Interview with Ed Garsten: Chrysler's Twitter Storm Back-story

03/16/2011

Chrysler fiat logo It seems that every five years or so Chyrsler gets caught in a bit of a social media firestorm. Not bad when you think of the volitility of the social web.

For those people who might have been out of the country or unplugged from social media during the past week there were two events that occurred within a day of each other that had the social pundits buzzing and tweeting up a virtual storm. 

One: An agency employee (Chrysler's Marketing Department contacted with a PR firm to be their voice on Twitter) was fired for an inappropriate tweet that ran on Chrysler’s @ChryslerAutos Twitter account. Two: Chrysler severed relations with that agency the day after the tweet was posted.

Too often, especially on the web, it’s easy to connect the dots in ways that don’t always create a true picture. I admit I have been as guilty too.  As Gloria Steinem said on a Marlo Thomas post, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but you think it's a pig... it's a pig.”

Ed Garsten, head of  electronic media for Chrysler, offered an explanation on his blog. I thought it was pretty good. However, like a Pig With Wings, it seemed to me that the pieces of the story are still flying around the social networks.  I, like so many other people, couldn’t connect the dots. What was real? What was not? Pig with wings

I asked my friend, Ed, yes, we are pals, if he would take the opportunity to tell us the back-story on Diva Marketing. Then to open the discussion to lessons learned so we can all benefit. Diva Marketing's goal is always to understand how to use social media to bring people together in ways that support your brand’s value and promise.

Diva Marketing/Toby:  Mister Garsten, this virtual stage is yours .. please connect the dots for us!

Ed Garsten/Chryster:  Thanks for the opportunity, Toby.  Last Wednesday  we noticed, what you would call an “inappropriate Tweet,” coming from the @ChryslerAutos Twitter handle. That’s the handle for the Chrysler Brand and managed by our former social media agency, New Media Strategies (NMS). 

I won’t repeat the tweet, but I’m sure I don’t have to. It was hard to miss.  The tweet denigrated Detroit area drivers using an obscenity. Once we got to the bottom of what happened, we issued a statement relaying the information, apologizing to the public for anyone who may have been offended, and revealed that NMS terminated their employee, who apparently thought he was tweeting from his personal account.

There was a lot of chatter that Chrysler and NMS were cold hearted, terminating a person for a mistake and that using an obscenity on the web is no big deal. Chrysler did not ask for this action. NMS did it on their own.

Indeed, it wasn’t the obscenity at all that we took issue with. As I wrote on the Chrysler blog, it was the fact that we’ve built a tremendous amount of goodwill promoting Detroit and the U.S. auto industry through our TV commercial that first aired during the Super Bowl. That’s the one featuring Detroit-area native Eminem and the catchphrase “Imported From Detroit.” 

Any slam, intended or otherwise, against the great people who live in southeastern Michigan under a Chrysler brand banner is unacceptable and compromises the progress we made in a few short weeks.

By the next day, the company decided to cut its ties with NMS. Again, not because of one inappropriate Tweet, but for a collection of missteps that I’m not at liberty to discuss.

We issued a release announcing this development at about the same time I posted my blog item on the corporate blog.  We also spent the next couple of days responding to many tweets while posting the link to our blog, and to third-party stories that most fairly portrayed the situation.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Thanks Ed. Let's explore now how Chrysler is currently incorporating social medial.  Not to give away trade secrets, but what is Chrysler’s high level direction when it comes to participating in the social web?

Ed Garsten/Chryster: Having gone through three owners in five years the direction has changed about as often.  Thankfully, Fiat is aggressive in social media and all of the brand heads are turning to social media for everything from product launches (2011 Dodge Durango) to promoting marketing campaigns, and building communities. 

We’re also encouraged, and do, engage with the public on customer service issues, solving some, but not all, but nevertheless, pleasing consumers that they are able to speak directly to Chrysler.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Chrysler is obviously, subcontracting part of its “voice” in social media to agencies. Why did you choose to go this route instead of keeping all of social media participation in-house with the brands's employees?

Ed Garsten/Chryster: It’s a split decision, Toby. Marketing prefers to use an agency; we in corporate communications do everything ourselves.

As you know, it’s not uncommon for a company to outsource its social media activities and splitting the duties does have its challenges. However, we work closely with marketing to make sure messaging is consistent and there is a minimum of redundancy.

Toby/Diva Marketing: I always say, "Those who hold the conversation, hold the relationship." What does a brand gain by allowing an agency to hold the social conversations for it?

Ed Garsten/Chryster:  Basically, bodies. The auto industry has a long history of  using contract employees and agencies as a means of getting work done with a minimum of back-end costs. The trick is the brand must strongly direct the agency and the plan begins to fall apart when the agency decides to “freelance” on messaging.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Hmm .. perhaps it's time to reevalute that dated out sourced model. On the flip side, what does a brand give-up by allowing an agency to “talk” for the brand?

Ed Garsten/Chryster: Immediate control. The agency gets its direction from the company, but once the conversation begins, it can get off track very easily.

Toby/Diva Marketing: The world knows now that ChryslerAutos was authored by a PR agency. However, the bio on the Twitter page simply states: The official Twitter handle of Chrysler vehicle In keeping with the concept of social media transparency, why did Chrysler not indicate that in the bio?

Ed Garsten/Chryster: Good question. I honestly don’t know. As I mentioned, NMS worked for the marketing department and unfortunately, I wasn’t in on those decisions.

Toby/Diva Marketing: What I find interesting is the difference in approach to social media between Marketing and Corporate. Will Chrysler continue to engage third parties to author social media platforms? If so, how will you ensure Chrysler's brand’s values and promise are not compromised?

Ed Garsten/Chryster: We’re re-examining our strategy, although there is a strong possibility of going with a new agency, but perhaps more participation internally in creating content and engagement.

Toby/Diva Marketing: I'd fight for keeping it internal Ed! What are the critical lessons learned that we should all keep in mind from this experience?

Ed Garsten/Chryster:  Keep a tight rein on your agencies. Strictly forbid those who have access to your social media accounts from doing so on devices that are also used to access personal accounts.

React as quickly as possible. Even if you don’t know all the facts, let the public know you’re aware of the situation and will update them as you learn more.

Closely monitor the conversation and use social media to join that conversation to clear up any misconceptions or inaccurate reporting.

Toby/Diva Marketing: This week an Aflac tweeter joined the club of people who are misrepresenting the brand they work for. I strongly believe that part of the "fix" should be ensuring that Everyone who is involved in a brand's social media initiative understand the brand's value and promise. That means more than just messaging but getting it from the gut and heart. 

In Chrylser's case, I can't help but wonder if the agency dude had understood what Chrysler's Made in Detroit initiative was trying to accomplish (beyond just selling a few cars) if we might not be chatting righ now. 

The tweets aside, Chrysler is doing some interesting work in social. What’s cool on the horizon that you can share with us?

Ed Garsten/Chryster: We’re looking more at growing our mobile presence to better reach folks through their smartphones and iPads. We’re also using social media to launch vehicles rather than the typical auto show press days.

Why only tell reporters—tell everyone! It’s important to remember, our company isn’t quite two years old.  We basically started over again on June 9, 2009 when Fiat came in to manage the company, so we’re running fast to make up ground.

Toby/Diva Marketing: As a blogger, brands and agencies often share campaigns with me. Recently, I’ve been presented with several new auto campaigns. While the concepts are exciting, none address the women’s market.  Btw .. I must admit it’s a little frustrating. Does Chrysler have plans to engage with “my people" .. especially with women over 40?

Ed Garsten/Chryster:  I’m not aware of anything specifically, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something in the works.

Toby/Diva Marketing: Hope so! Let’s wrap this with a similar question to the one I asked you in our 2005 interview:

Ed Garsten On Social Media

It’s the lawless society that presents innumerable opportunities to connect with people and communities and has given virtually anyone who can log on a voice.  From a company’s point of view, we’re able to directly connect with our customers, prospects, stakeholders, employees, investors without the middleman of the mainstream media.

Thanks my friend .. a toss of a pink boa! Pink boa

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Comments

While the 411 on the tweet snafu is interesting, what's really fascinating is the apparent chasm b/w marketing and internal communications -- and the big giant siloing of efforts. Perhaps not surprising for a company that's been in ownership flux for a while, but not encouraging nonetheless.

Posted by: Daria Steigman on Mar 16, 2011 9:51:01 AM

Chrysler’s social media disaster is a great example of how things can go terribly wrong for businesses engaging online. It really is a shame because it happened at a time when many companies are still tiptoeing around the idea of social media, fearful of the lack of control over market-facing messages and the potential for such missteps. However, I don’t think they made a mistake in outsourcing to an agency; the mistake that occurred could have happened just as easily using in-house resource. As a community manager, I am in charge of managing multiple accounts on behalf of the firm and our clients. My rule of thumb is to log out each and every time I am finished posting something on an account. That way, the site will force me to sign back in when I come back, ensuring that I login to the intended account. Despite what happened to Chrysler, social media can be very effective and safe for businesses if they exercise great care in using online channels. To ensure “freelancing of messages” doesn’t occur, a strict social media policy needs to be established between client and agency. This process need not be complex. If you’re interested in our perspective, you can read our post here: http://bit.ly/hqiRRC

Posted by: Alexandra Reid on Mar 16, 2011 12:53:46 PM

Great post and an interesting conversation. Full disclosure -- I run a digital agency with social media at our core. What I find most interesting from the interview is the obvious disconnect between marketing and corporate communications, in terms of strategy, partners, and coordination. Seems like Ed has identified some of the issues, but Chrysler needs to get both parties together, and aggressively add legal, sales, and the dealer advisory council (or whatever their dealer channel linkage is called) to ensure there's an integrated strategy for social media. Ongoing customer service; focused alignment in step with marketing campaigns; and an ongoing pulse effort need to be coordinated.

Posted by: Glenn Engler on Mar 18, 2011 7:55:03 AM

Thanks for your comments everyone.
@Daria - my thoughts also.

@Alexandra - not only does it become carefully managing multiple Twitter/Facebook and the next shiny social object, but realizing that if you represent a brand you do so even on your personal platforms.

@Glenn - totally agree! the enterprise seems to be misaligned when it comes to a consistent social media strategy.

Wondering how many brands/clients "train" their agencies/freelancers on the brand value & promise. If I were a betting Diva, I'd guess not a whole lot.

Posted by: Toby Bloomberg on Mar 21, 2011 12:19:37 AM

It's extremely important to be careful about what messages are being sent in social media. It might be a more informal way of communicating, but it's still representing the brand. One simple mistake could be very costly. If social media work is going to be outsourced the agency that handles it has to fully understand your brand, mission, and audience.

Posted by: Nick Stamoulis on Mar 24, 2011 9:30:21 AM

Yes, i agree with Nick as most of the time we post messages in a casual way and don't bother how much cost one has to pay for it. Sometimes small mistakes can cause a lot of problem.

Posted by: Jeep Dealers on Jul 6, 2011 7:59:43 AM

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