By Mark Kleis
Wednesday, Feb 16th, 2011 @ 5:11 pm
 
Earlier today the so-called blogosphere/Twitosphere was erupting with intense criticism of Toyota Motor Co. for its apparent attempt to use a blogging site to recruit "mom bloggers" to help spread positive news for the automaker, and to bury bad press online.

As it turns out, the favorite new outreach tool for many automakers (Fiesta Movement, anyone?) can be a cruel double-edged sword, even if the automakers themselves were innocent in their actions. In this instance, an aspiring mom blogger from Mommy Networks made a critical mistake in reaching out to highly followed mom bloggers to help bump existing Toyota articles and YouTube videos, as well as to create new "positive" content, but did so without the authorization from Toyota.

To make matters worse, in the mass email that was sent out earlier today said aspiring mom blogger, the email offered a $10 Amazon gift card as a reward, prompting the recipients to believe Toyota had commissioned the sender of the email to help recruit some positive PR. The main mom blogger to take issue with the mass email, Dear Crissy, decided rather than to follow suit and seek out her gift card, to call out Toyota for what she believed were unethical actions by trying to buy off bloggers.

Considering Dear Crissy has a following of over 33,000 users on Twitter, and 10,000+ on Facebook, it didn't take long for the news to circulate around the world and back - and then some.

In Toyota's defense, the social media department identified the issue and made contact with both the sender of the mass email, as well as Dear Crissy within hours of the mishap starting. Toyota's social media team even went as far as to broadcast on Twitter using the same "#Toyotafail" hash tag employed by those criticizing Toyota for their apparent actions.

To understand why Dear Crissy and many more were quick to jump on Toyota, it may help to see the original email, found below, which read like a ad post, rather than a scientific research effort as the owner of Mommy Networks now has publicly claimed was the reason for the mass request.
The email reads,

"Hello!

A new opportunity! Another chance to score a $10.00 Amazon gift card for the mommy bloggers who help out.

There was a big report released about Toyota, by the NHTSA and NASA, stating that there was no electronic flaw found, which was originally assumed to be the cause of all the recalls with the Priuses last year. It actually turned out to be pretty much "user error" that was causing the accelerator to stick.

It's a big deal for Toyota since this has affected their reputation heavily and they had a lot of negative stigma around their brand as of late, and we're helping to spread the positive news:

I need you to: Write a post about the report & good news. In the post, link to a few of the articles or videos below. If possible, share on social networks or "thumbs up" the YouTube videos."


What was really going on?
As it turns out, the woman who launched Mommy Networks is actually a "Toyota-Lexus" owner, and had hoped to simultaneously boost the image of the automaker, while performing a case study and creating content for her blog site. The problem stemmed from the fact that what she requested - and more specifically how she requested it - led the recipients to believe Toyota itself had secured Mommy Networks through contract in order to get the word out to fellow mom bloggers.

Once the dust had settled, Mommy Networks issued a formal and final apology to both Toyota and Dear Crissy, and suggested that she was in over her head operating in social media, stating that she would be taking her site down. The chatter on Twitter also appears to have switched from disgust and disapproval, to well-earned praise and congratulations for Toyota's crack social media team for identifying the potential disaster and very quickly resolving it.

Expect this instance to be used as a case study for social media interaction, its dangers and benefits in the future.

References
1.'Toyota pays mom...' view