Social Media Case Study: Ford Motor Company

As I said yesterday, this week I’m going to focus on finding the companies that have succeeded at social media by being social. In researching the short history of SMM, I found that there have been a number of individual campaigns that have helped brands create fans and drive purchases – what is interesting, however, are the cases where a company headed off a PR nightmare with it.

Scott Monty - Head of Ford Social Media

Case in point, Ford Motor Company. In the last year they’ve been hit as hard as any of the “Big Three” automakers in America. To make matters worse, an incorrect news story broke about their legal department demanding fan sites and forums to stop using the Ford name if their products were mentioned in them, and that they stop using Ford brands.

Think about that: You are in a very competitive consumer industry, and a group of people are not only brand champions of yours, but have gone to the trouble to make fan sites about your product. It’s the kind of word-of-mouth some companies pray to get.

The problem is, the site in question had been selling counterfeit Ford parts labeled as actual Ford parts. The move wasn’t designed to wrestle control of their logo, but to protect consumers from products they hadn’t made themselves.

How Social Saved the Day

Scott Monty is Ford’s Community Manager. He maintains a Twitter account the way I wish all top-level executives would:

  • It’s in his name.
  • He’s openly representing his company.
  • He shares internal details of his company.
  • He isn’t flushing out messaging and ad copy.
  • He is responding to people.
  • He posts daily.
  • If you bring up an issue with him, he’ll address it, not talk about what he’d rather you talk about.

As it relates to our PR fiasco story, this allowed him to explain just what had happened with the legal team, as it was happening. There was no spin to his posts, just someone trying to explain what was really going on. He was also maintaining several conversation threads at once with several people on Twitter who had heard the story of Ford burning Ford fans, answering their questions individually and honestly.

For PR professionals, this is unheard of. To actually share with the outside world what is happening internally would appear to serve nothing and no one.

The PR Disconnect at Work

This is where traditional public relations and new media split widely. PR professionals are either woefully unaware or refuse to accept that people today are cynical. We have all faced so many spin doctors at work that we can almost smell someone’s bullshit before they even start saying it.

So continuing to spin more of it, with the help of a legal team, days after the first mention of a problem, is completely ineffective.

Mr. Monty shows that using social media isn’t about spraying out everything you want said about you, and never reading the pulse of what they really are saying. Failing to do so makes you look worse than simply outdated. It looks like you don’t care. Ford could have easily shrugged off the outcry from their fans. They could have simply said, “well, we’re in the right – saying anything will only make it worse.”

This example shows that, in fact, doing nothing would have made this situation worse. Openness and being willing to answer the concerns of others is today’s smart approach to both public relations and social media.

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