Automakers of the World, Here’s How to Make Headlines

Cluster map of European auto manufacturers. Image courtesy of

Hey, Detroit! Hey, Wolfsburg! Hey, Toyota City! Think you know how to get noticed? Let’s see if you’re right. In this week’s Leadfoot post, we’ll look at headline-making best practices. And by that I don’t mean launching new models or issuing recalls or committing scandalous acts (hello, Volkswagen). Or anything else that might get you on the cover of Car & Driver or the front page of the LA Times. No, this is SO much simpler.

This is about the golden rules of headline writing for blogs and Twitter. Other than keywords, headlines are the most important element in any blog post. Why? Because if your readers use syndication tools to scan the news, they’re sifting through a lot of blog posts. So your headline is the first thing they’ll see, and the biggest deciding factor in whether they’ll read on.

Steak + Sizzle = Sales

Great headlines get clicked, tweeted, retweeted – and, even more important, they turn into sales. In fact, according to tests by Marketing Experiments, an Internet-based research lab that conducts experiments in optimizing sales and marketing processes, compelling headlines will:

·       Increase conversion rates by 73%

·       Get read by 8 out of 10 people

·       Perform 259% better than bad headlines

Top-ranked content marketing influencer and social media expert Jeff Bullas says we can thank Twitter’s 140-character count for highlighting the importance of writing short, pithy, “mind-blowing” headlines. Twitter, he contends, “has brought back the art of the headline.”

Great headlines blend substance and style, otherwise known as “steak and sizzle.” Of course, writing great headlines is easier said than done. Says Mark Schaefer, one of the world’s foremost social media strategists and author of The Tao of Twitter, “headlines can be painful to write — it’s like ad copy. It has to be short and impactful.”

Or, to put it more plainly, Schaefer asks, “Are you more likely to enjoy and remember a post titled ‘An analysis of SEO implications for blogging’ or one titled, ‘How to Be a Google Whore’?”

What’s more, the most effective headlines should incorporate keywords and phrases people might be searching for.

Top Tricks of the Trade


Lucky for all of us, there are many tried-and-true techniques we can use to craft eye-catching, intriguing and SEO-optimized headlines. The following tips and tricks come from the utterly charming and highly informative blogging resource website, Blog Godown:


  1. Lists or Numbers. Example: “The 21 Worst Things To Have On Your Blog or Website”
  1. Questions. Example: “Bloggers: Are You Making this BIG Mistake?”
  1. Adjectives. Example: “7 Smashing Techniques to Pull Guest Authors to Your Blog”
  1. Slang. Example: “Kickass Alternative Commenting Systems for Bloggers”
  1. Personal Experience. Example: “Why I Won’t Follow Everyone on Twitter”

Jeff Bullas believes “great headlines grab you, shake you and demand your attention” and offers these additional techniques from Authority Blogger:

  1. Get What You Want (In Health, Wealth, Relationships, Time and Lifestyle). Example: “The Secret To Getting More Money For Your Property!”
  1. Crystal Ball and History Example: “10 Predictions on the Future of Social Media”
  1. Problems and Fears. Example: “Get Rid of Your Debt Once and For All”
  1. Fact, Fiction, Truth and Lies. Example: “Little Known Ways To Make Money On The Stock Exchange”
  1. How To, Tricks Of The Trade. Example: “How To Plan The Ultimate Holiday”
  1. Best and Worst. Example: “The 10 Worst Mistakes Made by Bloggers

Auto Industry Checkup

So, based on all this expert advice, I had to wonder: How are the auto industry bloggers doing? A quick scan of the headlines produced these five examples:

From the dealer blog for Capistrano Volkswagen: “What Happened to Mini Vader from “The Force” VW Commercial?

★★★ 55 tweets, posted November 13, 2015

From blog: “VW and Audi TDI Owners: Your Guide to Volkswagen’s TDI Crisis”

★★ 13 retweets, posted September 22, 2015

From the blog: “Dr. Michael Steiner Becomes Group Compliance Commissioner”

★★★ 1,748 tweets, posted November 18, 2015

From Car Auto Daily: “2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune: A Bit of Baja for the Bug”

★★★★★ 3,500 retweets in 2 hrs, posted November 22, 2015

From the New York Times:

“How Volkswagen Got Away with Diesel Deception”

★ 16 retweets, posted November 21, 2015

Hey, you! Yes, YOU, auto buyer, dealer, manufacturer, enthusiast – whether you’re in Michigan, Germany or Japan, you’re wise to follow these blogging best practices. Ready to make headlines?

Driving a Hard Bargain

Broken trust. Image courtesy of BBC News.

Is Volkswagen, the brand that brought us the instantly likeable “Think small” and “Drivers wanted” campaigns, the brand originally launched as “the people’s car,” the brand that has always prided itself on being in touch with the people…losing touch with the people?

One would think so, judging from its botched social media response to the emissions scandal now known as #VWGate, #dieselgate or, my new personal favorite, “diesel dupe.” How did such a universally loved brand stumble so badly? How did it take them four full days to respond after the news of the EPA investigation first broke on Twitter? How is it that the response they finally made came in the form of a generic, scripted video statement by the company’s recently resigned CEO?

After all, this is not Volkswagen’s first time at the social media rodeo. They’ve been on Facebook since the early days of Facebook. They’ve been posting videos on YouTube since 2005. They’ve been tweeting since 2009. But then, there are always challenges in any social media ecosystem, no matter well established – and especially in the automotive industry.

A rough ride for an industry of deal closers

For an industry so conditioned to close quick deals using old-school sales tactics, the relationship-building nature of social media can be a rough ride – and even rougher in the midst of a crisis.

As in any relationship, social media is a two-way street that gives a brand both the opportunity to talk and the responsibility to listen. It requires a shift in mindset that means connecting in meaningful ways, and that’s been a struggle for the auto industry. Keep in mind, it wasn’t all that long ago that car dealers listed their entire inventory on Facebook and treated social media like mass media.

Along with the challenge of shifting from a traditional sales mindset, there are risks associated with social media for any industry. A recent blog on HubSpot cites the biggest risks as:

  1. Lack of policies, procedures and training
  2. Competitive exposure
  3. Failing to use social media effectively

Volkswagen learned that last one the hard way. The day they issued the Winterkorn apology video, nearly 75% of global social media chatter about Volkswagen was negative. In the ensuing days, the negative sentiment grew as hundreds of people tweeted to VW’s official Twitter account without a single reply.


Engagement has tapered off since the news of the VW scandal first broke, but that doesn’t mean people have stopped tweeting. If anything, they’ve gotten louder and more insistent since VW announced its $1,000 “goodwill package” this past week. That’s a hard bargain for VW owners with virtually worthless vehicles to accept – and it’s backfiring. Dissatisfied and suspicious the deal may be a delay tactic, many continue to demand the company “buy our cars back,” with the hashtag #BuyBackMyTDI.

HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

In one starkly revealing scene right out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dave Culbertson of Columbus, OH, had this Twitter exchange with VW:

Dave: Judging from the continuous stream of complaints with hashtag #vwcares, @VW doesn’t seem to care.

VW: @daveculbertson That is our branded hashtag we use to help our customers, Dave.

Dave: @VW It doesn’t appear that you’re actively monitoring #vwcares.

VW: @daveculbertson We assure you we do. Do you have a car-related issue, Dave?

I’m not sure if Dave has a car-related issue, but I do. So, #vwcares, tell us how you’re going to use social media better to communicate with your customers as they go through this trying time. Let me give you a few suggestions, courtesy of the B2C business blog, which offers this checklist for auto industry social engagement:

  1. Keep a well-maintained blog and social network.
  2. Engage in engagement on a regular basis.
  3. Make Friends and solve problems via YouTube.
  4. Find customers where they are.

Social media marketing moves at lightning speed. If VW wants to be liked (and what marketer doesn’t?), they need to be on their best behavior on the information superhighway. That means less talking and more listening. Because let’s face it, isn’t being heard what we all want most?

Car Shopping: Getting Social, Going Mobile

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 10.45.26 PMAnyone out there in the market for a new car? How about a used one? Either way, if my guess is right (and the statistics don’t lie) you’re getting the word out (and getting lots of advice) via social media. According to New York-based social media marketing firm Crowdtap, 87% of consumers do their car shopping research on social media.

Digging deeper, I found a few more interesting stats from a survey of over 1,500 car shoppers by RadiumOne: 64% of car shoppers rely on smartphones for research, 62 percent stay up to speed on the auto market by tracking related content on Facebook, and 75 percent share photos of cars they like on Facebook.

Top Picks of the Car Shopping Apps

It all adds up to the latest trend in car shopping: mobile apps loaded with research features, plus a healthy dose of social media just to keep things real. Based on RadiumOne’s research, here’s a rundown of the most popular mobile social media apps for car shopping:

  • 4zmocaMZOZ_CsbuZNX8DNDeZlFkB0-IERiZoWVoF-6wTBQfUEneVmRVY-qT4cwrfDA=h900
    Kelley Blue Book for iPhone. Image courtesy of

    Kelley Blue Book. The Trusted Resource® for automotive research was the top choice, with 55 percent of car shoppers using it.

  • True Car. About 30 percent of car shoppers use this free service, which connects them with over 10,000 new car dealers nationwide.
  • eBay Motors. This app, favored by 24 percent of car shoppers, puts eBay’s automative marketplace at your fingertips.
  • Edmunds. The expert resource for all things automotive attracts 21 percent of car shoppers.

Besides these automotive industry mobile apps, car shoppers are turning to all the usual social media suspects. Facebook is, not surprisingly, the main destination for talking with friends and family about brands and owner experiences. Twitter is the top choice for auto advertising based on brand affinity. LinkedIn ranks high among luxury brand advertisers thanks to its ability to reach high net worth consumers. And then, let’s not forget Craigslist.

But whether car shoppers use auto industry mobile apps or traditional social media apps, the best all have one thing in common: ratings and reviews. A case study of confirmed this by showing that when ratings and reviews were added, the site saw a 16% higher rate of conversion and 100% more click-throughs to dealer sites.

Does moving the needle move product?

Of course, “social media does not sell cars,” as Isabelle Helms, VP of Research & Marketing for AutoTrader reminds us. “It builds relationships.” This is especially true for millenials, who favor smaller cars and “enjoy living big on small,” Helms adds. Despite that trend, a recent AutoTrader survey revealed that 50 percent of millennials use smartphones to research and purchase their vehicles.

Neosperience, the “digital customer experience blog,” expands on Ms. Helms’ point of view with this point: “From the perspective of digital marketing, a well-designed app is a unique opportunity to add value to your strategy and instill the idea of a cutting-edge brand.”

Whether it’s building relationships or moving products, it all comes down to one all-important question: How do you know if these well-designed mobile social media apps are actually doing their job? You can start by applying the Top 10 KPIs (key performance indicators) for measuring mobile app success:

  1. Active users
  2. Visit frequency
  3. Session time
  4. Depth of visit
  5. Conversions
  6. Revenue per user
  7. Social shares
  8. Retention rate
  9. Acquisition cost
  10. User experience

In the end, says Helms, it’s all about designing sophisticated, easy-to-use smartphone apps that users want to engage with. Have you used any mobile car shopping apps that fit that description? And if not, how do you shop for cars?

Trust, Truth and Twitter

Image courtesy of

On September 18, 2015, the EPA broke the painful news that Volkswagen had cheated emissions tests on 500,000 diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. since 2009 and millions more worldwide. The findings revealed that, in order to pass strict environmental standards, VW had rigged engine management software in certain diesel cars (my 2013 Golf TDI among them) to turn on emission controls only during testing. The cars passed the tests, but they emit up to 40 times more harmful pollutants than EPA limits.

In its observations on the “implosion of a brand,” the Union Metrics blog noted the first tweet about the “Dieselgate” scandal came at 8:49 am PDT on September 18th from @davidshepardson, the Detroit News bureau chief. Prior to that, the number of daily tweets about Volkswagen hovered at about 10,000. On September 18th, there were over 53,000 tweets. And by the following Monday, Twitter lit up like Times Square, averaging 8,000 new tweets per hour and over 1.3 million in the ensuing week.


Needless to say, the news sent shock waves through the VW community. In the first week after David Shepardson’s initial tweet, VW owners, workers and dealers alike openly shared their feelings of anger, betrayal, shame and outright vengeance all over social media, especially on Twitter. Someone even started a special Twitter account called #VolkswagenScandal. Among the hundreds of thousands of #VolkswagenScandal tweets since the story first broke was the news that Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company is making a movie about it. There were also several scary tweets last week flaunting #VolkswagenScandal Halloween costumes.

A Volkswagen employee spreads some love. Image courtesy of

Meanwhile, Volkswagen issued a press release on September 22nd, but didn’t utter a single tweet until September 25th. Since then, however, CEO of Volkswagen Matthias Müller promised employees that “we can and we will overcome this crisis,” and employees have started to tweet back their messages of loyalty and support. By October 30th, Volkswagen was back to tweeting reminders to get the snow tires on, followed the next day by Halloween greetings from a crackling VW jack-o-lantern.

Radical Honesty

When a crisis like this occurs, drama is bound to follow and a mega-corporation like Volkswagen needs time to decide how they’ll handle it, not to mention how much information they’re willing to share. However, as Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones stated so eloquently in a Harvard Business Review article on October 28th, “the Freedom of Information acts and social media have created a radically different world, in which reputational capital is more important and more fragile than ever before.”

In our transparent, social media-driven world, the authors go on to assert, corporate leaders need to become “compelling communicators” and adopt a position of “radical honesty,” or they risk destroying their community’s trust. The HBR article offers the following guidelines:

  • Straight and fast. Tell the truth and tell it quick – there’s always less time than you think.
  • Flood the zone. Exploit every channel possible to connect with stakeholders of every generation, gender, cultural background and communication preference.
  • Stay open. Foster honest conversation with your stakeholders. Don’t edit out the bad news. Let people say it all – good, bad and ugly.
  • Keep it simple. Keep communication direct, relevant and devoid of irrelevant data.
  • Repeat. Reiterate the message and create feedback loops to build trust. Keep in mind that trust fades when the message stops – or people get contradictory data.

Clearly, the Volkswagen scandal is an extreme case that points to the need for quick response and radical honesty. Heads of corporations would be wise to follow the pointers from Harvard Business Review. Because it’s not a matter of whether a crisis like this will happen again. It’s merely a matter of when.

How would you use social media if you worked for VW? What would you do if you drove one?

Driving the Conversation About Teen Driving

Learned a lot putting 100k on my car in two years. Now I need to share it with my kid.
Learned a lot putting 100k on my car in two years. Now I need to share it with my kid.

Have I mentioned I have a daughter? Why am I mentioning it now? Because she’s 14, going on 16. My blog is about driving. And my daughter cannot. Wait. To drive. This summer when we were on vacation in Maine at my mother’s lake house, my husband and I gave our daughter unofficial driving lessons. We were relaxed, we were in the right location (a quiet lakeside community in a rural area of Maine) and we had time.

So we let her get behind the wheel of our 2010 Volvo station wagon, with my husband riding shotgun. She drove down a one-mile stretch of dirt road and back. That was it, but she was thrilled. And much to my delight, she did pretty well.

However, like many parents of teenagers on the cusp of becoming teen drivers, the thought of our daughter actually driving on real backroads and real highways terrifies me. And it’s not just because car crashes are the number one killer of teens. Or that teens have the highest crash and auto insurance rates in the nation. It’s the distractions.

In a landmark study of 1,700 crasho-DISTACTED-DRIVING-INFOGRAPHIC-570 videos involving 16- to 19-year-old drivers, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that distracted driving plays a part in 58 percent of teen car crashes, four times previous estimates from state police. The study, which was conducted from August 2007 to July 2013 in eight states, documented a half-dozen causes of distraction, from interacting with other passengers (15 percent of crashes) and cellphone use (12 percent) to reaching for an object (6 percent).

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times last March, the study used videos from an in-car system triggered by braking hard, cornering too fast or receiving major impact. Based on the findings, AAA launched a nationwide initiative called KEYS2DRIVE, which promotes teen awareness and parental involvement in training teen drivers. It also calls on states to tighten up rules in “graduated licensing programs designed to give new drivers experience in stages, from learner to full privilege,” the article reported.

KEYS2DRIVE makes use of a variety of social media tools, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to build awareness and promote dialogue, although engagement seems low across the board. The most significant impact of AAA’s efforts seems to be the influence they’ve had on state legislation around teen driving. In the time since the Keys2Drive program kicked off, AAA has helped push graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws nationwide. Today, 33 states have laws that prevent cell phone use for teens and 18 states have passenger restrictions.

imagesMeanwhile, in November 2014, Toyota and digital ad agency 360i launched their own comprehensive initiative called TeenDrive365, reportedly the largest teen driver safety campaign to date. The TeenDrive365 campaign has a lot of marketing muscle behind it, including national radio; online video; display, mobile and paid social advertising; and high-profile sponsorships. The centerpiece of the program is a slick digital hub with a plethora of online tools and expert advice, but social media plays a big supporting role. The campaign makes optimum use of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and a blog filled with custom content.

According to the program’s blog, TeenDrive365 targets parents based on the insight that “parents are the number one influence on how their teenager will behave behind the wheel – and while parents may think their teens aren’t paying attention to them when on the road, the truth is in fact the exact opposite.”

The Toyota program incorporates a variety of tactics to engage parents of teens, including:

A scene from Toyota's
A scene from Toyota’s “Parents Who Drive Bad Anonymous” video. I’m happy I wasn’t invited.
  • a video titled, “Parents Who Drive Bad Anonymous,” which pokes fun at parents’ bad driving habits as they commit to shaping up for their teens
  • a “Masters of the Wheel” video series, in which race car driving legends discuss the influential role parents play in teen driver safety
  • an online pledge for parents to set a good example for their teens
  • animated GIFs and picture-based riddles designed for parents and teens to share safety tips on social media

In the first year of the TeenDrive365 program, over one million people have visited the website and over 22,000 people have committed to signing Toyota’s safe driving pledge. The results are a testament to the power of great creative and smart social media-based marketing. As 360i states on its website, “Good work doesn’t just get noticed. It starts a conversation.”

As a parent of a teen on the cusp of becoming a driver, I’m more than ready to join this conversation and, frankly, humbled by the work Toyota’s doing. While AAA should be applauded for pushing safe driving legislation, Toyota’s initiative is engaging and undeniably effective. What do you think?

I Need to Come Clean

IMG_1589Dang! There it is. 100,000 miles. Right there. On the odometer. Staring me straight in the face, as I pulled into the garage last night. A major milestone that came precisely two years and one month since the day I drove it off the lot. A moment also worth noting, because it just happened to coincide with the painful news that Volkswagen had rigged emissions tests in 500,000 diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. since 2009. And since my car was one of them, I wasn’t exactly seeing this point in our relationship as a cause for celebration.

Yes, I drive a Volkswagen. And yes, it’s a diesel. A 2013 Golf TDI, to be exact. There, I’ve come clean. Well, not quite. Because apparently, it’s not the “clean” diesel I thought I’d bought. Turns out it may not produce 90% fewer sooty emissions than former diesel engines or 20 percent fewer carbon emissions than gasoline engines after all. According to EPA regulators, VW rigged engine management software in certain diesel cars to turn on emission controls only when being tested in order to pass strict environmental standards tests. On the road, those cars would emit up to 40 times more harmful pollutants. And there’s a very good chance my car is one of them.

So as I sat there ogling the odometer in disbelief, I wasn’t congratulating myself for surviving two back-to-back 50,000-mile years. I wasn’t rocking out to the top hits on my premium Dynaudio sound system. I wasn’t high-fiving the leather-wrapped steering wheel of my faithful friend, the car that had taken me back and forth 200 miles a day, four days a week, for the past two years – the best, most fun, fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly car I’d ever owned. No, I was still reeling from the revelation that it was all just a big, bald-faced lie.

For me and thousands other VW drivers, it feels like some sick, twisted game of gotcha. And the worst part? It’s a game with no winners.

Welcome to Leadfoot

cropped-img_060511.jpgHi there. Thanks for stopping by. Whether you’re just idling or ready to put it in park and have a look around, I hope you find something you like. Leadfoot isn’t for everybody, mind you, but damn close. After all, almost everybody on this planet drives – and usually pretty fast, too.

Depending on the day, you may find rants or raves on my homepage. You’ll also find tons of tips for road-weary drivers. Like the best crunchy snacks to keep you alert without packing on extra pounds. The best audio books, podcasts, radio shows and streaming music. And the best advice one seasoned driver can give others. Got some wise words of your own? Leave a comment, so we can learn from each other.

Speaking of which, I’ve learned a lesson or three in the two years it took to put 100,000 miles on the odometer. Expensive lessons. But I’m not one to wallow. Instead, I’m taking my accumulated wisdom to the web in the hope that I can help more drivers enjoy the long haul, avoid the radar and stay safe out there.