It started out with an intriguing headline: Toyota, Build Social Network. I admit, I was intrigued and I tore into the article only to come away more than a little confused.

Apparently, Toyota wants cars to communicate with their owners. To make this happen, Toyota has partnered with Salesforce to use its private messaging network, which is described as “like Twitter and Facebook,” except that it’s not, which is a really strange choice for a pure consumer application. Leaving that oddity aside, the basic idea is interesting: Toyota wants your car to tell you, with messages to your mobile devices, for example that the battery is low. You would also get scheduled maintenance notifications and the like. It’s a clever application, arguably a personal workflow application, and it makes good sense.

That is, it made sense until the Toyota social marketers got involved. While this new feature doesn’t actually utilize Facebook or Twitter, Toyota marketers saw the value of you being able to forward these messages to Facebook and Twitter. Yes, now you can easily tell all your friends and associates that your car battery is low. Huh? And better yet, your new best friend your car will now be able to send you helpful “product and service information” (sounds like advertising to me). Yes, a good and useful idea gets bizarrely contorted just so marketers can slap a “social media” label on it. And your new car will be sending you a stream of sales messages along with critical safety information.

Object lesson for all of us: there’s a role for social media and it’s undeniably powerful. But to contort good products to force in social media components is a great way for Toyota to get de-friended … fast.

This Toyota announcement comes at the same time Nissan is promoting its new "NV" line of work vans that are being positioned as mobile office environments. High-tech features include such things a mounting rack so you can install a filing cabinet, and a magnetic bulletin board. Perhaps it is Nissan and Salesforce who should be talking!