How Ford Can Ramp Up It’s Social Media Turnaround Story of 2009

Can Ford be the Social Media Turnaround Story of 2009? I would love to see that! They are off to a good start; here are my ideas on how they can ramp up their efforts and increase the chances for success.

Caveat: My father worked for Ford for 37 years, retiring as Vice President of Marketing worldwide, so I was raised in the automotive business. I’ve had sisters, brothers-in-law, and one ex-husband who have all worked in the auto business – covering everything from corporate, the union, the ad agency, the supplier, and the dealer network. Me? I’ve been a car driver with an interest in the environment, change, the global economy, and leadership. And a critic of the auto industry as well.

I started college at UC Riverside in 1970. Riverside is about 60 miles inland from LA. There were many days when I could not exercise outdoors because of the dangerous levels of air pollution, for which auto exhaust was the main contributor. A year later I transferred to UC Berkeley, a hotbed of change-makers and people who were tired of the status quo across many genres.

We faced the first gas crisis in 1972 – I remember waiting in lines over 2 hours long to get a tank of gas, while we worried about what crazy things could happen out of the Middle East. 35 years later, we see some of the crazy things that have happened in and around and out of the Middle East. You can blame Carter (as one retired auto exec recently did in private conversations) or you can look at a history of missed opportunities in the auto industry, as NY Times columnist Tom Friedman recently did.

Tom Friedman’s points were really right on IMO – his analogy of the marketplace being driven by “start-up” energy is spot on I think. The auto industry has always thought they know best, but really, they have been in a 30-year decline. Some have tried valiantly to impact that – but the internal forces they have been fighting are enormous. To pick out the parts of his editorial and attack them on tiny details is to miss the overall message – Detroit has had the brain power and the resources for DECADES to lead the energy and security and transportation markets but they instead have had their heads in the sand fed by arrogance and insularity. The democratization of ideas and actions is something Ford has resisted but could actually help it IMO.

Guy Kawasaki has also said this for over a decade – there are no unique ideas. If you have one, count on at least 5 others having it too. The winner is the one who executes best, who can rally people around it, who can build momentum for change when humans by instinct mostly resist it.

So here are a few ideas for how Ford can use Social Media to help change its downward-spiraling fate.

What are some of the assets Ford currently has?

There are many; here are a few that attract my interest:

What are some of the obstacles Ford currently faces?

  • The financials; they are stipulated elsewhere.
  • The arrogance and insularity of Detroit; a long-standing issue in the car industry.
  • Time. Changing beliefs takes time, and they are short of time both from a financial point of view and from a staffing point of view.

How does Social Media address these issues? Big view first.

  • Give Scott Monty more people, more budget, and more decision-making power.
  • Scott is doing an amazing job as a one-man band in getting Ford to act fast and get out more of the facts. This post on HIS PERSONAL BLOG is a blueprint for how Ford can revamp its advertising messages. Many of the commenters repeated this “I never knew these things.” Auto advertising has failed miserably to inform people about their products and are very stuck in the last century methodology of impress not imform advertising. BTW, did you know Ford invented recyclable soy foam seats (link has expired)? I didn’t either, and I track Ford.
  • Get control of the brand back from the agency. This means giving more cred to people like Bill Ford (family member, stock-holder, and one of the few employees these days who has a long term relationship with the company and plenty of skin in the game himself). Companies have surrendered control of their brands to their agencies, while customers have been doing their own dance with it unbeknownst to either company or brand.

Now for the details – because that’s where most answers are found.

Visit these pages as I will be referring to both of them:

Here is my advice for Ford to ramp up its use of social media. These ideas can also apply to tourism and other industries too.

1. Production: Get rid of the high-priced video production team and inject some humanity into the production.

  • The high drama black background and the invisible interviewer create a disconnect with the viewer. The Social Web is about conversation. These videos, despite being posted in YouTube where people can leave comments, are not the beginning of a conversation, they are commercials in look, feel, and tone.
  • Put your people in a real environment, with real background noise and distractions, and get them a real person interviewer.
  • The perfect sound and the perfect production values look too polished and too professional. I don’t know how scripted they were, but they look scripted and too “precious” to be considered crisis communications.
  • Please have someone remind Bill Ford to blink and smile now and then. He can be so charming, but in this video (dare I say caused by the bright studio lights in his face??) he comes across a bit zombie-like.
  • If you remove the formal shooting environment all of these talking heads will come across much more real, more authentic, more likable, and therefore with a higher trust quotient.

2. Message: It’s off the mark. Here is how I would change it:

  • The message is still too much top down, too much advertising, not enough owning up to past mistakes and short-sightedness, not enough conversation. It comes across to me as a one-way lecture telling us we really don’t get them and if only we did they wouldn’t be in this mess.
  • Have your talking points, but edit as little as possible.
  • Take those great points on Scott’s blog post and turn them into your next ad campaign – both the formal one and the social media one. It’s great he loves his job so much that he prepared this tome, but really, the title is not accurate and it should be the content map for how Ford takes the initiative to educate us “clueless consumers” about how great they are.
  • Scott is doing a great job with Twitter. Where is his backup team? Can we please train Twitter reps in each division and then once that is working make the same offer to the dealer network?

3. Conversation: it still barely exists. Here is how I would change it:

  • Ford was known by insiders as “the factory.” The factory and the dealers have had a long-standing love-hate relationship. Yet of course they depend on each other for livelihood. Dealers must be brought into this discussion and fast.
  • Ask for video feedback from the dealers and reply to it. (See distribution ideas below too. They are related.)
  • Post your factory reps at the dealers and collect questions from Twitter whose answers can be turned into blog content as well as new and used car sales promotions.
  • Let consumers submit video questions, and answer them, one at a time. (Give all the execs and Scott too an account at Viddler so they can record answers right at their their desk computers – no muss no fuss.)
  • Let customers rate dealers on a factory-hosted blog and use the marketplace to create awards and process improvements from the ground up.
  • Comments? Where are the comments on The Ford Story? This is social web 101. Please let us talk back to you; there is more good news in there than you may realize.

4. Distribution: Ford, you are not using video anywhere near to its advantage. Here is how to ramp it up:

  • Create a video destination site so you can keep more of the conversation on your site, as compared to on YouTube. YouTube is going to get you slammed with negative comments – no way around that. But why make YouTube the only place a person can leave a comment? Enable comments on The Ford Story asap. Be a gracious host who truly is interested in listening and host the conversation yourselves.
  • Your Ford Story site could have been a 10-minute WordPress blog install, with all the tools I am talking about here for the conversation and the message built-in. The new format of WP allows for incredible design customization too – so you can have your cake and eat it too.
  • Host the videos on your site, so you have your own video RSS feed, not just text. and Viddler are both free video hosting sites that do all the heavy-lifting for you.
  • Create an ongoing Ford-branded internet TV channel, get it in iTunes, let this crisis be just the beginning of your own channel that ultimately can include global programming that integrates with your dealers, suppliers, workers, as well as management. I would even invite the agency people in if they agree to bag the fakey-fake campaigns and execution. They have creativity that we can use! :-)
  • Use live-streaming as well as packaged video. This is so big though, it gets its own top level discussion point.

5. Speed: Use live-streaming as much as possible, as people don’t like to wait.

  • Boy was I jonesing for live commentary in the car on the way to Washington for round 2 of the bailout talks! All it takes is a Nokia N95 and you have your own mobile narrowcast setup.
  • Stop at dealers along the way and use Twitter to get people to show up for some of those test drives and some conversation. Get the dealers involved. Show them how to use social media. Yes, even in web 2.0 actions still speak louder than words.
  • Film the execs taking the heat from the customers. The Big 3 are arguably due for a flagellation – show them how you can not only take it but will use their comments and suggestions. Crowd-sourcing is an opportunity that can come out of that beating, not to mention some much-needed humor _that is initiated by and owned by_ Ford and not somewhere else on the web.
  • Give “participating dealers” their own N95 and some training to live stream promotional events each week. Put your customers live on internet TV celebrating their new car purchase – the moment when they love their car the most!
  • Hire out stringers from Podcorps to come into the dealers and also for factory events to create media that has pro-sumer quality. It will be much more compelling and authentic than the pretty agency stuff.
  • Your customers are communicating with blinding speed. You can too.

My time is up on this point. I have barely scratched the surface of what is in my brain for how Ford can be using the tools of the social web far more effectively for the amount of money it is spending.

The challenge to sales and marketing is that people have bought once (or in some cases for a generation), but have gotten lemons. We all know how hard it is to get them back. But the pain point right now is incredibly opportunistic (thanks to a myriad of seemingly unrelated factors) and the social web offers us tools to communicate with each other – to tell our truths, to share our wishes, to negotiate our deals. If you are willing to put in the time (remember, time is the new money!) and you are willing to learn as well as teach and share, then gold is definitely awaiting you.