Engaging customers on the heals of scandal.

Lisa Taylor    October 14, 2015


Organization Name: Volkswagen

Industry: Automotive

Contact: None

Web References: Forbes 10 Tips for Reputation and Crisis Management, VW Scandal increases social media following, VW Plans improved customer engagement, As the VW Scandal deepens…, You Tube Volkswagen USA, Facebook Volkswagen USA, Forum – Volkswagen Owners Club – What comes next, Volksworld, University of WV discovers emissions problems

In the wake of a disaster can Social Media help or hinder the recovery process? How companies are engaging customers in a normal business situation is vitally important. In a crisis situation it can mean life or death of a brand.

Warren Buffet once said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Certainly the top brass and the ‘rogue engineers’ as they’ve stated, at VW are perhaps wishing they would have considered the consequences of their actions a little more seriously now that the world knows of their deception. But we are not here to debate what they did but merely look at what role social media played in customer engagement before the scandal and now as the situation unfolds.

Volkswagen’s social media strategy is vast and plentiful. There are blogs upon blogs, and forums upon forums, owners clubs and more. They employ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and so on. You name it, they are there in one way or another. A regular beehive of activity although according to Mashable they would likely be classified as a Community Builder, connecting people and sharing photos and information globally. As an example, here you can find a link to Volksworld and their VW Hashtag Projects.

On Sept. 22nd when the news of  Volkswagen’s deceptive actions broke, social media went crazy, numerous hashtags (#volkswagenemissions #dieselgate, #volkswagenscandal ) were established and consumers from all over the world were voicing their anger and resentment as a result. In a report from L2 The Daily, there were over 3,000 mentions on twitter in a matter of 5 hours. In comparison, it took 37.5 hours for #toyota and 136 hours for #kia to reach the same number. During this time however, VW was eerily quiet which just grew consumer resentment and distrust for their brand even further. Now due to the sheer size of the company and vast amount of customers and online conversations taking place, it would be impossible to answer every post and tweet that might be made, good or bad.  Clearly some people were still standing by the company while others vowed never to own a VW again. In the below video clip one disgruntled consumer lets Volkswagen know exactly what he thinks!

Interestingly, Facebook and Twitter saw fairly hefty increases in followers during the early days of the scandal. What is to be gathered of these new followers? Are they as valuable as followers gained through positive interactions? Are they VW customers who never saw the need to follow their brand until now or just interested parties? Attrition rates were not reported so it’s difficult to know, but most important will be how VW handles itself in the aftermath. Recently newly appointed Volkswagen of America President and CEO Michael Horn made a public apology that has since been filtered through all their social media channels and a web site has be set up to for customers to keep themselves informed. Check out VWDieselinfo for more details.

Lessons Learned
Well there are plenty of those in this story. Don’t cheat and lie to consumers would be a great place to start. But the overall theme, in the wake of a crisis tell the truth, tell people what you are going to do to make it right and then stick to it. It will be the only way to gain back your most valuable asset, consumer trust.

Submitted By:  Lisa Taylor, student, SMPB, University of Waterloo

To contact the author of this entry please email at: lisataylor255@gmail.com

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Programme Director, Social Media for Business Performance.