Tesla Motors has redefined the auto industry with its direct-to-consumer business model and innovative electronic cars. And now, CEO Elon Musk is tested again after putting on a master class for public relations professionals, showing us earlier this month how to effectively use online tools to overcome a potential crisis and build a reputable brand.
The most recent test for Musk and the Tesla team comes from news that Tesla has again experienced an incident involving their Model S. It appears as though Tesla is again responding with genuine care and concern for the driver involved, having reached out to him directly.
Also in the news is Tesla’s stock value, which Musk had warned were seemingly inflated — with shares up 400% this year. Word of Model S issues appear to have spooked investors, but stakeholders of all kinds should take note of Tesla’s response in the face of crisis. After all, if their handling of the first incident is any indication, Tesla will once again show us all how to effectively manage a crisis.
The First Fire: Mastering the Response without Adding Fuel to the Flames
In the company’s first major public relations test, Tesla caught the attention of news media outlets on Oct. 1, 2013 when video of one of its Model S vehicles was shown engulfed in flames following an accident. The video spread like wildfire across the Internet and raised concerns over the safety of the cars’ lithium-ion batteries — not an optimal situation for a car company that boasts 5-star ratings and safety superiority over traditional vehicles.
Rather than panicking or avoiding the discussion, however, Tesla quickly owned the situation and used the expediency of online media to redirect the conversation. Tesla did what all PR professionals should aspire to: They saw a potential crisis as an opportunity to educate and inform their stakeholders.
A seamless strategy
First, Tesla reached out directly to the owner of the Tesla S, Robert Carlson. In email exchanges, Tesla explained the engineering and causes of the incident, offered a loaner car while the damaged Model S was in repair, and extended a direct line of communication in order to address any questions or concerns he may have moving forward.
Musk then took to the company’s blog to speak directly to those concerned over the incident. There, he provided a detailed explanation of what occurred, as well as statistics regarding Tesla’s engineering and performance versus those of standard vehicles in similar impacts. He even went so far as to publish the email correspondence with Carlson, which demonstrated the care to which Tesla gave this particular case, including the exemplary customer service that was provided. Since the publication of the blog, Tesla has seen Musk’s direct response reposted in the blogosphere as well as shared many times over through social media.
In their first test, Musk and the entire Tesla team for showed how confidence in their product, transparency in their actions, and stellar attention to customer service could pay huge dividends in the arena of reputation management. We expect to see nothing less from the auto innovators this time around.