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Toyota’s Hybrid “community” needs a social media remedial

I came across an announcement on MediaPost about the re-launch of the Toyota Hybrid community website and decided to check it out (note to MediaPost — links would be helpful and more social), being an old auto ad chick myself, an environmentalist, and invested in social media. As reported, it sounded fantastic and a wonderful way to get the community involved. And it is pretty cool. But was that the point?

The main issue I have with the site is it’s built completely in Flash. High on bells and whistles, low on seamless integration and usability. It’s also difficult to find. I went to the Toyota Prius page from my Google search and the link there was to the Edmunds Toyota Community. Huh? Cross-linking/referencing new campaigns is a good thing people… you never know someone’s entrance point. I went back to the homepage and saw a cryptic banner for the “Hybrid Synergy Drive“. Excuse me? What does that mean? “Synergy Drive” sounds pretty cool in brainstorming sessions, not so much when you’re looking for a car, or to join a community.

When I finally get to the site it opens in a new window – bad. Then the Flash loads and I get a jumble of meaninglessness, although it looks cool. It’s not a “community”, except in the loosest sense of the word. It is tightly controlled and lacking depth or stickiness. There is no two-way communication with Toyota the company, and the only communication between community members is to view “reasons” people own the car (the reasons Toyota oh so nicely provides to you vs. allowing you to express your own opinions – about 15 -20 to choose from), or to chat via IM with people you’ve added as friends (except good luck finding someone, you’re identified by # – how personal and social).

Sure, once you’ve picked your Toyota-approved “reasons” you can manipulate their graphics to personalize a bit and you can upload a photo or video tied into your “number”, but so what? That kept me engaged for approx. 10 seconds. Why would I come back?

On the plus side, I do like the ability to search by various factors (age range, miles driven, vehicle colour), but with all the issues identified above that functionality is not optimized or persuasive.

The rest of the tools are ones you’d find on the vehicle branded page, which has nothing to do with community, and everything to do with the purchase funnel. It’s not a bad idea per se, to provide these tools on a community site, but they should be secondary to the purpose.

It’s disappointing to see that companies and agencies still don’t get it – if you want to form, join, or lead, a community, it has to be about them, not you. I’m sure the hybrid community has a lot of things they are passionate about and like to share about their vehicle outside of what Toyota allows… on another website. Although, I shouldn’t be too surprised as it appears companies and agencies still don’t get that search engines don’t index Flash either. Could be why it was so hard to find in the first place.

[photo credit: Husky on Flickr]

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Community sponsorship – a 2.0 business model for bands

Sellaband is a new website based in Germany that enables independent artists to connect with fans who are willing to sponsor (buy a ’share’ in) their first album for a potential share of any profits off of advertising revenue – the album itself will be available for download free of charge. It’s a fantastic idea and one that I can see both bands and fans embracing. The long-term potential for loyalty and communication increases as consumers are able to feel a sense of ownership in “their” bands fate. In terms of marketing and word of mouth awareness it’s a winner as well. Fans have a vested interest in the band succeeding and will spread the word. On the flip side, with feedback mechanisms in place (i.e. purchasing shares/ parts and enabling community interaction), musicians are able to get a valuable sense of what’s resonating, and what is not.

According to the Springwise newsletter, a month after launch and Sellaband has signed over 250 artists from 30 countries, and has sold over 2,500 ‘parts’ at $10 a pop from a user base of 1,500.

Welcome to Indie Music 2.0.

Now if they just start making user-generated band tees, we’ll have a proper mash-up.

[photo credit: Poagao on Flickr]

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An out of this world rewards program

Forgive the corny title, but this story of a British man who exchanged his 2mm frequent flyer miles for a trip to space on Virgin Galactic is just too perfect. The gent, Alan Watts, flew 40 times from the UK to the US on Virgin and racked up the miles – certainly reasonable if you’re an international business traveller. He was then able to turn those miles into a trip into space in 2009. Now that’s an option.

Richard Branson just convinced me to fly Virgin. Now to get some clients & vacation time in Europe… Or… When is the credit card coming to Canada? ;)

Great job to Virgin for thinking outside the ordinary and integrating, or at the least, allowing flexibility between their business units and their customer loyalty programs.

h/t – Slashdot

[photo credit: wcm1111 on Flickr]

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Your brand here

A new niche social networking site with a twist has launched and it should be on the radar of marketers everywhere. The site, Zebo, is all about our, or our clients, brands. What’s hot, what’s not, what people want, what people own, what the trends are, what sucks, and on top of it friends give each other advice on shopping and you can ultimately purchase a product.

I highly suggest adding this site to the social media monitoring mix, consumer persona research, and exploring the potentials it offers on the e-commerce side (US brands only at this point but with plans to expand at a later date – Canadians take note). The site is already attracting attention amongst the media with a write up in the NYTimes, and if there is one truth about teenagers is that they love to shop. It will be interesting to see if it takes off from the niche and becomes a staple for sharing trends and tips & how the ROI on the ecom side measures up to traditional online storefronts.

h/t – Three Minds

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Google and GM get innovative and integrated

In an on-going series of moves between the auto giant and the search giant, Google and GM in the U.S. have teamed up to showcase that Google delivers interactivity with the launch of the new Saturn campaign in partnership with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

Via CNet:

Visitors to a variety of Web sites in six cities around the country that are home to 22 Saturn dealerships will see what look like typical banner ads for Aura, a new Saturn midsize sedan. Clicking on an ad will produce a view of the earth that zooms in on the dealership nearest to the computer user.

The doors to the virtual dealership fly open, revealing the general manager, who introduces a brief commercial about Aura. After the spot ends, the general manager returns, standing next to an Aura and offering choices that include spinning the car 360 degrees, inspecting its engine, printing a map with directions to the dealership and visiting the Web sites of Saturn or the dealer.

The project is intended to stimulate demand for Aura test-drives with a twist: The dealerships will deliver the cars to the homes of consumers. The theme of the project is “Take the 250,000-mile test drive.”

I love that this campaign embraces the dealership walk-around experience and showcases the features and warmth of the Saturn brand without overkill or irrelevance to what I as a potentially purchaser would be interested in. And of course, delivering the car to your door? Priceless.

[photo credit: Elsie esq. on Flickr]

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