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Be upfront about the negative

image Smart Cars are these amazingly tiny little cars.  They’ve been in Europe for a while and are just coming to the US.

As you can imagine, a tiny car like this isn’t going to do well in a collision with a jumbo SUV.  The new safety ratings said exactly that — no surprise.

Most companies would have freaked out that there might be some negative press and launched an all-out campaign to squash the story.

Smart emailed the negative news proactively to all their fans. They encouraged people to check out the test results.

This is exactly the right way to deal with negative word of mouth in a social media world. 

Lessons:

  1. You can’t stop, manage, or control negative word of mouth. If there is negative news, it will be discussed.
  2. It will get worse if you try to hide it.
  3. It will go away faster if you acknowledge it.

When you have negative news:

  1. Get it out there fast.
  2. Encourage everyone who is going to talk about it to talk about it.
  3. Participate in the discussion, answer questions, be accessible.
  4. Guess what?  People will stop talking when you’ve answered all their questions and proven you have nothing to hide. It becomes old news fast.

The original email:

>> smart fortwo safety results announced

Dear smart Enthusiast, 

This week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its results of the smart fortwo frontal and side crash tests. 

The results are consistent with our expectations and what we have been communicating to you. The NHTSA evaluations and video of the crash testing can be found on their website — www.safercar.gov. We encourage to you view the site.

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety also performs crash testing on vehicles in the United States. We expect these results within 30 days and we will share the results with you once we receive their final report.

Safety is a top priority for Mercedes Benz and smart USA. All crash data is currently being reviewed by Mercedes-Benz engineers as we continue to look for ways to make the smart fortwo an even safer vehicle. 

Warm Regards,

The smart USA Team

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Comments

  1. captain flummox April 9, 2008 at 10:07 am #

    I’d like to see the results for when they crash into each other. Advocates of cars like these are bound to grow if gas prices continude the trend, and I’d guess that will only fuel anti SUV backlash. Thank goodness this time we won’t be saddled with the Gremlin or the Pinto or the Vega.
    But to your point, yes, that’s just how to deal this kind of PR adventure. The audience gets to see the company under stress, and stress usuallyr eveals character. People remember character, I think.

  2. Jen April 9, 2008 at 10:47 am #

    I agree. This is the equivalent of me “calling myself out” when I make a mistake… which btw, hardly EVER happens. :)
    If someone really wants to rake me over the coals, they will continue to berate me and the mistake, but it tends to make them look…well, jerky… and that can be a mistake for them. After all, EVERYONE can relate to a flub.
    Once I acknowledge that I am human, the only noble thing for another do to is to extend me grace… and then everyone gets the warm fuzzies and we eat pie together.
    I think this is the same w SmartUSA… I believe they will find supporters coming out of the woodworks. Every action gets an equal and opposite reaction, right?

  3. Lloyd Duggan April 9, 2008 at 11:36 am #

    Wouldn’t it be something if politicians adopted this approach?

  4. Andy Angelos April 9, 2008 at 10:17 pm #

    Hey Andy –
    I generally agree with the concept of embracing negativity and using the public backlash as a vehicle for improvement. However, positive confrontation is not always effective as demonstrated by the recent Shel Israel and Loren Feldman debacle in the twitter/blogosphere.
    Shel initially admitted his video interview skills were subpar and promised viewers and critics he was continuously learning. When the problem escalated through the popularity of Feldman’s puppet videos, however, Shel was rightfully angered and publicly expressed his frustration (at least to the extent Twitter is considered public).
    How do you recommend confronting negativity surrounding personal image? For those of us without traditional products (like the Smart Car), image is one of our only possessions. Interested in your thoughts on the difference between the relationship of a company and a critic versus the relationship of a public personality (such as Shel) and a critic.
    Andy

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