Chrysler Auto Flop

In Uncategorized on March 13, 2011 at 10:49 pm

You may or may not have seen Chrysler’s f-bomb on Twitter a couple of days ago – this, on the heels of major success with their Super Bowl commercial (#2 according to AdWeek). Many, including Chrysler, immediately concluded the account was hi-jacked, but it was actually just a slip. The company proceeded to “handle” the situation by deleting the tweet (“I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f**king drive”) and eventually firing the person who umm misfired. In this case, the social flop rests on the company and NOT (so much) the employee. I’ll tell you why.

Make it easy to take risks

The day after this was revealed, I was lucky enough to Skype with Charlene Li, who co-wrote Groundswell and Open Leadership (full disclosure: it was a group setting, and I had absolutely nothing to do with getting her to meet with us). Anyway, she said something that really stuck out – and I tweet…

Chrysler’s decision to publicly fire the employee is counter-cultural to this notion of taking risks, making and admitting mistakes, and being OK with failure. And more, it goes against the idea of just being human – especially in a medium that is predicated on real, informal exchange. Now, it’s not clear what role Chrysler played in firing the employee – since the person was actually employed by their agency. But, they clearly took some ownership in the decision…

“Sandbox Covenants”

I understand that companies have policies that govern this sort of thing – Charlene calls them sandbox covenants. But, was there really a need for Chrysler to make the axe so public? Of course we know that they’re going to “deal” with it, but do we really care how? Admit the mistake and move on – don’t attract more attention to the situation by taking drastic actions. I agreed with Tia Marie’s comment in reply to Chrysler’s blog: “Take the NMS employee off of Chrystler’s account, but firing them was too much.” If Chrysler learned anything about social technology, they might realize how easy it is to send a message out through the wrong channel.


Throughout the Skype, Charlene makes various comments regarding the control that companies must relinquish when operating in this new space – even suggesting it takes more time and energy to let go of control than to grip tightly. Chrysler’s response showed that they were completely unprepared for this situation. They were predictably corporate, and the tone they set will hinder any social media success in the near future.  Hindsight is 20/20, so I’ll give them some credit by assuming they’re looking back and thinking they should have maybe done something different, such as…

  • Explain what happened
  • Take ownership (vs. identifying a scapegoat)
  • Apologize for the mistake
  • Maybe laugh at yourself
  • Don’t delete the tweet (because it never goes away)
  • Maybe ask the followers in a follow-up response (video?) what they should do
  • Respond with something funny – like, “Hey all, Eminem hijacked our account…but we asked the real slim shady to please stand down. please stand down.” Heck, he even has a song called “Drop the Bomb on ’em.”

Anything creative and intriguing and you’d have countless people praising Chrysler for social savvy, instead of calling them out (like on a social flop blog).


Chrysler showed that they have yet to understand the basics of social media – transparency, authenticity, and humility. They tried at all three, but they went about it all wrong.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of my employer nor any other organization I am affiliated with. Also, please see the “About” page in case you are offended or even mildly irritated. Thanks!

  1. Great post! Couldn’t agree more.
    Loved your point about how it’s harder for corporations to relinquish control over their “online” presence than to maintain a death grip on it.
    Companies trying to keep a tight grip on what is said about their brand online need to let it go, and let the conversation happen organically; whether it’s from an agency or not.

  2. If I hired you to maintain my corporate brand in a setting as public as social media, I would expect you to have the maturity level to know that if something is not appropriate in the workplace, then its not appropriate at all. Just because your office is the internet doesn’t make it “ok” to screw up and put my corporate name in the by line. Chrysler may try to be edgy by cross branding with Eminem but you better believe they know that soccer moms drive their business. Literally.

  3. […] What a perfect opportunity to reach out and admit the mistake – be human, don’t be Chrysler. Now, like never before, we have streaming commentary at our fingertips that doesn’t go away. […]

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