Scott Monty, global digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford, opened his presentation at Advertising Week's OMMA social-media conference with an understatement: companies are trusted far less today than in the past.
He cited the Edelman Trust Barometer's data that 77% of Americans trust corporations less this year than last. So what is social media's role in fixing that? Monty, who has overseen Ford's program to become the top automaker in the space --a task the company completed in six months -- says marketers might want to think of the social media as a cocktail party. "Don't not walk into social networks and start blasting away, handing out your business card and then leaving."
Monty -- who is not a car guy or a Motor City native (which might be redundant) -- says that while Ford's brand is universally known, it has been universally known mostly as an amorphous blue oval, period. He says he was in Boston for twenty years while Ford's fortunes waxed and waned, and recalls having had "no warm and fuzzy feeling about Ford."
Monty says his job directing social media strategy, which began when CEO Alan Mulally came on board in 2006, was to change that and humanize the brand. "It was about how to connect people with Ford. The common elements of a great company are great products and leadership to drive the vision forward -- sticking with a plan while being flexible. We applied that to social media strategy, creating a broad vision statement that would bring us forward, even without knowing what the future would hold."
The problem was how to take the official mantra: "To humanize the company by connecting constituents with Ford employees and with each other when possible providing value in the process" and execute it on a massive scale. "Ninety percent of social media is showing up. It's the other half that's hard. What do you do when you get there?," he said.
Broadly speaking, Monty said, it is about accessibility, "which is different from traditional mass marketing approaches. How does someone get in touch with someone to answer a question -- to provide information? People also appreciate authenticity: people trust people like themselves," he says.
Monty said the company started with social-media press releases, then went on to programs like the "You Speak Green" Facebook application, where people could share tips. "One guy talked about how he reused hot dog water."
There is also the new Mustang Web site that lets consumers design and trick out the car, then share their vision of a personalized pony car with friends -- taking their vision away from the Ford site embedding it in emails, or their Facebook page. "We realized that not only have we humanized the brand, but we have set content free. We can't lock it down. Word of mouth is a 'steroidal' version of traditional word of mouth, so all of our content, our videos, are shareable, and embeddable; that's new," he says.
Ford has also done some quirky things to engage consumers in social-media spaces. For example, Ford gave a Flex crossover to a social Web site called "Plaid" that wrapped it, and they went around the country in it, interviewing people.
Monty said the company gave the Ford Fusion sedan to a couple getting married in a rather non-traditional way: instead of inviting people to their wedding, they traveled around the country in the car visiting all of their various friends and relatives and asking them for marriage advice -- and, of course, blogging about it. When they got back to San Francisco, and found themselves debating whether they would do the traditional thing and go with the groom's last name or share both. They decided to change their names to Mr. and Mrs. Ford, said Monty.