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How Ford’s social media policy and strategy helped it become a digital pioneer

To generate real results and accomplish long-term goals over social media, businesses need to make a regular commitment to marketing and customer engagement on social media. Real Business delved into the two secrets behind Ford's digital success: its social media policy and strategy.
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Scott Beaman of Slater Heelis summed it up nicely: “There is a tendency for social media platforms to be a reactionary environment in which flippant comments are made. Add to this concoction the blistering pace at which news travels on the web and it’s not hard to see why barely a week appears to go by without some form of social media scandal reaching the headlines.” 

Despite the potential to ruin a brand’s reputation almost instantly, social media still remains one of the most effective tools in a company’s arsenal – especially so when a policy is implemented accordingly.

Take Ford, for example. How does a company created in 1903 remain relevant and engaging in the digital age? Former head of social media Scott Monty offered these 11 points from its social media policy: 

  1. Be honest about who you are;
  2. Make it clear that the views expressed are yours;
  3. You speak for yourself, but your actions represent those of Ford Motor Company;
  4. Use your common sense;
  5. Play nice;
  6. The Internet is a public space;
  7. The Internet remembers (i.e., “Whatever happens in Vegas…stays on Google.”);
  8. An official response may be needed;
  9. Respect the privacy of offline conversations;
  10. Same rules and laws apply: new medium, no surprise;
  11. When in doubt, ask

This is akin to Zappos’ policy: “Be real and use your best judgement”. This has allowed Ford employees to become brand ambassadors, and the lenience, compared to other policies, has allowed staff members to reply quicker and in a much natural fashion.

Good policies will get the message across, but allowing employees to use their own judgement could prove beneficial to your company.

Take the Oreo Superbowl tweet. The power went out in the Superdome during the showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. Oreo seized on the opportunity, and tweeted this during the 34 minute hiatus:

Viewers apparently loved Oreo’s message, which was retweeted 10,000 times in one hour. BuzzFeed’s Ashley McCollum said the tweet was “super smart,” while CNET’s Daniel Terdiman declared, “Oreo came up with an idea so brilliant and bold that it out and out won the night.”

Essentially, its policy has afforded staff members the ability to get creative on the spot and form one of the most notorious social media strategies.

At the helm of this strategy is Monty, who essentially transformed the car manufacturer into one of the most successful brands in digital and social.

According to Monty, it had become “increasingly clear” that digital needed to take a front seat at Ford. 

When he first started, “the executives at Ford had decided that they had treated social media as a hobby for too long and they needed to get serious about it”, he said. “They created the position that I’m in with the notion that we needed somebody in a leadership position who could put a strategy together, unite the teams and educate them on better digital communications, and lead a prolonged effort that went beyond a campaign mentality. It was almost about building a culture of social within our communications team.

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“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,” he said. “Three years ago, we were putting 25 per cent 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.” 

Monty claimed that each of Ford’s channels has its own “personality or tone of voice”. Each nameplate channel has a different strategy.

The Mustang, for example, has a much different tone than hybrid vehicles. “The goals depend on the product lifecycle and may range from broad awareness to getting people into dealerships,” he said.

This is also the case when it comes to platforms such as Instagram, Tumblr and Vine.

“We’ll continue to investigate each platform for its relative strengths,” Monty said. “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.” 

Vine’s popularity has caught the attention of marketers. Ideally suited for today’s notoriously short attention spans, Vine forces businesses to come up with creative new ideas to reach their online customers.

Taking its short duration into account, many brands don’t spend much money on them. It gets tricky to stand out, but Ford Vines are genuinely funny.

Ford’s Instagram channel also features exclusive content that isn’t repeated anywhere else. This includes old vintage posters and historical photographs.

What it all comes down to, however, is that employees listen before they push. They think before they act, and then reply accordingly. Social has become part of the company’s culture, enabling staff members to feel more confident and be themselves when responding or posting content online.

The end result is a brand that has become easily relatable.

Image: Shutterstock

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

Real Business