In the news yesterday, General Motors is shifting PR gears in an effort to elevate their image online. From Twitter to blogs the world’s largest auto manufacturer is reaching out to the cyber world to do some damage control. Recent company PR catastrophes in combination with economic woes have been devastating to the company’s image. Countering online media’s assaults, GM hopes to capture the hearts of the online audience.
From stories of jet setting money lobbyists to wild business plans, GM has not had a good year in the public conversation. The blog community, and essentially everyone from Capitol Hill to Smallville has ridiculed GM’s handling of just about everything. Tom Wickham, GM’s Manager of Executive Communications is trying to “tweet” the company’s reputation out of the frying pan.
Wickham, and a team of “social media experts” at GM are engaging social media at every turn, according to the news. Claiming that the new realm of PR is via social media, the GM executive commented on the company’s position, and why they have engaged the conversation:
“Just the animosity built up toward the company and the industry. It took a lot of people by surprise. This really drove us to counsel our leaders; Think before you do something.”
Wickham and the GM team have also engaged in a discussion with PR students at Grand Valley State University (with more to come?). In an obvious “good news and appearances” campaign, Wickham went on to spread more positive and jubilant potentialities about his company after placating social media so.
Engaging students, given their propensity for viral communication, is not a bad idea obviously. One would think seasoned PR people at the automotive giant would be capable of assessing their situation alone however?
It is hard not to be a little cynical if you think about how much conversation was going on before GM figured out people talk on the Internet. I suppose it is not inconceivable that major executives at GM have been clueless of the value of online community. We have criticized huge PR firms for not appearing to understand social media and the need for Web presence. Heck, some of those we covered probably represent GM!
Wickham appears to be on the level, and he even predicted his own demise at GM if things do not get a lot better soon. Of course, appearances can be deceiving, and given big business’ proclivity for redirect and rhetoric, what happens next is anyone’s guess. Announcing new Cadillac supercars and “green mobiles” so cool we won’t be able to resist them, sounds more like pitch than prediction to me.
The bottom line for GM entering the discussion via social media is; “they had better catch up fast and get transparent.” The problem for GM, besides being behind the learning curve, is one of credibility. If there is nothing new to sell, if the financials and the model won’t work, then the company will be all the worse for the wear in the end. If Wickham and Gm are relying on riding green machines into the black, they may have another thing coming.
My thought is, if GM had anything new to offer, or if their arguments were winning ones, surely we would already have heard them. For me, it appears the company is using the “Mommy I did not know about two way conversation”, get out of jail free strategy. I am not aware of a benefit Twitter offers worth the billions GM needs, and patronizing the online community this late in the game is a shot in the dark.