Thursday, September 03, 2009


Honda Product Planners, Meet Social Media...

Car launches on Facebook. A no brainer right? Lots of exposure on the Internet, warm fuzzies clogging the Honda corporate Facebook page. Thousands of new FB friends forming a line to buy the latest out of Japan.

Honda apparently thought so, and tried to develop a lot of hoopla over the launch of their new 'cross-over' version of the venerable Accord sedan, the Crosstour. But, apparently the Crosstour is not living up to the designers aspirations and the feedback they received from their focus groups.

You see, unlike that full pager in AutoWeek, that 30 second spot during tonight's college football season kick-off, or even that search ad for the term "cross-over," social media is a two way medium. And sometimes, as more and more marketers are finding out, you aren't going to like what you hear. As this AutoBlog post demonstrates, Facebook can quickly become a PR nightmare.

First, the page has been inundated with negative comments about the styling of Honda's new pride and joy. This would have been bad enough, especially after Honda touted the FB launch for the car. Unfortunately, it also appears whomever is managing this page for Honda hasn't read social media marketing 101, and is dutifully engaging those with the negative comments with replies trying to defend the honor of the Crosstour, drawing further attention to an already unsavory situation.

But then, someone went and committed the ultimate sin of social media marketing. A Mr. Eddie Okubo chimes in with some niceties about the new Crosstour and how he would "...get this car in a heartbeat." Finally, some good feedback you might think. But apparently the looks of the new Crosstour are so offensive, one of the visitors found this comment to be a little fishy and perhaps...gasp, corporate! Sure enough, a Mr. Akitomo Sugawara thought so and did a little digging. Sure enough, in the second reply to Mr. Okubo comment (the first one also stated it sounded like he worked for Honda), Mr. Sugawara outed Mr. Okubo as a manager of product planning for Honda's light trucks division. He even posted a link to Mr. Okubo's Linkedin profile confirming the nice detective work.

So, what are the lessons from Honda's social media experiment? If you are launching a potentially controversial product with FB, you better think twice about the type of publicity you might actually receive. Are you prepared to highlight the positive responses you receive and ignore and/or spin the negative ones to your advantage?

The second lesson is never, never ever, think you will fool the Internet ladies and gentleman. Nobody likes to be played or to have the wool pulled over their eyes. And boy do they really hate it when corporate America tries to do this. It is quite simply the fastest and most effective way to destroy your social media program and your marketing credibility in general.

For Honda, perhaps next time they use social media higher upstream in the product life cycle. Maybe inviting select FB friends to preview upcoming Honda design elements via a collaborative online focus group?

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