fordFord’s social media director Scott Monty might have thought he was off to a safe start with a little audience participation during a recent conference presentation. “How many people here,” he asked, “have ever driven a Ford?” Most of the audience raised their hand. “Now how many of you would buy one?”

And the room froze like a rusted carburetor. “That’s the problem,” he said.

The solution? Part of it is in a social media program that Monty believes will restore some of Ford’s lost “humanity” as a brand and continue to put some distance between Ford and the two other Detroit carmakers, Chrysler and GM. “Somewhere along the line,” said the company’s digital and multimedia content manager, “we lost our personality. We can gain it back with social media.”

Ford’s current tagline is “drive one.” Monty has spun it for the social media effort, changing it to “meet one.” He wants social media applications to go beyond gearhead blogs and move Ford employees closer to Ford customers. Toward that end, the company’s website now has a live feed of employee news. It has also included a video version of the Ford story, putting forward what he said are the best parts of Ford’s brand: integrity, entrepreneurship, and passion. Monty has an active Twitter and Facebook account, as do several Ford brands. He has encouraged executives right up to CEO Mike Mulally to be active in social networks as well.

Connection, he said, must be earned through participation rather than advertising. “It’s not about advertising on social media,” he said. “People have always liked to talk about their cars. No matter where it happens we want to be part of the conversation.”

Monty is honest about Ford’s deep branding and sales problems. Part of them are endemic to the global auto industry. But he wants social media to help potential and current customers to understand the difference at least in the domestic big three.

“How many of you knew we didn’t take any government bailout money?” he asked the audience. Everyone raised their hand.