Ford continues to grow its ‘culture of personality’

Scott Monty, Ford’s digital-media guru, described for NEMPA his company’s global social-media campaign to build the Ford brand.

By Bill Griffith, NEMPA

Some of us have to be circumspect in accessing SM—social media—during our workday. Not Boston native Scott Monty, Ford’s global manager for digital media. His day job is to find imaginative ways to employ Facebook, blogs, podcasts, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube and all the other planets in today’s Twitterverse to promote the Ford brand.

Accompanied by Bill Collins (Ford) and Vanessa Cook (Ford agency Capitol Direct), Monty addressed NEMPA at the Boston Globe on October 10. His subject: Ford’s burgeoning, and evidently successful, social media campaigns. SM has become the company’s preferred way to tell stories and interact with potential customers on a personal level.

Using social media, Monty said, to build a brand is about building personal relationships: “We [all tend to] trust third-party experts such as academics and the media, but also people ‘just like us’ who are online with knowledge in a certain area.” But when the average American is exposed to 3,500 brand messages every day, the challenge becomes how to break through this clutter, whether with an elaborate Facebook presence, a YouTube channel or Twitter’s 140-character hits.

One way is to make content not only engaging and interesting, but also personal, and expressed in the language that social media speaks. (Posts written by the legal department need not apply, especially when their disclaimers alone are longer than 140 characters.)

However, it’s a two-way street. “Social media isn’t just about promotional campaigns,” said Monty. “It’s a commitment to always be ‘on.’ It isn’t Monday through Friday, 9 to 5.”

There are different levels of engagement as well. “You can respond three ways on Facebook,” Monty said. “A ‘like’ is a digital grunt, just an acknowledgment; posting a ‘comment’ is a little stronger connection; but a ‘share’—that’s the magic button.”

People share things that are interesting, important, funny, or show what they believe and “who I really am.” However, Monty added, “you never know where news will break, or what post will go viral. The first picture of the US Airways plane that landed in the Hudson River was taken with a smartphone and sent out by a Twitter user who had just 222 followers. That photo has become part of our national consciousness.”

The message may get there quicker today, said Monty, but humans are pretty much the same as we were more than 2,000 years ago when Cicero wrote: “If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words.” Monty added, “People may be interested in product features, but they engage with personalities.”

Among Ford’s most successful SM programs, which are created by the Team Detroit agency with input from Monty and others at Ford:

The Fiesta Movement, in which 100 “partners” were loaned Fiestas for six months and asked to post one video per month documenting their Fiesta experience. “The videos weren’t edited,” said Monty. “If you’re proud of a product, let go of your fear and put [the product] in people’s hands.”

Puppet Doug, the Web spokesthing who helped make the Ford Focus the world’s best-selling nameplate (a position contested by Toyota’s Corolla).

Ford’s 80 different Facebook pages, the largest of which is the Mustang page, with 5.4 million followers.

What’s still uncertain, Monty said, is how all of Ford’s SM endeavors actually impact the number of buyers “moving down the sales funnel.”

Monty’s message was both disquieting and reassuring to NEMPA members, who have watched “casual” bloggers invade their space with little or no automotive expertise. “There will always be a need for your knowledge and credibility,” Monty said, “and you know your audiences and write for them, which is important to Ford. Social media, however, lets us extend our reach enormously.”

Around the table, NEMPA members were leaning over their smartphones, industriously tweeting, blogging, texting and emailing. 

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