Motown Social Media Meltdown: Chrysler Tweets the F-Bomb

Last Updated Mar 14, 2011 7:02 PM EDT

Oh, Chrysler. You were doing so well, with the supercool Eminem Superbowl commercial and buzzy finance talk of an IPO. But then... social media happened. On Wednesday, the car blog Jalopnik noticed that the person behind the wheel of one of Chrysler's Twitter identities had hit some traffic and decided to tweet obscenely about Detroit drivers. The ensuing dustup saw the person canned, and also made me ask: Is Chrysler really ready for social media?

At times Chrysler seems still vaguely traumatized. There was the (failed) Daimler takeover in the late 1990s, then the (ill-advised) sale to Cerberus Capital Management in 2007, followed by a bailout and guinea-pig bankruptcy in 2009 (to prime the pump for GM), culminating in a takeover by, of all companies, Fiat.
After all that, Chrysler could be excused for feeling like it's been ridden hard and put up wet.

Social media isn't as easy as it looks
Ford (F) can definitely do Twitter. General Motors (GM) is getting better at the 140-character metabolism of corporate micro-blogging. Fiat tweets in Italian! And up to the death-tweet from @ChryslerAutos -- "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f*****g drive" -- the carmaker's twittering was showing frisky promise. (That tweet has been deleted, but can be viewed here.)

However, that was largely because the tweet emanated from an outside agency, New Media Strategies, which bills itself as "the industry pioneer and market leader in social media marketing and measurement," but says nothing about quality control of the Twitter accounts it creates for clients. Chrysler made a good call when it hired legendary Portland agency Weiden + Kennedy to do its broadcast work. You could now argue that it did not when it farmed out social media.

Even scandal can't always yield a Twitter bonanza
Sure, Charlie Sheen can slap a hashtag on #WINNING and rack up a million Twitter followers in 24 hours. @ChryslerAutos has experienced a modest bump, up to just over 8,000 followers (from around 7,500 pre-f-bomb). But you'd expect better, particularly since the car blogs and AdWeek picked up on it.

But as AdWeek points out, the tweet was "ludicrously" out of step with Chrysler's post Superbowl identity as a Phoenix rising from the ashes of a ruined Motor City (they didn't call the Eminem spot "Born From Fire" for nothing). I would add that social media could be simply wrong for Chrysler at the moment.

If you're building a brand, avoid Twitter
Twitter is a format for what marketers now call "earned" media. You earn the trust of your community of followers, and they share what you have to say. But you have to have something to share, which is known as "owned" media. The Eminem ad on YouTube is a good example -- millions of people have viewed and shared it, but it's still all about Chrysler.

Right now, Chrysler is re-entering the market as, effectively, a new brand. It was a basket case before the bailouts, with a lineup that most people knew for Jeep and minivans. Now it's going to be the company that brings America the hipster-ready Fiat 500.

Until more people know what the New Chrysler is all about, the social media part of the company's marketing strategy will struggle with making something out of nothing.

Kill the feed?
At this point, @ChryslerAutos is better knows for inappropriate language and the terse apologies of both Chrysler and New Media Strategies, which has now lost its Chrysler business. It doesn't necessarily make sense to promote all of Chrysler's vehicles through one feed anyway, so there's a case to be made for getting rid of it along with NMS. Build the brand anew first, and the tweets can then follow.

Related: Photo: Twitter
  • Matthew DeBord

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