“One of the customers was a guy by the name of Chris who bought an F-150,” Monty said. “He stated in his own words why he bought Ford. He stated he wanted to go with a company that could stand on its own two feet, and he referenced the bailout.” Unlike General Motors and Chrysler, Ford did not receive federal bailout money.
After the ad ran its natural course on TV, Ford was waiting to receive digital rights to post it online when it popped up on an employee’s YouTube channel.
“We said you can’t air that until we get the rights, so we took it off his YouTube channel and we placed it on ours after we got the rights,” Monty said. “Some politically minded people online got the idea that the Obama administration pressured us to remove the ad because of the political overtones, and this gaping hole online where this video was and had been yanked down was evidence that we had obliterated all reference to it. We had to go forward and say, look, we ran the ad as planned, it’s still on our YouTube channel if you want to look at it. This is what the consumer said. It was our decision to air it, but these were real words from a real customer, and we were kind of stuck with that, for better or worse. There were clearly two divisive sides on whether we should have aired it or not. The bottom line was that this is what happens when you put the brand in the hands of a consumer. They’re going to say what comes to mind.”
Part Art, Part Science
Despite the freewheeling nature of the online world, Ford’s social media team must maintain a sense of corporate decorum when engaging with the public, Monty said.
|Monty, shown standing before a 1911 Model T Torpedo Roadster in the lobby of Ford headquarters, had originally planned a career in the medical industry. Photo by Roch Sillars
“As a somewhat public persona who represents Ford, I always have to be careful about what I say. Any member of the team here does,” he said. “If people recognize that we are associated with Ford, then we owe it to the company to speak in a way that is consistent with how the company would expect us to speak. You wouldn’t see us running down the hall here at world headquarters with our tie around our forehead and twirling a towel, you know? We wouldn’t act similarly online. It’s just a matter of knowing how to conduct yourself as a professional.”
At the same time, it’s important to avoid canned PR as much as possible, he said.
“It’s one thing to get the corporate message from the corporate account. People know they can always get that,” Monty said. “But the difference with social media is that they want a personal perspective on what it is. I think that’s the value that our team brings. We have a unique perception from working behind the scenes and giving people kind of a bird’s-eye view of what’s going on.
“People don’t want a press release tweeted at them or legalese quoted at them on Facebook. They want to be talked to like a human being. So I think that’s a first step. The other is to recognize when something goes beyond just something that’s controversial and it’s a crisis mode. And we have to be ready for that, even if it’s just to tell people that we’re aware of the situation and we’re looking into it. That at least lets them know that we’re listening to them. Nine times out 10, acknowledging that someone has said something to us is a major step in the right direction. There are always going to be certain things that we can’t comment on, whether it’s lawsuits or union negotiations or things like that that are very sensitive or that have implications beyond what the social media team does.