a typical “old school” video where he talks about how he is more excited about being at Ford now than ever before. There is a short piece beside the video that reads:

 

At Ford, we are headed in a new direction. After turning a profit this year in the first quarter and making significant progress on cost reductions, we were hit by a spike in gas prices, followed by the current credit crisis. But instead of focusing on our challenges, we’d like youto know how very far Ford has come and how we’re doing business differently.

 

You can subscribe by RSS feed, email your friends or share this site. Nowhere on the site is there room for the average person to be involved in any kind of discussion or ask questions.

 

Much like their initial trip on private jets to Washington to ask for the money, Ford, GM and Chrysler seem to have missed the point in using online media. It is such a powerful medium and provides such an opportunity – especially during this crisis – to have an authentic conversation with their stakeholders. Instead, they reverted to Web 1.0 – we’ll tell you what to think.

 

They had a chance here to show some of the great things that their organizations have done, to explain that they know they need to evolve and show how they are doing it, to ask for opinions and feedback. Some of it, well, probably most of it, might be negative but there are a lot of smart people out there…and we’re willing to understand mistakes, to support change, to work with you…but you have to let us have our say and to acknowledge that you messed up.

 

Online media can’t create miracles, but it can mobilize supporters. It can provide information and a connection to those who want to know what is going on. It gives your critics a voice, a voice you need to hear. The meltdown of this industry is a symbol of how the world is changing. Online media is a part of that change…and for organizations that want to grow, evolve and improve, it’s a huge opportunity.

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Motrin and their ad agency Taxi have had their hands smacked pretty hard online recently over an online ad about Motrin and moms. There is some discussion online how the anti-ad campaign spread so quickly – and Twitter is getting some of the credit. Someone has also put up a video on YouTube that shows how mad the mommies are.

Ad Age has a good article on the issue and so does A-list blogger and social media guru Shel Holtz. They both have a bit of a different take on it. Ad Age talks about the power of Twitter and Shel looks more into the fact with online or social media, people that are passionate about a topic will find the time to be involved. Shel’s post is more about how we manage all of this information using the Motrin ad as an example. It’s definitely worth a read.

I think that each of the opinions of those listed above help to bring context to this story. Jennifer nails it when she says that Taxi, the US-based ad agency that produced this ad didn’t understand the market and maybe that is because after all, it’s only an online ad. Shel Holtz gives a whole different perspective and he made me think as well. And as for AD Age, they put this issue into context by talking about Twitter. While I am sure that Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of Motrin, aren’t too happy about how quickly a story can spread online, the fact is, smart, engaged people now have the opportunity to weigh in and show us different angles. Professional journalists, bloggers and, in this case, moms have helped people all over the world to see a different side to this story.

The one thing everyone seems to have in common is that this ad insulted the target market (and I looked around, so if anyone can let me know if there are some people standing up for the ad – I would be interested to hear about it!).

As an organization, Johnson & Johnson is facing a strong consumer backlash and while it was bred online, it has gone mainstream. That’s not good for the company or the brand.  Online media now plays a strong role in the reputation of your organization, and it should be recognized and acknowledged. Online media is evolving and shifting how we live in our world, and more and more it impacts our professional lives.

 

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Obama understands the power of online communication – and I don’t mean because he understands how to use twitter and LinkedIN and Facebook. He gets when and why to use it…he connects. He has conversations that are inclusive and engaging and they make each of us – even if we aren’t American – feel like we are a part of something special, something historic, and something real. By including us, he also makes us feel accountable, responsible and engaged. We now feel that we need to step up and do our part to change the world.

Once the election was over, I have to admit, I wondered what was going to happen to Obama’s web-values approach to keeping us on the team. As President Elect, he is now developing the strategy to transition into President. And as President, things change. According to a New York Times piece, he is going to have to give up his BlackBerry thanks to security issues and the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the record and ultimately up for public review.

I wondered how Obama would hold onto his story telling, inclusive, engaging approach that has inspired and excited not just a nation, but people around the world. Could he breakdown the barriers between old school U.S. government websites and the Obama way of Twitter, email and text messages? I have to admit, I had my doubts.

I shouldn’t have worried. Right after the election he launched a new site, that has all of the tone and feel of his old site, which now has a holding page that asks you to help the victims of the wildfires in California.

Obama built up a loyal following – a community, a tribe, a movement…whatever you call it, it’s obvious that being elected President of the United States of America doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to keep up the relationship. Obama is an exceptional example of a communicator. The Web was made for him.

It will be interesting to see what the YouTube loving President Elect does for online media while in office. I think the fact that he has embraced it and found success in using it, will help more organizations to see the value in it.

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The subject of the U.S. Government bailing out the big three automakers is controversial. While facing a crisis, the GM Fast Lane blog is doing something interesting. They are blogging and asking for support. This is an active blog and there are many response posts. They are worth checking out.

According to GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who is credited with launching the blog in 2005, is using the blog. GM is attempting to wrangle all the criticism, critiques and praise in one convenient place. Here, executives can address problems, learn from the critiques and speak directly to customers.

It is interesting to note that while the blog wasn’t created to deal with issues or a crisis, this isn’t the first time that Lutz has used the blog and spoken directly with consumers. Earlier this year, it was reported that he said that Global warming is a total crock of %$Z@.

When that statement hit the blogosphere, it created quite a storm. Lutz responded onFastLane and addressed the controversy directly.

Whatever you think about Lutz and his take on global warming or his decisions to say whatever he thinks, it is clear that the FastLane blog has provide Lutz and GM with the opportunity to expand, clarify and, in this case, support quotes being put out by mainstream media and the blogosphere. The FastLane blog has a huge following and agree or not, anyone who wanted to could hear directly from Lutz and tell him what they thought. (Interestingly enough, he got support on the global warming blog post.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that he has been consistent and proactive in posting to the GM blog. He didn’t just show up when he saw the blog storm coming. He had built a conversation with people who wanted to speak with him and he could then reach out when this happened to put forward his side of things. 

 

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