Can Ford's New Social Media Strategy Help It Become the Leading Social Automotive Brand?

On a December Wednesday morning Scott Monty, Ford Motor Company’s social media strategist (aka Global Digital and Multi-Media Communications Manager) woke up to a potential PR nightmare and it had nothing to do with the bailout. Ford was threatening to sue The Ranger Station, a fan website run by Jim Oakes that was selling counterfeit products using Ford’s logo. Ford was demanding that The Ranger Station surrender its website URL and pay Ford $5,000 in damages. Oakes sent out a call for help and blogged “TRS is being attacked by the Ford Motor Company.” Ford instantly felt the backlash as the fan community quickly caught wind of the lawsuit and began blogging and tweeting angry comments. Monty jumped on Twitter, followed the chatter and sent tweets to his 5600 followers saying “I’m in active discussions with our legal department to resolve it. Please retweet.”

Being the communications pro and problem solver that he is, Monty called Oakes to get his side of the story and worked out an agreement between Ford’s legal department and Oakes. Following the agreement, Monty tweeted it and Oakes blogged about it.

Ford dodged a major bullet that Wednesday not only because of Monty’s rapid response using social media tools but because he was honest about the events as they unfolded. Instead of playing the CYA game and constantly defending Ford’s position with legal jargon he blogged comments such as “I’m on it…. Trying to stop a PR nightmare.” Monty says his transparent approach helped Ford. “My greatest fear was that people would be more interested in retweeting Ford's seemingly heavy-handed legal actions than they would about the correction,” said Monty. But “taken as a whole, all of my efforts bore the hallmark of a real person interacting with the community throughout, and I think to those who witnessed it happening, it made a huge difference. The firestorm was quashed almost as quickly as it developed.”

When Monty was hired by Ford in July of 2008 to spearhead their social media strategy, senior management welcomed him with open arms. “There seemed to be a sense of relief and enthusiasm, rather than the head-scratching and upselling that you might normally expect in such a situation,” said Monty.

Monty was immediately tasked with making Ford the world's leading social automotive brand. So what’s Monty’s big plan? “Create content and set it free, allowing anyone who is interested to be able to share it on any of the major platforms, on a global basis. Internally, we’re going to connect Ford employees with each other and empower any employee who wants to be an online spokesperson for the company,” said Monty.

Social media tools that Ford has had success with include social media press releases which features YouTube videos and Creative Commons-licensed photos on Flickr. “We're lucky enough to have fans from all over the world who create pages dedicated to our company and products on Facebook and Twitter so we interact there as members of the community,” said Monty.

So how does Ford measure its return on investment in the social media world? One of the tools that Ford uses is a proprietary tool that its agency, the Social Media Group developed called the Conversation Index. It covers 100 representative blogs and media ranging from Autoblog.com to Leftlanenews.com, measuring how Ford stacks up in a dozen areas and compares it to their competition (notably Honda & Toyota), in terms of frequency of mention, as well as sentiment. Ford follows the trends on a monthly basis and is able to discern areas where Ford is pulling ahead or lacking. “It's important to monitor what's being said about you. If you're not watching the online conversations, you could be missing a lot,” said Monty.

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Allyson Kapin is the Founding Partner of Rad Campaign and the Founder of Women Who Tech. You can follow her on Twitter.

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