Weekly Web Watch: Ford, Firestone mapping out different strategies on the Web

The Web is proving its worth in the current tire recall crisis.

The Web is proving its worth in the current tire recall crisis.

The Web is proving its worth in the current tire recall crisis.

Both Ford and Firestone have been faced with millions of worried people, including many who have Firestone tires or Ford SUVs but who do not fall within the remit of the current recall. The companies have to communicate complex information to help people identify whether their tires are affected, what to do if they are and reassure the ones who aren't. Both have had to fend off accusations of inaction and economy with the truth. And on all these counts the Web is proving to be a tool without parallel.

Both the Ford (www.ford.com) and Firestone (www.firestone.com) sites have major sections devoted to the crisis, with information to help all these needs. Firestone has said its site is handling 100 times its normal number of visitors. In an earlier era, both companies would have had to field millions more phone calls and letters, and painstakingly mail the relevant information to each caller. The fact that all this information is available almost instantly can only be reassuring.

At first glance, the Firestone site seems fuller, with more information.

Until, that is, you click a little deeper to discover that much of it is pretty cryptic, with headings like 'Statement by Christine Karbowiak, Vice President, Public Affairs, Bridgestone/Firestone.' Some of them reveal probably more than was intended about the widely reported, and strenuously denied, rift between Firestone and Ford.

The result: Firestone comes across, on its own site, as being far more on the defensive than Ford. Of the two, Ford appears to be the one using the Web more proactively, having had banner adverts with the message 'For official Ford news on the Firestone recall, click here' running on more than 30 sites for the past few weeks. These include About.com and the The Wall Street Journal and USA Today sites.

But if the Web is proving a boon in helping the companies communicate with their customers, it is also in some ways making it more difficult for them to calm public nerves and reinstill confidence. A quick glance at the big review sites such as Epinions.com reveals the scale of the problem facing both Ford and Firestone - but especially Firestone - more starkly than any survey ever could. And it reveals it publicly for the rest of the world, and investors, to see. While each has its defenders, of the 'proud to be a Firestone customer' sort, the overwhelming weight of comment is condemnatory.

'I feel ripped off by Firestone and by Ford (who continue to deny they should have anything to do with this - when it was their choice to use these tires ... and ultimately it is their vehicles blowing tires, flipping over and killing people),' says 'tmeyer' on Epinions.com.

Meanwhile, Safetyforum.com, a site hosted by two firms of litigation lawyers, is fueling demands for a total recall of all Firestone tires of the same models, not just the ones manufactured at Decatur, IL, that are currently under recall. 'I have e-mailed and written letters to both Ford and Firestone encouraging them to recall ALL sizes of these defective tires,' is one of the less hysterical comments on Safetyforum, from R.

Tallon.

In short, loss of public confidence doesn't begin to describe the scale of the task facing Firestone once the immediate recall is over.



Stovin Hayter is editor-in-chief of Revolution. He can be contacted at stovin.hayter@revolutionmagazine.com.



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