Module #11 – Dealing with crisis using social media.

The Issue:

In early March General Motors (GM) issues a recall of 1.6 million cars due to a faulty ignition switch that can turn off the engine and disable the air bags on select GM models. GM sent two recall letters to customers and service bulletins to GM dealerships throughout Canada and the United States. The faulty ignition switch has been understocked at dealerships across North America and it has been difficult to get the cars repaired even though it is only a $0.57 cost associated with the part. Since the recall 13 deaths have been associated with the faulty ignition switch and GM has struggled with communicating to customers that the vehicles are safe to drive if all other keys and heavy keychains are removed from the key ring.

For more information on the recall and safety issues: CBC – GM recall linked to 57-cent ignition switch component.

What is GM doing right in social media?

  1. Responding to customer inquiries, concerns and complaints on Facebook and Twitter and trying to guide the conversation to a private message to find the best solution for individual customers.
  2. Continuing with regular posts in social media channels by talking about new products and awards in an effort not to let the crisis define their entire business.
  3. Responding to customers when customers use the comments section of a non-crisis related post to voice concerns and ask questions. They are not trying to”white-wash” their social media channels to act as though the crisis has not occurred.
  4. GM Released a video of their Chief discussing the recall – the video was transparent, open and sympathetic to the issues.

What else could GM do in social media?

  1. Users in social media respond to video and images over text posts. This could be an opportunity for GM to create a short video demonstrating how customers can safely operate their vehicles while they wait for the part to be available to repair the issue. This video could be shared on Facebook and Twitter. This could be one of a series of videos that presents information about the recall, additional production lines and other important information. It might be useful to feature regular employees who work in assembly and safety divisions of GM to make the videos more relatable.
  2. In a crisis like this where lives have been lost and there are delays in getting the parts in to fix the recalled ignition switch GM, need to be very careful to ensure that they are sympathetic and respectful at all times. GM could use social media to reiterate its commitment to customer safety by telling customers about the vehicle safety inspection processes and putting an action plan in place to be more diligent in future vehicle production runs.
  3. Continue to respond to customer complaints and concerns on social media in a timely, transparent and helpful manner. It is important that GM keep a low profile while still continuing to do business as usual and respond to customer needs.
  4. The company could launch a “GM Cares” initiative on social media using hashtag #GMCARES that tells customers when the new ignition switches will be available in their area and how they can get their vehicle repaired in a timely manner at their local dealer. If this is executed properly and things go well it is likely that customers who have been satisfied with customer service received from GM will pick up the hashtag and use it to share stories of good responses and positive experiences. This could be a positive way to get the message out to customers on social media.

This is a sensitive situation that needs to be handled with sensitivity and humility. Too large of a response on social media could be perceived as insensitive to the risk to passenger safety and to lives that have already been lost. I think that the most important thing at this stage of the situation is that GM be open, transparent and responsive to customer needs. Once the recall has been resolved and the impacted models are repaired GM will be able to start to move on and rebuild their reputation as it relates to safety. I think that they are on the right track by trying to continue to make regular posts about other GM content. This will help shift the focus as the public starts to move on.