Paul Rushing wrote an article on DrivingSales.com that I responded to with a comment shown below. The article can be viewed at: http://www.drivingsales.com/blogs/paulrushing/2009/08/08/is-all-fai...
The topic of "Black Hat" digital marketing or in some cases, such as what I did while employed at Courtesy Chevrolet, "Guerrilla Marketing" is near and dear to my heart. The example you showcased certainly reflects poor judgement from the perspective of how it helps achieve the dealer's marketing objectives. However, I believe the real issue is something that goes beyond the specifics of the example you illustrated... We are seeing this a lot in the area of Social Marketing and Reputation Management. It is the issues around who is designated/responsible/allowed/encouraged to represent the dealership in the world of online advertising and more significantly User Generated Content (UGC) sites. In many cases we are seeing dealers represented and portrayed in questionable ways by well meaning employees who take it upon themselves to go online and start winging it. In other cases, we see Internet Sales Managers who have little supervision by the General Manager or dealer setting up various online sites and content everywhere from Squidoo to Blogger to YouTube to Twitter, all of which is entirely under their personal control without being monitored or integrated into the dealer's overall marketing strategy.
What dealers need to do, and the best ones already have in place is to develop policies, guidelines and reporting processes that cover all online representation of the dealership by the store's employees. This should be incorporated into employee manuals and as a separate document signed by every employee in the dealership with the signed document inserted in the employee's personnel folder. I have several examples of these "Digital Media Policy" documents if anyone wants a copy, with one important disclosure; NO dealer should use any such document without having it reviewed and edited by the dealership's legal counsel.
Without an effectively written policy implemented by dealers, there are several areas of UGC site and online media utilization that are quite simply "out of control" for the dealership. The goal is not to stymie online participation, rather it is quite the opposite... To encourage and condone employee participation in online social media and all UGC sites by recognizing those that recommend the dealership and showcasing positive examples. By setting the right policies in place, the dealer can not only control what employees are publishing online, he/she can provide guidelines and examples of what is encouraged and condoned by the dealership. Because ALL online contributuions by employees are reported and brought to the attention of the GM, Dealer or Marketing Director, the likelihood of undesirable content creation is reduced, and if it is, the content can be removed by issuing a written order to the employee who generated it.
One important recommendation: Dealers implementing UGC policies should NOT require that online references to the dealership be preapproved. This will have an undesirable negative impact that takes form in several ways, not the least of which is the reduction of employee participation in representing the dealership online. Reward employees who help promote the dealership using Social Marketing, UGC and Reputation Management sites... Encourage all employees to go online and write about the dealership in a positive way... Do NOT stifle them by requiring preapproval, but insist and require that all and any mention of the dealership, or use of the dealership's logos, name, photos, videos and the names of fellow employees be logged by sending an email with a link to the online content to the designated email address.
When I worked at Courtesy, we had a designated email address for all employees to send links and content references to. An example might be something like "firstname.lastname@example.org" or "email@example.com". Better yet, set up a Catch-All email service at Network Solutions, which is what we did at Courtesy using "anything@ChevyMail.com" which allowed us to instruct employees to send links to any and all online mention of the dealership to the web site's name @ChevyMail.com, as in "Facebook@ChevyMail.com" or "Twitter@ChevyMail.com" because emails sent to ANYTHING@ChevyMail.com all went to the same email account. During Friday AM sales meetings we would go into the @ChevyMail.com account and showcase the best online marketing examples promoting the dealership. I would also spiff Internet Sales Specialists when they did something really powerful online. By setting all this in place, the likelihood of content being generated online without the dealer or management being aware of it is vastly reduced.
By encouraging dealership employees to make positive and frequent mention of the dealership online, the dealer is harnessing the most effective tool in their online marketing arsenal, the social impact of the 50, 75, 100 or more employee on that dealership's payroll.
Ultimately, the only way to effectively control online content generation by employees is to implement policies around what is allowed and encouraged. Then reward the employees who generate positive online references, while insisting that 100% of any and all online reference to the dealership be brought to management attention and subject to the dealership requesting that unacceptable content be deleted.
I suspect that the Nissan dealer whose employee created the example you have showcased would have insisted that it be removed had it been brought to his/her attention.