First there was Myspace. The kids went crazy over the social network.
Then, Facebook hit the addiction buttons of the not so young anymore’s.
Now Twitter is all the rage for the connected folks.
The growth pattern itself is interesting enough, but social networking is a huge part of today’s society and has changed the way the connected world communicates as much as e-mail did. Does anyone remember the days before e-mail? Social networking has become more important to many than the phone, e-mail or even the daily news.
Social networking has also changed the way news is communicated to the world. How? By being lightning fast and first person. Just a few weeks ago, a jetliner crashed into the Hudson river. Who broke the story? CNN? Not on your life. The story was broken on Twitter, by a guy who was a passenger on that very plane, sharing his first hand account via his PDA.
So, how does all this social fun relate to the car industry?
Social networking has changed the way PR works. PR types and industry experts can communicate directly with the public. The public can access The Man instantly. Traditional media and corporations have hidden behind the curtains like a certain wizard from Oz forever, but the web has changed all of that. The curtains have fallen and the smart companies aren’t grabbing a towel to hide, they are standing there naked and dripping wet on the hotel room floor while the guests at the local hotel take a long hard look.
Transparency is what it’s called and along with it comes responsibility and accountability. A couple of manufacturers are getting it right. Most are still hiding back in the corner by the laminate desk, covering their junk while continuing to drip on the carpet.
The Detroit 3 are in quite the predicament these days what with gigantic (in the true sense of the word) losses, public grovelling for support and intense scrutiny of every movement. While the Traditional Imports aren’t going through the same scrutiny, they are certainly feeling much of the same pain. And yet, only two companies stand out in today’s world of transparency:
General Motors and Ford.
Twitter has taken the whole social networking thing to a new level for media and PR types and the PR crew from Ford and GM are right in the thick of it. Imagine, actual corporate PR types interacting with Joe Public. Listening to what they have to say. Answering tough questions. Not hiding behind a soggy hotel towel. It goes further than that. GM’s execs routinely discuss topics of the day with consumers at the Fastlane blog. Ford big wigs, right up to Alan Mulally have been out meeting with lowly auto bloggers a couple of times in the last month alone. I’m sure I’m missing a few events here, but you get the point. These two teams are serious about hearing what the public has to say and working with the consumer to move their companies forward.
Today, something absolutely unheard of happened. Scott Monty from Ford and Chris Barger from GM got together with Edmunds.com to hold a webinar (call it an online seminar) where consumers and media alike could ask questions about social networking and the auto industry. GM & Ford cooperating in the pursuit of consumer loyalty. Imagine that. The world has indeed changed.
So, back to my original question: Is social networking the answer to the auto industry’s woes? Of course, the answer is: no. Perhaps the answer lies more in the willingness of modern manufacturers who are willing to think outside the box for once and actually drop the soggy towel. Let the consumer cheer or jeer and actually learn something from the response. The manufacturers who listen, learn and put that knowledge into practice will be the ones who prevail.
PS…hey Chrysler: maybe its time to open the curtains and drop the towel!