Recall challenges Toyota comms team

TORRANCE, CA: Toyota Motor Sales says it is using all available channels including social media to communicate its recall of about 2.3 million vehicles owing to accelerator pedals that get stuck.

TORRANCE, CA: Toyota Motor Sales says it is using all available channels including social media to communicate its recall of about 2.3 million vehicles owing to accelerator pedals that get stuck.

This is the second recall for the automaker in the last three months. In November, it made a similar recall of 4.2 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles over accelerator pedals that could become stuck under floor mats. The new recall includes several models, including the Corolla, Matrix and Camry.

Brian Lyons, Toyota's environmental, safety and quality communications manager, said it first communicated the recall via a news release on Thursday, January 21. Almost immediately after the release, “We saw a great deal of activity on Facebook and Twitter,” he noted.

The communications team—with the help of social media supervisor Scott Deyager—have provided updates on both Toyota's Twitter and Facebook accounts. A message also directs interested parties to its newsroom site, http://pressroom.toyota.com/pr/tms/default.aspx. “We feel that is the quickest way for people to get information,” Lyons said.

Since the announcement of the recall, the Toyota online newsroom has logged roughly 150,000 unique visits per day. It features information on the recall and accelerator pads, as well as a section called “Our Point of View,” which aims to clarify inaccurate reports related to the recall. “For the first time, we also decided to come up with a customer-friendly version of FAQs for the newsroom,” said Lyons.

Lyons has also been fielding media calls, roughly 60 on Thursday and another 50 on Friday. He said he typically handles 90% of the media calls “because safety issues are very precise, even down to a single word. There are only a couple of people who know enough about car safety and the regulatory issues to be able to handle this issue. That's why we keep it very narrow in scope [in terms of who handles the communications].”

(Update: The Wall Street Journal reported January 29, that New York-based Robinson Lerer & Montgomery is also advising Toyota during the crisis.)

Most observers have applauded Toyota's handling of the recall, including Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports' online deputy editor. But he says the recall could do some damage to a brand “that previously had a sterling reputation”.

Toyota recently topped the magazine's 2010 Car Brand Perception Survey, in which car owners ranked the automaker tops in terms of quality and fourth in terms of safety. “But Toyota has been in the media a lot with tremendously large recalls. Many consumers are being personally touched by them because they have to bring their vehicles into the dealership to be fixed, sometimes more than once,” Bartlett told PRWeek. “But Toyota can and should be able to weather this.”

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