Tweet about Toyota, get cash back

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LOS ANGELES -- Toyota has made no secret about wanting to close out a rough 2011 on a high note. Now the brand has launched a viral cash-incentive program for folks who use Twitter as a social media communications tool.

It's another way the automaker is trying to jump-start sales after a year hampered by the Japanese earthquake and Thai flooding. Through November, Toyota Division sales are off 7 percent in an industry that is up 10 percent.

This month, if a customer buys a Toyota then tweets about it on his or her Twitter account, Toyota will give that person a $500 prepaid debit card separate from whatever deal the customer made.

Then, for every friend of the customer who retweets the message within 48 hours, Toyota will add $50 to the customer's debit card balance, up to a total of $1,000. Those followers who retweet the message will be entered to win a 2011 Prius from Toyota.

The program, called Shareathon, begins today and runs with the Toyotathon retail push this month.

Of course, there's fine print.

Shoppers must first register online through Dec. 21 at www.toyota.com/shareathon, tweet a scripted Shareathon message, then buy or lease a new Toyota on or before Jan. 3, 2012, to be eligible for a certificate and unique coupon code redeemable for a $500 prepaid debit card.

The incentive is only for the first 140 people -- a tribute to the 140-character limit of tweets -- who register on the Toyota site starting at 11 a.m. EST each day.

The debit card is issued after the customer goes to the Toyota site and inputs his or her purchased Toyota's vehicle identification number and a coupon code. The redemption deadline is Jan. 31.

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com. -- Follow Mark on Twitter

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