DETROIT -- Bad things happen to good companies, but proper handling of problems can prevent simple mishaps from becoming social media nightmares, said Mazda North America's top marketing executive.
Don Romano, chief marketing officer for Mazda North America and president of Mazda Canada, said companies can minimize such problems by training and empowering employees to handle customer issues quickly and honestly.
"None of us are immune from these kinds of problems," Romano, 51, said during a panel discussion on marketing and social media at the Automotive News World Congress on Wednesday. "Just explain it. Customers are very forgiving if you're honest about a situation."
Scott Keogh, 42, chief marketing officer of Audi of America, said social media works best when companies engage customers in causes that matter. He said Audi launched its diesel-powered vehicles in the United States at the end of 2009 by pointing out to the brand's Facebook followers that if 30 percent of Americans drove a clean diesel vehicle, the country could save 1.5 million barrels of oil per day.
He said the company initially projected that about 10 to 15 percent of sales of its Q7 SUV would be diesel powered. But in reality, half of the Q7s sold have been diesel powered.
"People responded with Tweets, they responded on our Facebook page and they emotionally got behind diesel," he said. "Had we said, 'Audi's launching diesel and it's going to cost $45,000,' there would be nothing to respond to."
Matt VanDyke, director of marketing communications for Ford Motor Co., said the automaker used social media to launch its Fiesta, in part by putting the compact car in the hands of 100 consumers and encouraging them to talk about their experience with the car on social media sites.
Nine months later, the company had generated 132,000 "hand raisers" for Fiesta.
Ford is eager to tap the potential of active social-media users, VanDyke said: "We need them to tell our story to friends and family."