Can you give us a little insight into how a major international company such as Ford runs the day-to-day operations of its various social channels? Do you have different teams per channel? Are there different strategies and goals for each one?
We’re fortunate to have a group of community managers and strategists that are shared between the communications and marketing departments.
They oversee our corporate and our nameplate channels, and while the strategy is universal, there is certainly a different tone of voice used for each nameplate.
The Mustang, for example, has a much different tone than our hybrid vehicles. The goals depend on the product lifecycle and may range from broad awareness to getting people into dealerships.
When it comes to social media, you famously stated: “what’s the ROI of putting your pants on every day? It’s hard to measure but there’s negative consequences for not doing it”. Do you still believe it’s difficult to measure?
Measurement is absolutely critical. But the point I was trying to make is that it might not be measured in the same way that other marketing or communications functions are measured – or at least not the way they have been measured.
What complicates things is that social is all wrapped up with advertising, PR and other practices, so that it has become more difficult to extract specific metrics and assign them to social – particularly as the sales funnel has become less linear.
It’s been troubling that advertising or PR hasn’t been put under the same scrutiny or spotlight, yet social gets all the pressure.
So, for brand managers or digital analysts, it’s important to know how an effort or program will be judged successful, and making the effort to work backwards from there to figure out how to measure it.
How has Ford adapted its business in recent years to become more focused on digital? Where did it start, where is it at now?
It’s become increasingly clear to us that digital needs to take a front seat. Observing the shift in consumer habits and behaviours, particularly around mobile devices, we’re aware that our focus needs to move from being overly focused on traditional methods and to account for more digital.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we give up the traditional efforts, nor does it mean an ever-expanding budget; for us, it’s a matter of assessing the balance of our budgets and putting more effort into digital.
Three years ago, we were putting 25% of our marketing budget into digital; each year it has increased. Not sure exactly where we’ll end up, but it’s moving in the right direction.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in Ford’s digital transformation?
If you look at the challenges the New York Times is undergoing now, it’s pretty much the same for any longstanding company that produces content: how to move away from traditional thought patterns and to let digital take precedence.
We had to ensure that leadership understood the shifting patterns of consumer behaviour and then we began to adjust our teams, structures, plans and strategies accordingly.
It’s a work in progress, and while we’re not where we would like to be, we’re well along the way.
How does social fit into Ford’s overall organisational structure?
It’s always been important to us to put social where it can integrate with the rest of the business: we have corporate social strategy within communications; consumer-facing social within marketing; and customer-centric social response in customer service.
From there, it’s key that we interface with other members of the Ford team, such as HR, legal, product development, IT and more.
Each of Ford’s channels has its own ‘personality’ or tone of voice. Did this come about organically, or was there specific research done for each channel?
We spent a lot of time understanding each channel and community to understand what would be acceptable, what would stand out, and what would keep us grounded.
As mentioned above, our nameplates each have different tones of voice, but then again, so does each platform.
The way we talk on Instagram is different from Tumblr and different still from Vine, which your article deftly pointed out.
We also worked closely with the teams at many of those platforms to understand the role of a brand and what their users would tolerate.
Together, we were able to discern a path and create some groundbreaking content that was not only acceptable, but that was celebrated.
Can you prove any uplift in sales, advocacy or customer retention as a result of your social strategy?
Put simply, we have a global strategy with local executions. Our strategy flows from our overall business objectives, and each market has different priorities, campaigns, programs, etc. Our social strategy and tactics flow directly from that.
Is there a social channel you prioritise over another when it comes to pushing your most important content out there, or does it depend on the content itself?
We think in terms of paid, earned, owned and rented properties, and each plays a unique role. There’s never one that’s completely silent, but each has a different role to play depending on what we’re trying to achieve.
Earned may be more prominent when we introduce a new vehicle at a major event, for example; then, paid may be the leading channel that we lean on upon launch. Owned and rented (those sites on which we have a presence but that we ultimately don’t control) play a role throughout.
Will you be adopting the video functionality in future Instagram posts or will you be sticking to Vine? Do you think there is a significant difference in demographics using Instagram and Vine?
We’ll continue to investigate each platform for its relative strengths. We’ve heard of Instagram and Vine compared thusly: “Instagram is an art gallery; Vine is a block party.”
And to us, that sums up the inherent differences in the audiences of each.
Ford was the very first company on Google+, do you think the channel has lived up to its promise? How does Google+ fit into your future strategy?
We continue to be great believers in Google+ and for us it’s always been about more than a destination. How it ties into search results, our main site, our YouTube channel and more are key.
We’ll continue to think about Google+ and all of its relevance to our strategy as we progress.
With the recent changes to the Facebook news feed, how are you planning on maintaining engagement and growing followers on Ford’s Facebook page?
Facebook still remains a vital site for our efforts. With more than a billion people – and with nearly 7m of them on our Mustang page alone – it’s too big to ignore.
The question is how we evolve the content to meet the needs of Facebook’s users and strategically use paid elements to help amplify our content.
And of course, we’ll continue to listen to our audiences and try to deliver the kind of content that matters to them.
How effective do you feel social channels are in providing customer service?
Digital customer service is extremely important. We’ve observed customers using just about any mechanism possible to get in touch with us, and we’ve staffed up accordingly.
We have a digital customer service team that is on Twitter every day, monitors all of our Facebook pages, and jumps into threads on discussion forums or consumer sites to help address needs.
The goal is not only to help as many customers as possible but also to boost Ford’s reputation as a brand that’s paying attention and responding.
We’ve seen customer satisfaction scores in the low to mid 90s as a result of the digital work, and the team works very hard to answer questions as quickly and as completely as possible.