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.