Ford Speaks: How to Sell Cars and Influence People

This interview is part of our ongoing series related to The Influence Project.

Scott Monty is the global digital communications chief for the Ford Motor Company, and full disclosure, a force to be reckoned with in The Influence Project. He currently ranks at number 43. He likes to say that Ford subscribes to a combination Woody Allen/Yogi Berra theory for social media where 90% may be just showing up, but what's critical is what you do when you get there. Monty talked to Fast Company about Ford's strategy for combining online and traditional advertising, breaking out of comfort cliques to expand a customer base, and the trials and opportunities presented by living in a 140 character society.

How does Ford use social media?

It's one thing to have a presence on all the major social networks, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Delicious and on and on, but how you actually engage with people and make it a valuable experience is what sets you apart.

Everything we do in social media is colored by our vision of humanizing Ford Motor Company and connecting our constituents with each other. Those constituents can be employees, customers, dealers, suppliers; whoever we touch.

When you think about the way companies are viewed right now, and according to Edelman's perennial barometer, people trust corporations less than ever.

Who do they trust? They trust third party experts and people like themselves.

So if we can make it apparent that there are people just like them who work at Ford, and there are people just like them who drive Ford vehicles, and make those connections, over time we start to build the foundations of loyalty and trust.

And because we live in a 140 character society nowadays, and if we do it in a way that is not interruptive, but in short bursts that are relevant, it's going to resonate more than if we only do traditional advertising and marketing.

That said, everything we do in social media is not viewed as a placement or a panacea; it's absolutely a complement to what we're already doing.

By complement, you mean tying online to traditional--TV, magazines, billboards, whatever?

Exactly. Having a tie between say outdoors and online or between experiential and the digital space. But more importantly, it's about the consistency of message across every single channel so that you're not seeing a television ad that is a total disconnect from what we are doing in the social media space.

Last year we started running 15-second spots on television, and obviously we had them running on YouTube as well. Those spots featured real customers giving real testimonials about their vehicles in a very natural way. We turned the cameras on them and asked for one feature in the vehicle that they love.

What we got was people speaking like real people, not spokespeople for the company.

The result is real people speaking very specifically to a vehicle feature that wouldn't have warranted a full 30-second spot and would have gotten lost in a barrage of 15 vehicle features crammed into a 60-second spot.

Companies understand they can have longer conversations with customers when they can create entertaining or informative online content online. Instead of paying $250,000 for a 30-second network spot, you can engage on the Web for longer, cheaper.

We still do that buy on a product integration with say, Extreme Makeover Home Edition or Desperate Housewives. But what we do is direct them online to have additional conversations.

Take American Idol. I can open up my laptop and take a scan of Twitter and find mentions of the @Ford handle. They will say, "Hey @Ford, love the new music video" or "Hey @Ford, why are you sponsoring American Idol when you took bailout money?"

That last one gives us the opportunity to jump in and say, "Hey, we've been committed to American Idol since season 1, and by the way, we didn't take bailout money."

People are blown away that a global company like Ford Motor Company is replying to them on Twitter. We love platforms like Facebook and Twitter where we can reply to specific questions and call somebody by name. We're basically having a one-on-one conversation. And at the same it's on on one in the public square where everyone else gets the benefit of that answer as well.

Have you had any social media snafus?

We've been very fortunate so far.

With Fiesta Movement we took a big risk to put 100 vehicles in the hands of 100 influencers for six months and let them say whatever. You could imagine some high level executives raising their eyebrows when that was first proposed.

You were never accused of censoring influencer comments or anything like that?

Quite the opposite. If anything we were lauded for the transparency of it. There was one video that went up, that got pulled into fiestamovement.com that had some nudity in it and we basically had to pull that down and take the nudity out.

I suppose that's understandable. Even Fast Company said no nudity in The Influence Project.

Good judgment call.

And look, it was hosted on YouTube and YouTube would have eventually picked it up if we hadn't.

That was one instance. But the influencers were very respectful in both the negative and the positive.

How did you pick these influencers? What does Ford do when they look at the world of influence and influencers? How do they pick that 100?

The Fiesta Movement was complex. We wanted people proficient in shooting and uploading onto the Web. But beyond that people had to be socially vibrant and have communities on any of the major platforms and beyond. And more importantly, because the campaign was taking place across country, it had to be geographically dispersed.

And we wanted a demographic that represented, fairly accurately, the projected demographic of the Fiesta customer. It's a pretty complex grid, but we had over 4000 applicants so we had a lot to choose from.

Overall, we look toward resources like Compete or Alexa, or once upon a time, Technorati, to give us a relative ranking of reach and influence. But that's only a portion of the formula.

We look at the number of comments a person gets on their blog on a regular basis, the degree to which they are actively engaged in the conversation, their ability to actively start and sustain conversations and debates and dialogue online with their community.

We look for people who already have an existing community: we don't want people who are starting to build one. We're looking for established, authentic communities. They can be small, someone with 5,000 or 10,000 readers on their blog. Or it could be someone that has a huge mass influence, like Guy Kawasaki or Mari Smith. We try to mix it up.

Most importantly, we look for people that are not part of the usual suspects. We want to break out of this bubble mentality. And every industry has a bubble. There's the social media bubble, the automotive bubble, the tech bubble. People tend to congregate in communities that feel the most comfortable.

When I got to Ford two years ago, when we did media events, we would of course invite the automotive bloggers. But beyond that, we invited bloggers from the tech world and the green world and parenting and lifestyle blogs to really get at different elements of our vehicles that resonate with different people.

We were bringing people into the fold who were not familiar with Ford and who were then influencing people who were not aware of what Ford was doing.

Social media at many companies is folded into the communications department. Aren't you just a publicist in social media clothing?

Before I came to Ford. I was a regular guy engaging in a variety of topics. If you follow stuff I talk about now you will see a 360-degree view of me as a person. Some of our other folks who are on Twitter, that have that blue oval as part of their avatar, they'll talk about going to a wedding over the weekend, then on Monday they will share a NY Times link about the new Fiesta.

We've got brand managers, product communication people, corporate communication people, all sorts of folks that have a life outside of Ford Motor Company and people appreciate that integration of a real human being beyond the spokesperson.

People want social media to have the opposite feeling that you get with spin, right?

Part of it is having been engaged with this space for a long time and I've got a community of followers and friends that can and have jumped to my defense. That's the reputation I have built. Being there day in and day out over time so people know what to expect.

Did anyone from the social media "bubble" call you a sellout when you took the Ford job?

I had a small number of people that did that. I said, you may not believe me now, but stay tuned, as this story unfolds, you'll see what I'm talking about. Hopefully I've brought people along on my journey.

Yes, I'm a corporate spokesperson, but I've also given people a look under the hood of what it's like to be part of Ford Motor Company from a first person perspective where in the past, you would not have gotten beyond the corporate blurb, the 'we can only tell you what the press release says'.

I give it straight. I'm not going to give away secrets we can't give away--there has to be discretion--but we're giving you glimpses of a day in the life.

What advice would you give for dealing with critics in the social media space?

It's very easy to be emotionally sucked into these discussions. I learned you have to disengage emotionally and choose your battles.

There are very few people I will take head-to-head in a combative way because it's not going to get me anywhere. Let the community handle it for you, or take the high road and engage in a respectful way and you will get a hell of a lot more credit.

Read more about The Influence Project.

[Image via flickr/HumongoNationPhotoGallery]

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3 Comments

  • Tony Thornby

    One of the key values for participants in the influence project could be to know which of thousands of people in our network we actually 'influenced' and which of those has the power to 'influence' others.

    Sadly it's impracticable to do this at present even for 1st degree followers (once you go past about 10 influences). Finding out which 2nd degree influences came from which 1st degree and on down the tiers would be a nightmare.

    FastCompany - what about giving logged in participants the facility to download our own influence tree of names?

  • david wayne osedach

    Sounds like they got a lot of their "tips" from the highly successful Obama Presidential campaign.

  • scottmonty

    Not really. We actually engage with people rather than using these platforms as one-way messaging channels.