Peer Endorsements Revisited: A look at Toyota’s fan base

In my last blog post I discussed a study that brought into question the validity and credibility of individual consumers as reference points. I’m revisiting this topic because of a recent post I read in AdAge about how Toyota is “winning fans” through Social Media, correlating this to Toyota winning over public sentiment about the quality/safety of their cars.

According to AdAge “the automaker has actually grown its Facebook fan base more than 10% since late January, around the time of the marketer’s Jan. 21 recall announcement and its Jan. 26 stop-sale date…the automaker has been somewhat surprised by the large number of customers who have leapt to Toyota’s defense in ‘an authentic way.'”

OK…Let’s for a moment acknowledge Toyota has discovered social media and suddenly finds themselves with “fans”. Now consider that Toyota resale values plummeted 5% within the first week of the recall announcement. Consider that most of the sentiment in the media and cyberspace at-large has been largely negative.  Finally, consider that Toyota’s “large” increase in fan base has meant a growth from 72,000 to 80,000, and contrast that with a total recall count in the millions.

I’m not saying any of this to undermine what Toyota has accomplished, for in fact, I think they are a great organization that will overcome this. But I’m bothered that certain experts would have us believe that Toyota is already on the road to recovery because it has a few fans. As I discussed in my last blog…most fans or other peer endorsements lack objectivity and credibility. Let’s assume I drove a Toyota, one that was recalled. I get it fixed, but my intention is to sell it in the next 6 to 12 months. Wouldn’t it be in my favor to endorse Toyota by becoming a fan or offering up some other form of peer endorsement (especially if that meant convincing the discerning eyes of AdAge that Toyota has everything under control as evidenced by an extra 8,000 fans).

And lets not forget that becoming “a fan” isn’t exactly an arduous task…we all have friends who randomly become fans of anyone and anything for whatever reason, the least of which happens to be actually believing in the product itself.

What we really don’t know (though I would like to know), is for every “fan” Toyota gained, how many completely wrote off buying Toyota for at least the next few years? Something tells me Honda and their 300,000 Facebook fans would gladly take more into the fold.

*AdAge’s piece, The Cult of Toyota, can be found here.

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