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How does a 110 year old car manufacturer, the fifth largest in the world, remain relevant, engaging and remotely approachable in the digital age?

It seems like a fiction, but the venerable American corporation does some excellent work on many different social media channels, tailoring its output and connecting to each channel’s audience with the right content and tone of voice.

I’m writing this as someone who doesn’t have a particular interest in cars, either from a practical or aesthetic point of view.

However, as someone with a definite interest in great content, over the past few months Ford has definitely piqued my curiosity. Particularly when it comes to social video.

Vine

Branded Vines are deliberately lo-fi, because there is no point in spending a lot of money on something that’s only six seconds long.

This encourages a huge amount of inventiveness, humour and charm, even from the most serious of corporate brands. Ford is one of those brands and right now is one of the best on the channel.

Its Vines are genuinely funny…

Wildly inventive…

Partners with other Vine users to create videos for the brand and promotes that user's channel…

And who doesn’t love semi-obscure literary references?

Since Ford took to Vine and began uploading a series of funny, low budget videos, I suddenly have a lot more affection for the brand.

Vine has encouraged Ford to show character, charm and imagination. 

Tumblr

Ford are also attracting a younger demographic through its newly launched Tumblr site.

Tumblr is a perfect platform to target for content marketing, especially if your content is particularly eye-catching or attractive. As it’s a micro-blogging platform there’s a skew towards short form content (GIFs, memes, graphics, photos, infographics) which often gains the most engagement.

‘And is Better’ is the name of Ford’s Tumblr and its intention is to promote its new campaign of the same name. Apparently ‘either/or’ is no longer a viable choice, ‘and’ should be the way we expect things to be offered to us…

Ford is going out of its way to entice the Tumblr audience with its twin interests of unicorns and bacon.

It also has a healthy idea of the sorts of tropes and signifiers that us Tumblr users of a certain age are attracted to.

Although ‘a whole lotta awesome’ should perhaps be filed under ‘embarrassing things my Granddad might say to sound cool’.

Much like Pinterest, Tumblr even works for your brand even if you don’t have lots of content, as Tumblr can still be used to share things that help to build your brand’s identity.

Instagram

I think what I enjoy most about Ford’s Instagram channel is the fact that the content isn’t repeated anywhere else. If you want to see cool images of Ford’s cars from its entire history you have to follow this channel. 

The content here is particularly tailored to the expectations of most Instagram users. All the images are clear and beautifully shot, taking full advantage of Instagram’s filters.

With a heavy lean towards the classic or retro end of the scale.

Peaks into the behind-the-scenes history of Ford.

And many a vintage advert.

It’s a rich and varied channel, that is as different to all of Ford’s other social channels as they are to this.

Facebook

Ford is currently running an interesting campaign at the moment. Show Ford your very worst examples of pot-holes…

It was only uploaded today but there is already a high volume of comments. Ford knows it’s a sore subject for many drivers.

The post itself also links to the Ford website, where all of the worst examples are highlighted and where Ford gives quite detailed advice, via a video and text, as to what to do examine after you’ve hit a particularly nasty one and how to fight back.

Facebook is of course nothing without engagement and even though Ford has 2.2m followers it knows it can’t just broadcast without conversation. With recent tweaks to the news feed algorithim, Ford can’t afford to lose its fans’ interest.

Thankfully Ford is a very chatty car manufacturer.

These aren’t just rote replies, Ford’s social media team is genuinely reading the comments, asking questions and conversing further down the line.

It’s a big commitment but totally in-keeping with Ford’s desire to appear approachable and relatable despite its size.

Twitter

Ford is one of the first companies to enjoy Twitter’s new layout. Ford has also been quick to ensure its profile and header images are correctly optimised to the new format.

Much like Facebook, Ford uses Twitter as an engagement channel. It’s a sterling effort and one that many companies could learn from. Thanks to the new layout you can click between Ford’s tweets only and Ford’s tweets and replies. It’s under the latter tab that you can see the vast amount of conversation that Ford engages with.

There are masses of these replies and you can scroll down forever reading through them all. I also think it’s worth pointing out that Ford asks permission to use followers’ images that they’ve tweeted at the brand for further promotion on other channels. 

Ford understands the value of its customers and making them brand ambassadors through the retweeting of their images only fosters a deeper sense of loyalty.

For more on brands excelling on social media, check out GoPro’s YouTube strategy and How Vans uses social media.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 15 April, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

686 more posts from this author

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SMM

It's easy to point to Ford as the "social media leader" among US auto manufacturers. What's puzzling is the author's examples of Ford's strategies. Either the author isn't actually sure what great and engaging social content is, or Ford isn't actually doing it right. Surely the author knows that what looks good or cool or interesting in the eyes of a marketer/advertiser/consultant isn't what ultimately drives business objectives.

You be the judge. To me, it's a lazy article that negates the original question. "Why is Ford's social media strategy so good?" Well, I don't know. This article proved otherwise.

Let's break it down by platform, in the order mentioned.

VINE
The Vines are entertaining enough, and I'm willing to take those at face value give the platform's infancy.

TUMBLR
"And is better." Kudos to Ford for being one of the first advertisers on Yah- Tumblr's platform. But the success of their Tumblr is wholly dependent upon paid content. And from the start, Tumblr users saw through Ford's attempt to be hip and relevant... but to whom? Tweens? Ford immediately saw a backlash from users who were fed ads in their dashboards. This begs the question: is it worth spending on subtley unbranded content to gain all those impressions, when the impressions generated (and the public response to the content) is so negative - and not even the target demographic for a vehicle?

INSTAGRAM
Ford does a fine job here - no complaints.

FACEBOOK
The chosen Facebook example is laughable. Look at that pothole post's numbers relative to most of the other posts on Ford's Facebook page. It's one of the worst performers of the last several weeks. You can call it unique, in terms of the angle that Ford is taking ("Potholes, amirite?"), but it's not driving substantially more comments than other posts, and it's not even close to likes/shares as most of the other recent posts.

The site that it drives to? The "Ford Social" hub? Let's not even start with how futile and wasteful a social hub with a unique URL is in this case. But let's do point out the article that Ford wants you to click through to. With the 5,000 video that starts out with "visit your Ford dealership" and the truly unactionable advice on pothole damage. Oh, and comments are disabled. How social!

Or the photo gallery of the worst examples of potholes. Clearly, none of it is actually UGC, despite the call-to-action on the page. There are 9 or so photos of potholes on the page, that Ford's photographers took. Fascinating stuff. Can't wait to see where this goes. Maybe they'll add in another pothole photo tomorrow.

The fact that Ford community managers read the comments on their own posts and... reply to a few of them doesn't make their strategy something special. It puts their strategy in line with what any other brand of its size and importance would do. In 2012.

TWITTER
They're one of the first major brands with the profile change and they've optimized their profile accordingly? So you're saying that one of the biggest, most recognizable brands in the world directly worked with one of the most important social networks in the world to get their profile looking good a few weeks prior than everyone else? What strategy! What foresight! What originality!

The author then writes, "Thanks to the new layout you can click between Ford’s tweets only and Ford’s tweets and replies." This isn't new functionality within Twitter. Users wishing to see a user/brand's tweets have been able to click on "All" or "No Replies" for years, to distinguish organic posts from engagement/replies. The fact that they respond to a lot of tweet makes them... I don't even know. It makes them a regular consumer brand. Nothing more.

And asking for permission to use fan photos and user-generated content? How on earth is that new/good/smart/remotely interesting? This is how social media works, within the framework of a major corporate advertising/marketing structure that has to adhere to a legal department. Nothing new or unique there. It's something that literally any brand with the visibility/size of Ford does and has had to do for years.

SUMMARY
To close, I actually don't disagree with the author's stated premise that Ford does a great job in social media. But my goodness, if you're going to show why a brand's "social media strategy is so good," then actually show it. Do research. Pay attention. Don't just skim the surface to fulfill whatever narrative you already have set, or to fulfill any other ulterior motive.

Maybe it's laziness. Maybe it's ignorance. Who knows why this article was written. But it's a disservice to the industry that we're in (and a disservice to a brand like Econsultancy) to post such nonsense. We need analysis and data/observation-driven stories. We don't need corporate cheerleading.

over 2 years ago

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Joe Downie

Bit harsh....!

I agree with some of your points SMM - Ford appears to be solid rather than ground-breaking, but the article doesn't claim Ford to be especially original or cutting-edge, just doing what it does well, creating some great content. From these examples, it appears to be doing OK.

over 2 years ago

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Scott Monty

Dear SMM (how brave of you to use your real name),

You certainly came out swinging! We're fortunate enough to have been considered a groundbreaking leader in social as far back as 5 or 6 years ago. We were the first automaker to reveal a vehicle on Facebook, the first brand on Google+, lauded for our innovative non-automotive blogger efforts, our digital/social customer service attention and our unique Fiesta Movement campaign, to name a few.

While our latest activities may not be revolutionary, they're part of our continued evolution. Our Tumblr efforts were actually well received overall, as it was clear that we took time to understand the community as far as content types. But Tumblr users hate advertising as a whole, so I don't think any "backlash" as you say is necessarily specific to Ford.

I fail to see why a social hub is so "futile and wasteful" as you say. Not quite sure you understand what our goal is, how it's tied to the overall ford.com property or how our marketing to owners ties in. If you did, I think you'd be a little less critical.

Perhaps you're correct that additional analysis could have been performed. But to say that "we don't need corporate cheerleading" seems a bit harsh. One might also say that we don't need journalistic iconoclasm either. Especially from an anonymous reader.

Scott Monty
Global Digital Communications
Ford Motor Company

over 2 years ago

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Sebastian Rusk

Ford ROCKS!!

over 2 years ago

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Olivier Blanchard

Dear SMM (whomever you may be):

As someone who also likes to rip apart bad articles when they deserve to be, I can't really throw the book at you for your critique of this piece - at least not on principle. I get it: the title could have been different since the piece doesn't provide an in-depth look at Ford's overall digital, social and community activation strategy. Fair point, I guess. And if you had stopped there, your comment would have been fine.

(Note: the piece actually does provide a pretty decent overview of how that strategy - which is probably far too complex for an article of this size - translates into the type of content and engagement that Ford's audience sees and interacts with... but whatever. Okay.)

Unfortunately, you start picking random things apart for the wrong reasons, and that's where you lose me. Without being too long-winded, let me illustrate:

Take the pothole post, for instance. The author makes a point to state that "It was only uploaded today but there is already a high volume of comments." Your response is this:

"The chosen Facebook example is laughable. Look at that pothole post's numbers relative to most of the other posts on Ford's Facebook page. It's one of the worst performers of the last several weeks."

Um... when that screen shot was taken, it had just recently been posted. The author made a point to add that to the segment. You might have missed that part?

Still on that particular piece of your critique, you write this about the post's performance:

"It's one of the worst performers of the last several weeks. You can call it unique, in terms of the angle that Ford is taking ("Potholes, amirite?"), but it's not driving substantially more comments than other posts, and it's not even close to likes/shares as most of the other recent posts."

Okay... You seem to be under the impression that Ford's objective (and ultimate gauge of success for their content) is to score as many comments, likes and shares as they can. That would be in line with what most social media gurus and many inexperienced social-media digital marketers would recommend. Only... Ford's objectives vary from channel to channel and from one piece of content to the next, so your social media metrics are likely to have no relevance whatsoever to the piece's objective.

Let me explain. (Pay attention because this is important.)

Consider that the purpose of the pothole piece might be to inject daily driving experiences with flashes of the brand, make it more relatable on an emotional level, and increase overall mindshare of the Ford brand. This is the sort of soft content that, over time, helps drive positive perceptions of Ford. In other words, it helps move consumers closer to the Ford brand in the 3 months to 2 years interval between now and their next car purchase.

Still with me, SMM?

Sometimes, likes, shares and comments have nothing to do with moving the needle on consumer perceptions and consumer behaviors. And more often than not, content like that isn't about scale or social metrics. It's about touching the few dozen people out there who are considering a purchase and will end up test-driving a Ford just because that one piece of content got them to the tipping point of interest, curiosity or even preference.

What do you think matters more: 1000 likes, 400 comments, or 30 car purchases?

It might not look sexy in a social media metrics report, and it might not be obvious to someone who only thinks of the effectiveness of social media content the way they have been taught by the dozen or so social media speakers who talk a lot but don't do real work for companies like Ford, but you might be surprised how effective it is when it comes to getting people to actually buy cars (or any product, for that matter).

In other words, Ford is looking to drive far more than likes, shares and comments through social channels, SMM. The strategy goes far beyond "social media metrics." Think beyond the superficial crap that ineffective digital marketers keep regurgitating on their blogs and at conferences. Those theories is played out. Those metrics end up being cosmetic, most of the time. They aren't representative of the real world.

Now for a more important piece of insight that you might not have considered: I don't know what your benchmark is, or what company's social strategy impresses you, but what Ford has managed to accomplish in the last few years (especially given the complexity of the organization, its geographic range, having to service not just the brand side of the business but its dealer communities as well, and all of this, lest we forget, from scratch and at the heart of a manufacturing culture) is nothing short of remarkable. That's the real story behind this piece.

Quick question: have you ever tried to build a social media or social business program inside a manufacturing company? You should try it sometime, just to get a taste of that kind of sport. I dare you to pull it off as well as Scott Monty has, and as quickly. Not only that, but I dare you to do it 7 years ago when no one was doing it yet. It's easy to be an armchair quarterback, SMM. Know what I mean? Everyone's a critic, especially when they don't have to reveal who they are.

Is Ford the most innovative or "cool" company on the social web? Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn't. Sometimes, its agencies fall short of producing really awesome stuff and that's okay. It doesn't have to be awesome all the time as long as it keeps getting better, as long as it keeps moving the needle in all the right places. Email isn't sexy either but it works. Same with newsletters. Sometimes, effectiveness trumps style. (Though Ford does produce some pretty kickass content from time to time.) In terms of positive impact on brand perception though, Ford's social media strategy has been a massive win. That's just for starters.

More importantly, in terms of moving hundreds of thousands of people (if not millions) who would not have considered buying a Ford five years ago to now considering making their next purchase a Ford: huge win.

Now let's move beyond the obvious customer acquisition piece: activating Ford owner communities also drives customer development and customer retention. What does that translate to? 1) increasing the likelihood that current Ford owners will stick with Ford when the time comes for them to get a new car? Check. 2) Increasing the likelihood that their kids' first cars will be Fords as well? Check. 3) Increasing the likelihood that they will influence other car shoppers to consider (and ultimately buy or lease) a Ford rather than another brand? Check.

These are real world results, SMM. That's the focus. Likes and shares and comments are great, they're healthy indicators of an active, engaged community, but we aren't talking about Lady Gaga or The Walking Dead or CNN, here. We're talking about vehicles and service and accessories. You're just not going to get the kind of comment volume on Ford accounts that you're going to get on celebrity fan pages or media outlets that capitalize on controversy and discord. Surely, you understand that on some level, right?

So... if I may, here is my final observation: maybe you could take a step back and get a better grasp of a company's business model, the history of its marketing program, and perhaps most importantly what metrics are actually relevant to the conversation before judging how effective it all is. Generally speaking, it helps to actually understand something in order to criticize it properly. Know what I mean?

Cheers,

Olivier Blanchard (hey look, I used my real name).

over 2 years ago

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

I don't think any post I've written has ever had such lengthy and comprehensive comments left underneath it...

Olivier & Scott - thank you for bringing balance and a strong & passionate defense of not only Ford, but also the article and by extension myself.

As a rule I tend not to engage with negative comments that are left by anonymous users - they are more often than not trolling, ill thought-out or wildly contradictory, rather than constructive.

We think there's value in pointing out anything creative, agile, innovative or as part of an overall study in a company's approach. Even when the data isn't available, and often it isn't.

I wrote this purely off my own back, there was no ulterior motive. As I said at the top of the article, I had no particular affection for the Ford brand to start with, but over the last few months I've noticed some brilliant content from the company and it's completely changed my perception of it. No corporate cheerleading, just pointing out a job well done.

Again, Scott and Olivier. Thank you for taking the time to leave your comments and I very much appreciate the back-up.

over 2 years ago

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RRG

Does anybody involved here have any information to as whether Ford actually generates sales and profits from all this social media activity?

Its very easy to commend (or pick apart) these activities (which are clearly well resourced) and in the spirit of keeping up the conversation with the customer I'm sure its fine... but where is the research to demonstrate the business effect of this activity?

over 2 years ago

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Prestashop

Ford has an excellent social media team. Porsche however, not so great. They are killing themselves this week with their social media. 800 or so posts about a guy with a lemon car...

over 2 years ago

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Mark Higginson

SMM's criticism is completely valid. This post tells us nothing about why Ford's social media strategy is any good, it is simply a collection of examples selected by the author and personal opinion.

Olivier's comments are incredibly patronising given he also provides no supporting evidence.

"This is the sort of soft content that, over time, helps drive positive perceptions of Ford."

Does Olivier have figures on that? For Ford or any other brand? This is complete speculation on his part.

"In terms of positive impact on brand perception though, Ford's social media strategy has been a massive win."

Where's his evidence for this? As RRG says: "where is the research to demonstrate the business effect of this activity?"

Olivier says: "... in terms of moving hundreds of thousands of people who would not have considered buying a Ford five years ago to now considering making their next purchase a Ford: a huge win".

Eh? Where's the panel research that supports this assertion?

"These are real world results, SMM. That's the focus."

What results? Olivier hasn't shown us any.

It is irritating that cheerleaders like Olivier can speak without fear of contradiction. Brands, despite claiming success, are unlikely to share results we can validate, yet we have to suffer speculative post after post by marketers hyping the purported benefits who have no more knowledge of the actual situation than their readers.

I'm with Bob Hoffmann on this: http://adcontrarian.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/the-lifetime-value-of-stupidity.html

over 2 years ago

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Richard Skinner, CEO at Skinner Construction

I think Ford does a great job of manipulating social media. I have been banned from most F150 websites for making truthful criticisms of the ecoboost. It does not do what it advertises.

11 months ago

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