Ford's big Twitter
LONDON - As Ford's first head of social media, Scott Monty is treading new ground in the car maker's bid to reach out to the Twitter generation.
Scott Monty: Ford's social media chief
With Ford set to shed 850 UK jobs by the end of the month, why has it employed some guy to 'tweet' about its brand, when skilled engineers capable of designing the cars of the future, and a sales force that can help shift current stock, are being laid off?
This question becomes even more pressing when it emerges that Scott Monty, Ford's first head of social media, claims to actively sell cars for rival manufacturers. "If somebody says on Twitter that they're looking for a car and we don't have one that meets their needs, I'll tell them to go to a rival at General Motors," he says.
The reality, of course, is that Ford would rarely, if ever, admit that it does not have a car that meets your needs and that arch-rival General Motors does. But the car giant is at least talking about applying the new rules of marketing that allow brands to befriend consumers online.
Monty explains: "People see me doing that in a public place and say 'how cool that Ford has this attitude'. The importance of people observing this is far greater than us sending that one individual to a rival."
Monty joined Ford in July 2008 with the aim of making it the leading car maker for digital communications within four years. And his controversial techniques extend well beyond recommending rivals to punters. "There was already an agency helping Ford executionally," he says. "But there was no digital leadership, so we put together a strategy that basically involves humanising the brand."
By humanising the brand, Monty means turning staff into brand ambassadors. If the prospect of having hundreds or thousands of employees talking about your brand in the blogosphere terrifies you, then look away now. Addressing Ford's customer service division recently, Monty said: "You all have a script that you're supposed to follow on your calls. If someone calls in with a problem about their transmission then you know what to say. But I guarantee you don't follow the script word for word; you don't use the corporate cheese or legalese that we have in place, which is 'we regret any inconvenience you may have experienced'. Instead you say - 'Geeze, I'm sorry to hear that' or 'that really stinks'. That's your personality on a phone call and it should be the same online."
Turning Ford's employees into an army of advocates is a big job. But if, as Monty insists, Ford is "clearly not on Twitter and Facebook to sell cars", what is the point?
Monty has 15,000 followers on Twitter, a large portion of whom are opinion formers in the automotive industry. He has turned his Twitter profile into a think-tank, gaining knowledge from Ford aficionados and critics alike and feeding it into product development and customer care.
He claims there has been a recent and massive upsurge in positive chatter about Ford, focusing on the company's innovations rather than the current economic downturn. Other successful firefighting activities include convincing Ford's legal team not to take action against a fan site and gaining a sizeable group of followers willing to stick up for the Ford brand.
"If the brand is well established and has fans, nine times out of 10 that community will defend your brand."
Monty also has his own battles to face. Search for 'Scott Monty Ford' online and you'll find that four of the top six results claim he is 'a bit of a twit'. He attributes this to a journalist having a grudge against him and says that in this case, silence is the best option. What it also displays is that no one, not even the innovators in this area, have quite cracked social media yet.
Personal criticism aside, Monty evidently enjoys the limelight that comes with this territory. But he realises that, if he does his job right, the attention will shift away from him.
"I don't know if everyone requires a head of social media. We have one because it's a new function and we need leadership," he says. "It also needs to be co-ordinated across the whole organisation. If we integrate social media into people's practices like we've integrated email, there may be no need for a specific 'head'."
To this end, Monty insists that the most important part of his job is implementing organisational change above technological change. This is borne out in Fordipedia, a company-wide wiki that brings to light hidden pockets of knowledge across the vast company for the benefit of all. Ford also uses Microsoft Sharepoint and Yammer to share knowledge and enable employees to collaborate on projects.
This multitude of social media initiatives begs the question: who has the time? According to Monty, an acquaintance of his at a rival company was recently reprimanded for spending too much time blogging. His response, which Monty wholeheartedly advocates, was: "I'm spending exactly the same amount of time communicating as I always have, now I'm just doing it more effectively. Instead of flying to conferences and hosting a weekly teleconference, I'm communicating on my blog."
While Monty enthusiastically proclaims social media as the future - he believes he can help engage a new generation of Ford customers - he has not lost his perspective. "I don't think social media is a panacea; it's not for everyone," he says. "You need to understand where your customers are. If they are involved in social networks, share information in a public way and are talking about your brand, maybe it's time to get involved."
This article was first published on revolutionmagazine.com
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