Ford Motor Company isn't shy about social media. Four years ago, it hired PR guy Scott Monty to establish a more cohesive social media program - and it hasn't looked back.
Following campaigns that combined Facebook with real-world adventures, the car company began developing branded entertainment with social media components. Last year's Focus Rally was an online-only show; this year's Escape Routes aired on NBC and urged viewers to tweet along and upload their own videos.
Ford has been bullish on Facebook ads, sometimes pushing the automotive advertising division out of its comfort zone.
Its most recent splash, the Ford Fusion launch, unites traditional and social media in a campaign starring Ryan Seacrest.
At the same time, Ford is integrating social media more deeply into the company itself. This spring, the automaker's customer service department began monitoring and responding to comments and questions on Facebook, Twitter, forums, and message boards.
There have been misses, too. When Ford tested a Google+ hangout to preview the TV spot for the new Mustang, the spot wouldn't run.
But Monty, now global head of social media for Ford Motor Company, who is just four seats down from the CEO, says the company's leadership urges his team to continually top its previous efforts.
Quantifying social media interactions is hard enough. How much is a Facebook "like" worth? Does playing a video translate into buying a Ford Fiesta? Monty aches to go further, turning that 1.5 million-plus Facebook fan base into a source of insight to inform not only marketing, but also design and engineering.
ClickZ sat down with Monty at Ford's recent Go Further conference, which brought mommy bloggers, tech geeks, and travel writers to the company's headquarters for workshops on urban living, design, and eco-psychology - still another example of marketing outside the automotive box.
ClickZ: At Ford, the communications department is responsible for social media, correct?
Scott Monty: Yes, and that shows how our company thinks of the strategic role of communications in how we drive our business. We find social media touches many areas of the business. It's these big ideas and big projects that are brought to life through the marketing department, and we all work together as one Ford team and collaborate on getting the best out there.
A lot of our social media activity, on a day-to-day basis, happens on the communications side. Our agency, Social@Ogilvy, acts as an extension of the team, and they have a variety of tools. We use different monitoring systems based on what we're trying to find out. Customer service uses one kind, marketing uses another, and communications uses still another. One thing we're working on is, how do we bring these systems together so we're comparing apples to apples? We've looked at a lot of vendors and we've yet to find a one-size fits all approach.
ClickZ: How is interacting with bloggers and on Facebook different than traditional media?
Monty: It is different. I think the type of content we share with them needs to be more consumer friendly. Traditionally, a lot of our communication efforts were driven toward journalists. They were then writing for an audience. They would take content and make it work for themselves. Bloggers are writing for an audience as well, but it's much less formal. The kind of content that works on the web, like videos, a lot of it revolves around humor. That's a value for people. A lot of our most successful posts on Facebook either ask a question or invite some feedback. Recently, we invited people to tell us what their favorite Ford appearance in a film was. We got 1,600 responses in hours.
ClickZ: How do you measure the value of that?
Monty: That's something we continue to evolve our thinking on. It's easy when we do discrete campaigns. We know what we have going in, there's a limited group of people we're following, and we can track the content, looking at volume and sentiment across traditional and social media. The areas where we have the most opportunity is, how do you value a Facebook like or a tweet that got re-tweeted 180 times? How do you quantify that for the executive team? We have to adapt our existing metrics and evolve it so over time, we can do that.
ClickZ: How are you doing that?
Monty: In conjunction with other teams, analysts at our agencies and metrics inside Ford, we're forming a common vision for what we want to accomplish. For the communications team, it means improving our reputation and building purchase consideration.
ClickZ: You've been very aggressive with Facebook advertising.
Monty: The fact that we just opened a Silicon Valley lab a town over from Facebook is significant. In some ways, we're pushing Facebook to do some things they normally wouldn’t have considered, like the Explorer reveal in 2010, or putting a like button on a Yahoo home page takeover. Facebook kind of didn't like that idea. We ended up making it not a functional button but a pass-through to our Facebook page.
ClickZ: What's the next challenge you're looking at?
Monty: How do we get to the next level? We have an opportunity at Ford to take social media beyond public relations and marketing - to use big data to drive insights for engineers, designers, and our IT departments. There are lots of other folks who could be gaining insights from the stuff we see all day long. We need to scale social media within Ford and empower employees to become digital advocates when possible. The challenge is finding the right system or systems that can collect the data. Just as we have three discrete systems internally, how do we start linking them together and making any analysis that comes out of it available to product development, advertising, or product marketing? Stitching all of these together is essential before you just go out and grab the data. And we want to stay in the lead of that.
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
March 19, 2014