Michael Coté has it right: “all roads lead to better junk mail.”
We can take “road” literally in this case since Toyota has teamed up with Salesforce.com to “build Toyota Friend social network for Toyota customers and their cars“.
If you’re tired of “I am getting a fat-free decaf latte at Starbucks” FourSquare messages, wait until you start receiving “my car is getting a lead-free 95-octane pure arabica gas refill at Chevron”. That’s because Toyota owners will get to “choose to extend their communication to family, friends, and others through public social networks such as Twitter and Facebook“.
Leaving “family and friends” aside (they will beg you to), the main goal of this social network is to connect “Toyota customers with their cars, their dealership, and with Toyota”. And what for purpose? The press release has an example:
For example, if an EV or PHV is running low on battery power, Toyota Friend would notify the driver to re-charge in the form of a “tweet”-like alert.
That’s pretty handy, but every car I’ve ever owned has sent me a “tweet-like” alert in the form of a light on the dashboard when I got low on fuel.
Would you like to know if your dealer’s service department has a big empty space on its calendar tomorrow morning, and is willing to offer you a sizable discount on routine service if you’ll bring the car in then instead of waiting another 100 miles?
Ten years ago, the fancy way to justify spamming people was to say that you offered “personalization”. Look at this old advertisement (which lists Toyota as a customer) about how “personalization” is the way to better connect with customers and get them to buy more. Today, we’ve replaced “personalization” with “social media” but it’s the exact same value proposition to the company (coupled with a shiny new way to feed it to its customers).
BTW, the company behind the advertisement? Broadvision. Remember Broadvision? Internet bubble darling, its share price hit over $20,000 (split-adjusted to today). According to the ad above, it was at the time “the world’s second leading e-commerce vendor in terms of licensing revenues, just behind Netscape and ahead of Oracle, IBM, and even Microsoft” and “the Internet commerce firm listed in Bloomberg’s Top 100 Stocks”. Today, it’s considered a Micro-cap stock. Which reminds me, I still haven’t gotten around to buying some LinkedIn…
Notice who’s missing from the list of people you’ll connect to using Toyota’s social network? Independent repair shops and owners forums (outside Toyota). Now, if this social network was used to let me and third-party shops retrieve all diagnostic information about my car and all related knowledge from Toyota and online forums that would be valuable. But that’s the last thing on earth Toyota wants.
A while ago, a strange-looking icon lit up on the dashboard of my Prius. Looking at it, I had no idea what it meant. A Web search (which did not land on Toyota’s site of course) told me it indicated low tire pressure (I had a slow leak). Even then, I had no idea which tire it was. Now at that point it’s probably a good idea to check all four of them anyway, but you’d think that with two LCD screens available in the car they’d have a way to show you precise and accurate messages rather than cryptic icons. It’s pretty clear that the whole thing is designed with the one and only goal of making you go to your friendly Toyota dealership.
Which is why, without having seen this “Toyota Friend” network in action, I am pretty sure I know it will be just another way to spam me and try to scare me away from bringing my car anywhere but to Toyota.
Dear Toyota, I don’t want “social”, I want “open”.
In the meantime, and since you care about my family, please fix the problem that is infuriating my Japanese-American father in law: that the voice recognition in his Japan-made car doesn’t understand his accented English. Thanks.