What Were They Thinking?

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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The online world really has changed things. Now PR people that send irrelevant, useless and/or irritating pitches and news releases to journalists are being called on it –in public, on blogs. The bad pitch blog is definitely worth a read. Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and editor in chief of Wired magazine also published a long list of media relations types that are now blocked from his email. And most recently Lifehacker’s Gina Trapani did the same.

I was a journalist for years and can’t tell you how frustrating it is to receive pitches from PR people who don’t get it. Now, with bloggers as an important part of the news cycle, it’s even more important to refine media pitches so that they work for the person you are pitching. Sending out pitches that have no news value or that aren’t targeted hurts your reputation and your client.

Our role as communicators includes talking to a client about what is newsworthy and what isn’t. And if it is, it’s important to take the time and effort to develop a solid pitch that is targeted to the media you are pitching. Read their blog, their articles, watch or listen to their show … pay attention to who you are pitching and what they cover. Not doing your job well might get you covered in a blog or on a black list. That kind of coverage, you don’t want.

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Vodcasts, video and vlogs are a hot marketing tool right now. Some work, some don’t. Sometimes it seems that people don’t realize how hard being funny or satirical is …

Think about Saturday Night Live, some of the best comedy minds in the business are focused on being smart and funny for this show and it doesn’t always work. Often, it doesn’t work. How many times have you thought “that’s just not funny” when watching a sketch.

Yet, organizations keep trying to be funny and they seem to have lost perspective about what IS funny and smart and what others (the ones who aren’t in the room when the idea is pitched) will think about the video. Let us know what you think. Check out AOL’s video with Alec Baldwin. Or have a look at the recent internal video done by Microsoft …we bet the “real” Boss isn’t too happy about this ….

Not sure what stakeholder reaction was to these videos. We’d be interested to hear.

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