In recent months, the automotive industry has quickly established a sizable presence on Twitter, the Web’s most popular micro-blogging service. A high-level review of its presence, however, reveals that – like many industries – it’s making the leap to the still newish communication venue with varying degrees of success. While some participants have taken to the medium swimmingly, it’s surprising how many treat Twitter almost solely as an opportunity for naked self-promotion, seldom or never engaging directly with their customers, providing customer support or other useful information.
What’s been done well versus poorly then? Let’s take a look. The following guidelines address some salient areas, where those who haven’t quite figured the medium out could use some improvement.
Engage with your audience
Twitter offers such profound reach for very low overhead, it’s a shame to see some companies using it with so little actual engagement. As you’d hope, Ford Customer Service does a great job of engaging with customers on Twitter. A recent review of FordCustService activity on Twitter indicates that the marketing specialist managing the account is responding directly to customer inquiries and researching answers for those customers where necessary. So, too, Honda is regularly engaging with U.S. customers via the Alicia_at_Honda account created by a corporate communications staffer. And, quite smartly, Toyota USA is interacting with its customer base, via the toyotanewsroom account, rather than simply posting press releases. That’s an example the folks running the BMWConceptX1 account could benefit from examining. They’ve posted eight updates since Sept. 30th, 2008 and all have them have been simple links to promotional content – photos on Flickr, a new Facebook page, a microsite, a trailer. Not exactly a visionary use of the medium.
Of course, Twitter offers a quick way to determine how much contributors are interacting with their followers. Simply visit their profile page and look for how many @ signs preface their tweets . An “@” before a Twitter handle at the beginning of a tweet indicates that the post is addressed to that individual. If you don’t see any @ signs, you’re not seeing any interaction. You can increase your level of interaction in two ways: by paying attention to your followers and responding to their inquiries, of course, but also by searching on mentions of your company and products and responding to questions and concerns you discover there.
Provide helpful contributions
Twitter shouldn’t be all about explicitly pushing your product. You build more good will by providing helpful contributions – which, of course, contribute to building and presenting your brand in the best possible light, as well. How specifically do you engage your audience then, if spraying them with press releases and video clips isn’t enough? Well, in addition to responding to consumer inquiries, consider linking to information, which may still relate to your product and brand, but would also still be relevant to your audience member’s specific interests and needs. For example, Alicia_at_Honda recently linked to a Chicago Tribune article about the best cars for dogs, which listed just one Honda among several other makes in various classifications. Similarly, GMblogs recently linked to a Kelly Blue Book piece, which listed the 2009 Pontiac G8 as just one of 5 Great Car Deals. This sort of linking still bolsters your brand by communicating a sense of authenticity and transparency about your product and company and where they fit in the scheme of things.
The Alicia_at_Honda account is managed by a corporate communications staffer for the automaker.
Monitor your brand
Any company not monitoring mentions of its brand on Twitter is missing an extraordinary opportunity to be a fly on the wall, observing perhaps the most open and authentic discussion of their company and products imaginable. You have the opportunity, not only to passively observe, but also to actively intervene where your brand is being misrepresented or maligned. Sometimes, of course, your product simply fails and how you speak to that in a public arena can have an immediate impact upon your brand.
Witness the deafening silence that follows Anthony Quintano’s tweet last month that a Hackensack, N.J. Toyota dealership left the plug out of his oilpan, causing his “car to seize while in motion.” Scary stuff. He later claims the dealership’s work almost “killed me twice” and links to a lengthy blog post on the incident. Despite addressing the Toyota Newsroom directly on Feb. 26, the results of a Twitter search indicate that at the time of this posting a response had not been addressed to Quintano’s account, quintanomedia. What a wasted opportunity. Quintano was waging a self-declared war against a Toyota dealership and no one reached out. While Quintano was asking fellow Twitterers to Digg his blog entry, little was being done to maintain –- and in this case certainly repair –- Toyota’s brand.
Not only is it important to respond to brand- or dealership-specific complaints, you need to be mindful that managing a Twitter account can be a 24/7 responsibility. One evening earlier this month Angela Teeple tweeted Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media, to say “my ’08 Escape w/ 40K mi, AC compression unit broke, directly affects powertrain but not covered under warranty. Buying Toyota.” A minute later, she followed up to mention that she has never owner anything but a Ford. Within an hour, Monty replied to Teeple, suggesting she notify FordCustService. Though she continued to express her disappointment, she did tweet FordCustService that night and received a response by noon the next day, or nearly 17 hours later. It appears Teeple may have been on the phone with Ford the previous day, so perhaps Monty’s prompt response to her situation may not have been too terribly undermined by FordCustService’s ironically tardy response. Nonetheless, Monty appears to have done his best to both meet a customer’s immediate need, while also attending to mentions of the Ford brand on the web.
It’s not hard to find angry customers venting their feelings on Twitter. Sometimes the appropriate response may be to ignore the angry and irrational. However, you should be sure you’re not actually missing an opportunity to burnish your brand and help a customer in need.
But don’t overshadow your brand
Accounts transparently maintained by individuals tend to tweet more often and more effectively. They’re often also simply more colorful and entertaining. One drawback, however: heavy participation by such individuals on behalf of their companies can sometimes be perceived this as self promotion -– perhaps the wrong sort of auto-promotion for a car company.
The aforementioned Scott Monty, for example, has recently received more attention than he’d probably have preferred. Ray Wert, Editor-in-Chief of Jalponik, claims that Monty draws more attention to himself than his employer. Arguably, Monty is simply trying to do Ford a favor by forging a well-rounded presence on Twitter in contrast to many of the anemic, infrequently utilized profiles of his competitors. Referring to the incident in Ad Age, Critical Mass’s David Armano saddled Monty with the unfortunate moniker of “brandividual” for the name he has built himself online. Armano also complimented him, however, for “leveraging his personal network to help jumpstart Ford’s initiatives.” Some didn’t see it that way, though, so clearly the advisable route would be to reinforce the appearance that it’s your company’s products you’re promoting, not your person. As I’m sure Monty could attest, it can be a delicate balance.
Editor’s Note: While Razorfish has both a number of automotive clients, including Ford Motor Company, and a sizable Social Influence Marketing practice, it was not involved with the creation, nor the ongoing maintenance, of any of the Twitter accounts mentioned in this article.
- “Tweets” glossary entry; BatchBook
- Best vehicles for dogs, paws down; Chicago Tribune, 03.05.09
- 5 Great Car Deals; Kelly Blue Book, 03.23.09
- Anthony Quintano’s Twitter account
- Angela Teeple’s Twitter account
- Scott Monty: Still a big Twitter; Jalopnik, 03.27.09
- When personal and corporate web 2.0 brands collide; Advertising Age, 02.23.09