Toyota's low-risk dialogue on Digg

February 8, 2010: 4:00 PM ET

When U.S. Toyota executive Jim Lentz fields questions today on Digg, there probably won't be many surprises. Photo: Toyota.

If you're Toyota (TM) right now, the last thing you want is more surprises. That might explain why Jim Lentz, president of the U.S. sales division, will be fielding questions about the automaker's troubles on social media site Digg today at 2 p.m. PT, 5 p.m. ET; it actually looks to be a pretty low-risk affair.

Normally, "low-risk" and "Digg" don't go together in the world of corporate PR. On Digg, users get to vote topics into popularity or oblivion– so it can be an image management nightmare.

Want to see what an image management nightmare looks like? Go to Digg and search for the Must Dugg items under "customer service." You'll find some gems including, "Best Buy Cancels Your Order As You're There Shouting Stop" (8,599 diggs) and "Toyota Employees Taped Watching Porn in Customer's Truck" (3,480 diggs). And yes, both stories are pretty much as bad as they sound.

So why would Toyota voluntarily subject itself to the Digg treatment? Actually, it hasn't. Lentz won't be appearing on the main Digg site, where stories about the company's troubles are giving spinmeisters heartburn. Instead, he'll be on Digg Dialogg – a video program where Digg users submit questions and the most popular ones rise to the top.

This could be a problem if the toughest questions were the most popular. But often they're not. Of the 1,388 questions submitted for Lentz, here are the two most popular:

1. What do you drive? (283 diggs)
2. How far along is Toyota on moving into some truly gas free cars in the future? Are these kinds of vehicles even possible or feasible in our current lifetime? (211 diggs)

It gets touchier from there – several questions about Toyota's recalls have risen high on the charts – but you get the idea.

Why are the softball questions so popular? From a look at the Digg Dialogg site, here's a possible reason: In this case, many of the tough questions are personal – and folks just don't care to hear about other people's car troubles. Questions that mentioned personal details tended to get voted down into negative territory, while general questions about technology and design seemed more likely to catch on.

Another PR-friendly aspect to Digg Dialogg: Unlike in a real conversation, Toyota can see the tough questions well ahead of time and craft carefully nuanced responses. Which means the whole affair will be pretty predictable. So in the end, this Digg Dialogg won't be much like Digg ... and it won't be much like dialogue, either.

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