Bridging Two Worlds

A conversation about online media and what it means to your organization

The Big Three Don’t Get Social Media

Posted by B2W on December 9, 2008

Post by: Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies

I have been reading a great deal about the “Big Three” automakers and the controversy surrounding their proposed bailout. I have seen a lot of mainstream media coverage on this issue and wanted to know what was being discussed online. More specifically, I wanted to know what Ford, GM and Chrysler were doing online to open the conversation with consumers and the average person.

 

There has been a lot written online about how these companies were using social media to reach out “to promote the bailout.” Notice the choice of words: “to promote the bailout,” not to open a conversation with consumers, not to create a dialogue with the public, not to hear what their loyal customers or critics have to say… The words they used are: “to promote the bailout.” Sounds like a one-way conversation to me, but I put aside my natural skepticism and went for a look.

 

Silicon Valley Insider has an article on the Big Three being online. While it cites YouTube and even Twitter, I didn’t find much in this article that inspired me to think that maybe there had been a paradigm shift at these huge companies. Oh, and by the way – they bought Google Adwords and ads on sites such as the Wall Street Journal and CNN. Without looking at what ads they bought, I went to Google and searched “bailout,” “Ford,” “Big Three bailout,” and “automakers.” Apparently some of the words Ford used were “Ford Bailout,” “9 billion loan,” and “cash flow.” Perhaps my Google search brain isn’t working today, but those aren’t common phrases in my mind.

 

I also searched Twitter and couldn’t find anything specific. I only spent three minutes searching each company, but in this fast paced world – that’s a lot of time.

 

Ford does have a website. Thefordstory.com is Ford’s attempt at speaking with the average person. The front page has a video with Ford CEO Alan Mulally. It is a typical “old school” video where he talks about how he is more excited about being at Ford now than ever before. There is a short piece beside the video that reads:

 

At Ford, we are headed in a new direction. After turning a profit this year in the first quarter and making significant progress on cost reductions, we were hit by a spike in gas prices, followed by the current credit crisis. But instead of focusing on our challenges, we’d like you to know how very far Ford has come and how we’re doing business differently.

 

You can subscribe by RSS feed, email your friends or share this site. Nowhere on the site is there room for the average person to be involved in any kind of discussion or ask questions.

 

Much like their initial trip on private jets to Washington to ask for the money, Ford, GM and Chrysler seem to have missed the point in using online media. It is such a powerful medium and provides such an opportunity – especially during this crisis – to have an authentic conversation with their stakeholders. Instead, they reverted to Web 1.0 – we’ll tell you what to think.

 

They had a chance here to show some of the great things that their organizations have done, to explain that they know they need to evolve and show how they are doing it, to ask for opinions and feedback. Some of it, well, probably most of it, might be negative but there are a lot of smart people out there…and we’re willing to understand mistakes, to support change, to work with you…but you have to let us have our say and to acknowledge that you messed up.

 

Online media can’t create miracles, but it can mobilize supporters. It can provide information and a connection to those who want to know what is going on. It gives your critics a voice, a voice you need to hear. The meltdown of this industry is a symbol of how the world is changing. Online media is a part of that change…and for organizations that want to grow, evolve and improve, it’s a huge opportunity.

 

 

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14 Responses to “The Big Three Don’t Get Social Media”

  1. Hi, I’m Robyn Henderson from GM’s social media team. I’m sorry your search was not fruitful, but the truth is we are engaging on Twitter, our blogs, Facebook, and other places. If you want to see the actual conversations, I invite you to look at fastlane.gmblogs.com, started about 2 years ago, and twitter.com/gmblogs started about a year ago. Saying GM hasn’t changed with the world is easy but wrong and we invite anyone to take more than a quick glance at our new products, our social media engagement, and the rest of the GM story.

  2. Thanks for bringing up this important topic, “B2W,” whoever you are.

    I can’t speak for GM, but at Ford, we put http://thefordstory.com together over Thanksgiving weekend. Not an insignificant feat for a cross-functional team that never launched a site together previously, let alone one that has so many sharing features to it.

    Our effort was geared around telling our story, not in engaging in debate. I’ve been out there on blogs and on Twitter – yes, Twitter (as @ScottMonty), where I have nearly 5,500 followers – debating and informing day after day. We developed the site as a single place where we could inform readers of the fact that Ford put a transformation plan in place after Alan Mulally arrived 2 years ago, that we’ve made progress on that plan, and what we were sharing with Washington.

    Since we never planned on participating in the loan program – we only asked for emergency access to a loan, should the economy worsen or one of our competitors fail – our intent was to differentiate Ford rather than to ask for funds. We were in Washington to support our automotive colleagues.

    Again, our goal was not to open debate and discussion on the site right out of the gate. We would have been incredibly distracted and basically opened a forum for the then-sixty percent of Americans who opposed assisting the auto industry.

    I look forward to having you follow me on Twitter, B2W. Let me know when you do and we can have a discussion.

    Scott Monty
    Global Digital Communications
    Ford Motor Company

  3. jon burg said

    GM and Ford are both seriously engaging in social media. Whether it be GMFactsandFiction, FastLane, GM Next, GmBlogs, Scott Monty’s Blog, Ford inviting twitterer’s to auto shows… this industry has grown by leaps and bounds, faster and farther than any other. They are publishing, they are responding, they are engaging.

    By comparison, many of the financial firms who received or are applying for far larger bailout type packages or loans are doing far less in social marketing.

    The Big 3 Get It. And if you have any questions, you can always ask @gmblogs or @scottmonty on twitter. They are there.

    Disclaimer: While my employer includes one of the big three a client, I am not directly involved in their day to day social efforts, nor am I writing on their behalf or that of their clients. I am writing purely as an outside observer and a social practitioner who would like to give credit where it is due.

  4. Ford needs to put Scott Monty on the front page of everything. He gets it! My lst car in 1961 was a 1941 Ford and in spite of the price of Ford stock I still own it. If Big Ford wants to be stuck in the Web 1.0 world then it is time for a new car company with imagination, guts and willingness to see the world as it is today…web 2.0 and changing fast. The bottom line is C2B not B2C.

  5. How funny that they put it like that “to promote that bailout”, thanks for pointing out how that flies in the face of the whole ethos of Social media marketing. In spite of my hatred for the bailout in general because it makes a mockery of capitalism and what made this country great, I appreciate you making this point about how large companies can completely miss the point when it comes to Social media marketing.

  6. The irony is I was referred to your blog post by Ford twitterer @ScottMonty. Can they do a better job? Sure they can but they are playing in the sanbox, we can at least share our toys a little.

  7. Hi,

    Something must have slipped the caution:

    ScottMonty of Ford is on Twitter.

    Best

    Ralf

  8. Fred said

    You are way off base, at least as far as Ford goes. I found out about your post because of Ford’s Scott Monty, who I follow on Twitter (http://twitter.com/ScottMonty). He’s head of online media at Ford. He has like 5000 people following him, so he’s not hard to find. The fact that he found you, and I found you through their head of online media proves that they do get it. Not to mention, Ford has more than ‘a’ website, they have hundreds. Get your facts straight before you spew about something you don’t understand.

    The big 3 don’t do everything right, but don’t randomly accuse them of things you know nothing about. Nice use of your 3 minutes.

  9. Scott Monty has been working his tail off for Ford, and the team at GM has been doing yeoman’s work. Sure, not everything is perfect – but since social media is such a new platform, no one’s out there who’s not made a mistake or two.

    To be fair, I actually think the failed search on Twitter is not your fault but Twitter’s. It’s woefully inadequate at finding anything but the tweets themselves and seems to ignore profiles and references from other twitter users. It’s basically only what’s happening right now without any context or finding people by the topics they usually talk about.

    There are plenty of companies that deserve being taken out behind the shed for not engaging in online communities and social media; but Ford and GM are not them.

  10. Kloche said

    Interesting how the people from the companies are here screaming foul. Maybe that’s why the big three are failing. They aren’t receptive to input or suggestions or criticism of any kind. Change or an alternative strategy, runs counter to all that they stand for.

    I am a Online Communication Strategist and I agree underlying message of your blog post. And being on twitter doesn’t mean that you have the social media market covered. It’s true that twitter thus far has an audience that are mostly composed of early adopters and higher income earners. But twitter is still very much in its nascent stage. And this may come as a surprise but a significant percent of people are still unaware of twitter. Or if exposed, don’t use it often.

    Twitter often personifies the very definition of noise. It’s is a medium, where information has to stand out to get through because tweets are fast and furious. So instead of staying within the confines of twitter and relying on a that network to spread the word, social med depts within car companies need to be more active.

    Scott Monty may boast about having 5000 followers but how many of those followers are really spreading the message about thefordstory or will eventually lead to sales. And this is the problem. These car companies again have failed to realise that the entire market is important, not only a small segment. Car companies should also be podcasting, have a presence on forums (yes people still use those archaic things), leveraging the promotional power of their youtube (or any other vid site) channels, partnering up with third party orgs or groups (environmental, car enthusiasts, PTA) to promote their message online. They need to take a page from Obama’s campaign. Build a network, an email list and create a community of support around you. That’s how you break out beyond the limited market segment by engaging your audience in different ways. It’s not the 60’s any more and the big 3, no longer monopolize the auto market or the airwaves.

  11. Crystal Blahnik said

    I also found your post because I’m another follower of Ford’s Scott Monty. I’m a former Michigander and appreciate being kept up to date in real time by Scott via Twitter. As a marketing professional, I also enjoy his social media blog.

    I’m disappointed in your post after following Scott’s Twitter link and reviewing the article. It looks to me like your boss assigned you to write xx posts per month, but you can’t really think of anything clever, so this is what your company gets out of you. Too bad. Best of luck to you in becoming a constructive and useful blogger one day. In the mean time, I’ll be able to keep up to date on Detroit primarily with the help of @ScottMonty, and I wanted to take 2 minutes to give him props.

    Thanks,
    Crystal

  12. Kloche said

    Had some typos so I am reposting

    Interesting how the people from the companies are here screaming foul. Maybe that’s why the big three are failing. They aren’t receptive to input, suggestions or criticism of any kind. Change or an alternative strategy, runs counter to all that they stand for.

    I am a Online Communication Strategist and I agree with the core message of your blog post. And being on twitter doesn’t mean that you have the social media market covered. It’s true that twitter thus far has an audience, that is mostly composed of early adopters and higher income earners. But twitter is still very much in its nascent stage. And this may come as a surprise, but a significant percent of people are still unaware of twitter. Or if exposed, don’t use it often.

    Twitter often personifies the very definition of noise. It’s a medium, where information has to stand out to get through because tweets are fast and furious. So instead of staying within the confines of twitter and relying on that network to spread the word, social media depts within car companies need to be more active.

    Scott Monty may boast about having 5000 followers but how many of those followers are really spreading the message about thefordstory which may eventually lead to sales. And this is the problem. These car companies again have failed to realise that the entire market is important, not only a small segment.

    Car companies should also be podcasting, have a presence on forums (yes people still use those archaic things), leveraging the promotional power of their youtube (or any other vid sites) channels, partnering up with third party orgs or groups (environmental, car enthusiasts, PTA) to promote their message online. They need to take a page from Obama’s campaign. Build a network, an email list and create a community of support around you. That’s how you break out beyond the limited market segment by engaging your audience in different ways. It’s not the 60’s any more. The big 3, no longer monopolize the auto market or the airwaves.

  13. Corey said

    Kloche – I’m also an online communications strategist, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that the Big 3 have done all of those things. By any objective measure Detroit (Ford and GM, at least) is far ahead of other automakers and other corporations when it comes to adapting social media and word of mouth.

  14. Hello folks. My name is Jason Vines. I was the VP of PR for Nissan, then Ford, then Chrysler. I am currently unemployed by my own choosing (Please, don’t talk to my wife cuz she is really pissed), but for the last two weeks I helped organize The Engine of Democracy, an ad hoc group of supplier and auto dealer folks to tell the true devastation of a NO vote on this loan to the automakers.

    This current crisis is not of their doing. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Citigroup did this and the list goes on. For the car makers and their dealers it means no credit available.

    I watched FOX last night and the Sen. from Jersey said he was against helping the automakers but wants to support small biz, the number one creature of jobs in this country. He was wrong AND right.

    Small biz does create the most jobs. But, duh, the autos and their supplier companies and dealers– from seat manufacturers to companies that literally make screws — are THE biggest clients of these small businesses.

    If one of these companies goes down — because of the inter-connectigivity ( a word?) of the industry — they all go down. And do does America.

    Jason Vines
    Former Auto Exec
    Unemployed

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