General Motors, under siege from internet gossip about the state of the world's largest carmaker, this week came out fighting with the launch of a website designed to make a `distinction between the facts and rumours surrounding the company.'
The launch of www.GMfactsandfiction.com is the latest example of a company launching a 'fact fighter' website to put across the company's point of view to counter negative postings in web stories, blogs, chatrooms or forums. Last year in the UK, McDonald's mounted an ad campaign to promote www.makeupyourownmind.co.uk, a website that answers questions on McDonald's food, business, people and practices. Similarly, Innocent Drinks used a company blog to fight criticism after it trialled its drinks at McDonald's.
The GM website is organised by sections containing a myth, such as 'GM still doesn't make cars that people want to buy,' followed by GM's response listing increased sales figures for select models. Visitors can also email the website questions or issues, which GM's PR team with respond to.
There is speculation that GM's 'facts' initiative was inspired by Barack Obama's successful website http://factcheck.barackobama.com/ which opens with a quote from the presidential candidate: 'I want to campaign the same way I govern, which is to respond directly and forcefully with the truth.' The Obama campaign has aggressively responded to online attacks, after the 2004 Democratic candidate, John Kerry, failed to respond in time to a smear campaign launched by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which challenged Kerry's Vietnam combat record.
The current presidential election has also seen a higher profile for www.factcheck.org, a non-partisan and non-profit group, which monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in their TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases.
Nate Elliott, a research director at internet specialist Jupiter Research, said that whether companies use 'fact' websites to confront critics, or encourage CEOs or employees to blog on their behalf, the important thing is for companies to participate in the conversations that are taking place online about their brands.
'People often talk about companies, brands and products,' said Elliott. 'Things consumers are saying to each other and post are not always accurate. It's in the company's interest to post their side of the message.'
'There are a number of influential consumers, that are active on message boards, forums and chatrooms,' said Elliott. Companies may not be able change the views of the vocal, but they can influence 'a much larger group who consume information without participating.'
Although GM is getting its point across with its new passive website, it also needs to encourage its employees to seek out and respond to comments being made elsewhere. For instance, last week Google employee Matt Cutts was actively defending the company's new Chrome software.
'GM is not engaging in a real conversation that's back and forth. It's just a factsheet. That's a good step but I would encourage them to further engage its critics on twitter, blogs and elsewhere,' said Elliott.
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