There are 825 processes required to transform a coil of steel, weighing up to 45 tonnes, into a brand new Toyota Auris Hybrid but, apart from those working on the production line, few people ever get to see behind the scenes. That is until 19 June when, in a world first, Toyota UK tweeted a step-by-step guide to building the model from its Burnaston factory in Derbyshire.
'This was a way to bring to life all the quality processes that people don't know about, that allowed us to say Did you know that our car goes through this many checks?', explains Nic Pearson, manager, media relations. 'The key for us is that the initiative also illustrates our differentiators - quality, durability and reliability.'
Over the course of 14 hours, starting at 5am, the media team at Toyota UK sent 532 tweets, with the hashtag #F2F, interspersed with videos, imagery and interviews with people on the production line.
'We had a series of A3 pages with all the processes running through them. All the tweets were penned beforehand. We didn't want to put our trust in an automatic system to send them, so we had a team of six working on rolling shifts,' adds Pearson. 'It wasn't exactly 'real time', but it was timed to the minute.'
Toyota UK also had to alert Twitter to lift its automatic limit of 1,000 tweets a day, and restrictions on tweets in an hour. 'We asked them to lift the barrier because this was a legitimate campaign,' he explains.
The idea of the Twitter day - entitled 'From Factory to Forecourt' - was first muted 18 months ago, but the first step was getting the factory team to accept the idea. 'We had our first operational meeting with the factory team early last year,' recalls Pearson. 'Obviously, they don't work in marketing or a sales environment so their first reaction was That's a top secret process; you can't show that to the world.'
Time was spent assuring the factory management that the processes could be explained, without disclosing any magic formulae. 'I have been to the factory, six or so times, taking journalists on press trips, for example, but I didn't really get to look at the processes in their entirety, so this was illuminating for the team. But it also helped to explain to the manufacturing team, what we do all day.'
Once the factory team were on board, the media team had to look at each of the 'shops', from plastic to logistics to assembly, involved in the production process, and work out how to bring each one to life.
'One of our team spent a week sitting in the factory in January, learning about all the processes and writing the tweets. Every tweet had to work on its own to tell a story. Filming started in late February and early March,' explains Pearson. Links to the films were incorporated into different tweets to create specific packages.
Keen to ensure that the Twitter initiative endured longer than its 14 hours, Toyota UK also created a special section on its corporate website, incorporating a time line, introductions to each shop and a selection of the videos used over the day. 'We had to build the whole section from scratch, and it had to be signed off by Japan,' he adds. 'We could have done it in a series of blogs, but by introducing this extra functionality we have created a legacy.'
Promoting the initiative
Before launching the Factory to Forecourt initiative, Toyota UK created the bespoke Twitter handle @ToyotaFactory. 'We recognised that people who follow our normal Twitter account [@ToyotaGB which has more than 10,000 followers] might not want all this information,' explains Pearson. 'We started to promote the initiative through an outreach strategy. We started to follow influential people on Twitter using our new handle, which was a mix of people we knew, automotive writers, key manufacturing blogs, and also some of the biggest influencers for Toyota UK, such as Toyota US. We also did some traditional media relations, sending out press releases in the weeks leading up to the day.'
The initiative began with about 500 followers, which rose to more than 2,000, and has now settled down at almost 1,700. 'We had around 703 retweets, which worked out at more than one per tweet, and 684 tweets mentioned our hashtag,' adds Pearson. 'Using normal measurement tools, we estimate that we had exposure to around 2.2 million users over the day.' The videos have also been viewed by more than 1,500 people.
The Factory to Forecourt initiative will now be used in a range of other ways, including as part of an educational scheme to highlight the prominence of the car industry in the manufacturing sector, and how Toyota UK is at its forefront. 'We created a live Twitter feed in one of the local schools in Derby,' adds Pearson. 'There are a lot of people in that school who have an association with the factory. We will also use this in community outreach programmes, and also corporate social responsibility campaigns.'
Other Toyota companies around the world are also looking at replicating the initiative, either by translating the content and using it in a local campaign, such as in Germany, or by drawing on the UK's experience, and developing bespoke campaigns, such as in Japan.
But with a range of Toyota vehicles available, why did the UK media team choose to promote production of the Auris model? 'The Auris was only launched in the UK at the end of last year, and Burnaston is the only factory in Britain that produces a hybrid model. It is the newest model to come out of the factory,' explains Pearson. 'We were trying to raise awareness for our new vehicle, and to create assets that can be used in showrooms and online campaigns. They will get used in perpetuity to illuminate in-built quality, which is hard to do.
'They can even be used at point of sale, where the salesman can say Let me show you the processes. It is naturally fascinating. We are bringing to life a phenomenally complex process that takes place in a big shed in a field in Derbyshire.'