News came out this week that Ford are recalling more than 1 million F-series trucks, due to a defect in the straps that secure the truck’s fuel tanks to the vehicle. The defect could see the straps corrode, causing the tanks to fail. So far, there have been 8 incidents, three of which included a fire, and one injury.
The news came to the fore after an investigation by the U.S. auto safety regulator, and affects older versions of the truck. In response, Ford has targeted mid-September to notify owners about what to do if their truck is affected.
What’s interesting is how a company that’s noted for its use of social media isn’t using social platforms to pro-actively share news about the recalls. Instead, as the image at the start of this post shows, they’re using it reactively when asked about the recall situation, and to correct any non-factual statements. There’s also nothing about the recalls in the Ford newsroom.
Is this a sign of choice or legal red tape?
The Pros of Being Pro-Active
Head of social media at Ford, Scott Monty, says the reasoning behind the “silence” is to avoid inciting panic and unsubstantiated rumours. This is understandable, since we all know the consequences of fake stories and rumours online, and how that can affect brands.
Yet as a way to share news to a wider audience, and quell rumours at the start, social media has continuously proven to be a very strong tool. While Scott may allude to the legal constraints he and the Ford communcations team are under, does being silent unless questioned help?
Wouldn’t it be useful to have an official update in the Ford newsroom, as opposed to having to put out fires by false rumours due to the reactive approach? And a single tweet, or a Facebook page update, that shows a link to where F-series drivers can get the latest and official updates, would help alleviate the very concerns Ford wants to meet.
Additionally, if you’re pro-active, it can also help deflect the view that you have something else to hide (this isn’t just Ford, this is any company online). In a post from 2010, Scott praises SeaWorld on how they were being pro-active at quelling fears, by releasing an official statement from the SeaWorld President and linking to it from their Twitter account.
The Cons of Being Pro-Active
As Scott mentions in his answers over at Google+, the reason nothing is mentioned on social media platforms or the Ford newsroom is down to necessity. Ford is handling this recall situation the same way they handle all recalls, and don’t feel the need to say anything “unless the recall rises to a level that is relevant to the wider public.”
Additionally, Ford needs to adhere to regulatory and legal issues and this is tying their hands (at least, that’s how it reads).
Christian Adams, in his response to the question on Google+, advises how he was involved in testing tires after the Firestone fiasco, and that having to wait until the auto safety regulator gave the green light on a problem was very constrictive.
I know the constricted feeling well. When I was contracted at an organization last year, they handled a prize promotion for Canada’s largest airline. Due to some prizes not being delivered in time for the holiday season (a bit attraction to the promotion), there were some negative comments posted on a forum. They asked how it should be handled (as they blamed the couriers and the couriers blamed them), and I advised to let them know that we were looking into it, and that we would reply directly and publicly once an answer had been found.
Due to crappy red tape, it took eight days for someone to come back and tell the person that the case was being looked at. And this was just an update to say the company was aware and would investigate. Eight days is a long time for any answer – on social media, it’s a lifetime.
So I completely get the need to do things right. But couldn’t there be at least one update from Ford, and others like them, to alleviate the questions that will be asked due to silence? Especially if it becomes a wider issue, and the questions become accusations of trying to cover a problem up.
Then again, with the news that Ford has been accused of fraudulent tactics and destroying documents in a lawsuit by a woman paralyzed when her van accelerated out of control, Ford may be feeling the heat and doesn’t want to add to it any more.
Obviously there are pros and cons to any choices made, both by people and businesses. The right one can be difficult to gauge, and perhaps it’ll be in the next couple of months if we see whether the Ford reactive one is the better over the pro-active.