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Car Talk: Ford, Social Media and Me

by Ann Handley  |  
January 14, 2010

Ford Motor Company integrated social media into its marketing in a big way in 2009, and this year is moving 25% of its traditional media budget to the digital space. Earlier this week, Ford further demonstrated its commitment to social and digital tools as a way to reach out to new media and, of course, new audiences.

Ford executives from across the globe Monday participated in a 12-hour marathon social media conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, that featured live interviews, Facebook wall-posts, blogger interviews, and interactive twitter Q&A's. From the floor of the show, Jim Farley, group VP of marketing, fielded questions from Brian Solis and me about how the company will use social media as well as talked up the Focus, the first car Ford is marketing to buyers globally.

It's been a big weeks for Ford: Also this week, the automaker won both the North American Car and Truck of the Year Awards at the kickoff of the Detroit show (with the Ford Fusion Hybrid sedan winning Car of the Year and the Ford Transit Connect van named Truck of the Year). And at last week's Consumer Electronics Show, Ford won the highest honor in the car tech category for its new MyFord touch interface, a touch-screen made for a car dashboard. (It narrowly lost overall Best in Show to a Panasonic 3D-compatible flat-panel HDTV, said Scott Monty, who heads up social media at Ford.)

Highlights of the yesterday's chat with Jim Farley (edited for clarity) are below:

On the One Ford initiative:
"Here in Detroit, seems that people finally realize what One Ford means. One car across the world....'

On Ford's focus on in-car technology for music, entertainment, communications and information:
"The bottom line; when you enter your car, it should be as cool as your iPhone." Ford's in-vehicle communications platform, Sync, should also host applications like an iPhone. "My point of view is that we create an open platform like iPhone (for developers) and let the applications flow based on Sync. This seems odd since you would think we want $, but we want the Sync community to grow and these applications are more creative than we can create."

To critics who say the touch-screen dash is distracting to drivers:
"To be honest - how Sync is executed allows for a richer experience without distractions. I am a believer and have dumped my earphones."

On envisioning one car, one Focus, across multiple social networks:

Ford's social media strategy is global: "We are working regionally to assess the best places to be and investing in those places. Honestly, the Fiesta Movement idea came from a social media site in China."

On working with CEO Alan Mulally:
"Alan is so unique. He is deadly serious business leader and he combines this with a passion for putting the customer first. I knew that I needed to join the team when I met Alan; he gets it. He had a vision for efficient transportation and tech for all. (He is an engineer, after all.) Lastly, he as such an engaging personality, he makes working in a team environment fun."

On the advantages/limitations of moving 25% of your traditional budget over to social and digital:

"Limits are our fears. Giving 100 Fiestas out meant some would crash; other owners would get in trouble. Also, we need to have enough creative horsepower to come up with unique ideas that viewers will find fun. [But the] advantages are credibility and efficiency."

On the challenge in building/selling cars in this economy:
"Well, we have such a cool engineering and design team at Ford that the limit is the money we can give them to dream up cool stuff. The difficulty is having people fall in love with Ford again."

On the keys to changing people's minds about what their perceptions of what Ford is and the products it builds:
"Having proof about both. Hype doesn't work anymore. Goodwill for Ford is high but we need proof around fuel economy, leadership, tech, fun to drive, great design, etc. These proof points then demonstrate we are different and worth a look."

On the "a-ha moment" when Farley grasped the power of social media:
"The a-ha for me was Scion. [Farley spent 17 years at Toyota, joining Ford in 2007.] I learned that for a brand that people don't know or trust, the company must rely on others to tell the story. People don't trust big companies, they do trust their friends."

On measuring the effectiveness of social media:
"We measure program by program, not overall. We tie it to sentiment and volume of buzz around the brand."

On convincing the C suite on the value of social media:
"Either they get it or they don't. Thankfully we do."

The full transcript is here.

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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  • by Allen Thu Jan 14, 2010 via blog

    Thank you for the story and interview. Interesting insights into Ford's direction and thought process.

  • by Tom Wanek Thu Jan 14, 2010 via blog

    Wow! Bravo Ford! It looks like the company finally woke up and is moving in a positive direction: Attractive lineup of cars. Integration of technology. Social media. Oh, and NO bailout!

  • by AJ in Nashville Mon Jan 18, 2010 via blog

    My wife works for Ford. This is a proud moment for everyone involved in this resillient, forward-thinking company. Nice job covering and participating in this important event.

  • by Tsufit Fri Jan 22, 2010 via blog

    Congrats on the Forbes nod, Ann!
    Author, Step Into The Spotlight!

  • by Indianapolis Dealerships Wed Feb 9, 2011 via blog

    The fact that Ford has recognized a need for this shift ought to tell us something about their company in general. They want to keep up with the desires and needs of their customers, and they are working extremely hard to do that! Props to Ford!

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