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By Michael Eggebrecht
It's a rough time to be an automobile maker -- exhibit one being the General Motors bankruptcy. The industry has seen "drops in sales that are unrivaled since World War II," according to Scott Monty, head of social media at Ford Motor Co.
In September 2006, a struggling Ford brought on a CEO from outside the car world, tapping Boeing executive Alan Mulally to revitalize the company. Putting a new strategy in place, Mulally sought to refocus the company on its core activities.
At the same time that Ford was recasting its strategy, social media was exploding, and Mulally and Ford saw an opportunity to use the budding medium to help strengthen its reputation with the public. Last year, Ford hired Monty, a social media expert at marketing consultancy Crayon, to figure out how best to approach social networking.
Monty's strategy? "To humanize the company by connecting constituents with Ford employees and with each other when possible, providing value in the process," he said at the OMMA Global conference in New York on Monday. But that's easier said than done.
"Ninety percent of social media is just showing up," he said. It's what you do when you get there that's hard. Unlike traditional efforts, a social media presence can't be built through mass marketing techniques but has to focus on individuals, which is labor intensive.
Some say that social media marketing is virtually free, noted Deb Schultz, who heads the innovation practice at Altimeter Group, a consultancy that works with companies on emerging technologies. That's not true. "It may be dollar for dollar cheaper, but it's more resource intensive," said Schultz at the conference.
And then there's the big question: how do you measure success? "We're still evaluating what are the right metrics," said Rob Master, Unilever's North American media director. "When we do a Twitter campaign, or a Facebook campaign, or a MySpace campaign, what's the ROI?" The number of posts or friends are possible metrics, he added.
For Monty, whose official title at Ford is global digital and multimedia communications manager, the key is making yourself and your company accessible, and building a relationship with the audience over time. "It's not about flicking a switch and seeing a rise in sales the next day," he said, cautioning companies against logging onto a social network and blasting away. "It's about understanding what the norms are and engaging people," he said.
"We have expanded our presence on the social networks," said Monty. Ford, he added, has multiple accounts on Facebook and Twitter, among others. Its Twitter accounts are geared toward a variety of different audiences and include @Ford, @FordFiesta, @FordNews, @FordDriveGreen and @FordRacing. "It's a lot to manage," he acknowledged. Three weeks ago, Monty got some extra help as Ford added another employee dedicated to social media work.