Corporate Eye

Toyota Turns to Digg to Change Negative Brand Perceptions

toyotaThe widespread Toyota recall that dominated much of the news in January 2010 did not go unnoticed by Toyota’s leadership team.  In an effort to regain trust among Toyota customers, the Toyota marketing team rolled out an integrated plan that involved both traditional marketing and social media marketing tactics.

The Toyota team launched a number of television commercials and placed ads online.  The company also made sure its side of the recall story was told on news outlets.  In terms of social media, Toyota turned to Digg, with whom the company already had an advertising relationship.  Toyota bought out as much ad space as possible on Digg and managed to book Toyota Motor Sales USA president Jim Lentz for the Digg Dialogg Interview Series.

During the live online interview on February 8, 2010, the ten most popular questions submitted by Digg users were asked of Lentz.  Interestingly, the majority of questions were about future Toyota plans related to gas-free cars and car design.  In fact, according to an article on BrandWeek, the most common question was “what do you drive?” which shows even though a certain topic might dominate the online conversation at any given time, that might not actually be what consumers want to talk to your business leaders about.  There is clearly a disconnect between what consumers really want to hear from executives and what company marketing and PR teams think customers want to talk about.  It’s also a good reminder that one of the most important aspects of successful social media marketing is taking the time to listen to consumers and not trying to control the online conversation.

Toyota seems to recognize that social media offers an amazing opportunity to converse with consumers and appear more human, but the trick is talking to them about things that add value to their lives.  Let’s face it.  All companies are trying to figure out how to successfully leverage social media to build businesses, and Toyota’s recent experience adds one more piece to the puzzle.  Even when it seems incredibly obvious what people want to talk to your business about, that might not really be what they want to talk about at all.  In other words, nothing can be assumed in social media marketing.  Instead, you need to be able to make changes on the fly and quickly respond to the ever-changing needs of consumers.

Consider this — the online buzz about the Toyota recall reached its peak quickly in January 2010 and was already tapering off by February 2010.  By the end of March 2010, the online conversation about the Toyota recall had already gotten much quieter as other news took over in consumers’ minds and discussions.  That’s another piece of the puzzle to add to your social media marketing strategy file.  People get bored talking about the same thing for an extended period of time.  Unless new information is added to the story to stir the pot, people move on to the next topic.  That’s how it works in face-to-face conversations, and that’s how it works in online conversations.  Businesses have to keep on top of the conversations that happen across the social Web so they know when to stir them and when to let them fade away.  Unfortunately, unlike science, there is no known boiling point to guide you.  The fact is, much of social media marketing success is still based on instinct and subjective analysis.  But that’s what makes it so interesting and keeps us on our toes!

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.