Scott: Hi, I’m Scott Monty, Digital Communications Manager and head of social media at Ford Motor Company Maggie: And I’m Maggie Fox CEO of Social Media Group, Ford’s social media agency
Maggie: You’ve heard the saying, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s truly yours.” ? In this presentation, we’re going to explain how a company like Ford, one of the oldest and largest in the world, changed from thinking about it’s content like this…
Scott: To this. How did Ford learn to set its content free?
Scott: Before we go any further, we’d like to invite you to step up to the mic at any time if you have any questions, rather than waiting until the end for Q&A. We want this to be a dialogue rather than a dictation, and if you want to dive into something, just step up and wave your arms.
Scott: First, a little background, just in case you’re not familiar with Ford and what we do.
Scott: Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Michigan manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 213,000 employees and about 90 plants worldwide, the company’s wholly owned automotive brands include Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Volvo.
Maggie: Ford began to integrate social media into their Communications business model in 2007. They started small, engaging our company, Social Media Group to help develop the beginnings of their strategy by conducting a social media Skills-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats analysis. They knew it was important, but were struggling with how to integrate it into their toolkit.
Maggie: One of the first ways we started incorporating social media was by inviting Digital Influencers to a traditional media drive event for the newly redesigned Ford Focus in Seattle in September, 2007. In case you’re not familiar with them, these drive events have traditionally consisted of a load of automotive journalists, flown to a location, put up in a hotel and then sent on a day-long drive to experience the new car and then write about it. In this case, the big story was SYNC. So we had this cool technology, the beginnings of the car connectivity revolution, and most of the old-school journalists couldn’t care less. Before we go any further - does everyone here know what SYNC is?
Maggie: So the journalists thought SYNC was a silly toy, until we upset their applecart by inviting bloggers and videobloggers to attend alongside them. At the end of the drives, many of the journalists who thought SYNC was a ridiculous bell and-or-whistle were converts - thanks to spending time with people from a very different world who understood the possibilities behind the technology. The value of empowering these different perspectives to tell Ford stories was immediately apparent.
Maggie: So that was the event. But no matter how tech-savvy, we knew that the online content producers who attended the event, and the many others who could not but would be interested in the content, did not have access to traditional Ford automotive asset sources. They were not really journalists, more citizen observers creating content about things that interested them. They were not “plugged in” to the world of press conferences, media sites and press releases. But we wanted them to be able to easily talk about this technology and other things that interested them.
Scott: So Ford established their first Social Media Press Release (SMPR)
Maggie: Ford’s SMPR was one of the first created for a major consumer brand. All content is hosted on platforms like Flickr and YouTube, leveraging their native sharing properties
Scott: There are also individual and global RSS feeds, meaning subscribers are automatically notified of updates - and only get what they’re interested in. [click]
Making Chris Anderson’s infamous blacklist post just not relevant for Ford - Wired is subscribed to our SMPR feeds and they regularly pick up stories without having to be pitched.
Maggie: But there was more to this than a trendy buzz phrase or a new campaign-style deployment of technology for one individual event, over as soon as the Focus story faded. …it was more importantly a quiet revolution in the way one of the largest companies in the world traditionally treated assets and who had access to them.
Scott: In the past, like many companies, Ford had treated images, video and even press releases as valuable assets that needed to be carefully controlled for the exclusive use of select influential automotive and major mainstream media journalists, all of whom had to register to get access to a password-protected media site.
Scott: Starting with Focus, we began making all of our content digitally available to everyone under a license that would permit publication under almost any circumstances. ALL of the images, video and text on Ford’s first and subsequent SMPRs are licensed under Creative Commons non-commercial [confirm exact name of license]
Maggie: This was a revolution in the way Ford thought about content, the way they made it available and the way that they allowed others to share it. It reflected the new reality.
Scott: Recognizing the new, distributed nature of influence, and that everyone with an Internet connection is now a publisher, Ford changed.
Scott: Ford recognized that “control” of digital assets was an illusion. So they stopped pretending.
Maggie: That’s all fine and good - very touchy-feely and progressive of us. But what were the hard results, the things we could measure that demonstrated the value of setting our content free to the business?
Maggie: But how did this happen? Didn’t someone try to stop it? Well, no - not really.
Maggie: Social Media is scary mostly because people don’t understand it. So we helped people understand it. Especially legal people.
Maggie: During the course of our SWOT work in 2007, we discovered that the legal reason that assets were so tightly controlled was that they often showed vehicles in non-factory condition - meaning if consumers saw these images in a Ford commercial or in a brochure, they could sue the company for false advertising since that’s not how the vehicles come out of the plant or end up at the dealerships. In other words, the legal and compliance department was afraid of Ford Marketing - worried that they would use the images in the wrong places.
Maggie: But they were not afraid of what bloggers and others would do with the assets, the legal department considered them just like any other kind of journalist or publisher, so they gave us the green light to set the content free. We found this out because we sat at the same table as the people who seemed to be the most afraid of losing control and explained what we wanted to do, how we wanted to do it and what the value was to the business.
Scott: The other big issue practical issue is digital rights management. For images it was simple - in most cases digital rights were already being obtained for the online editions of print publications.
Scott: Video is another issue, but we’re not the only ones wrestling with that challenge, and it really only has to do with commercials - if we put them online, it’s usually only for a set period of time until the rights expire. Like many companies, however, Ford and our agencies are working together to get digital rights in place that better reflect the way people use and share content online.
Scott: Ford is changing - and social media is a big part of that. How has setting our content free changed us?
Scott: SMPRs are now a part of the way Communications does business. And people who create online content are always on our minds.
Scott: Digital is no longer an afterthought. Assets are now collected for as many stories as possible, and distributed via 10 SMPRs [check #] (We should l also add that ours are a little different in that they’re not just HTML press releases; they’re evolving stories with archives - so there’s a long tail component to all of this)
Scott: We’ve also faced our fear of losing “control” and our successes have given us the freedom to experiment and continue the process of changing our Communications model to keep pace with reality.
Maggie: So, Scott - where to next for Ford?
Scott: We are weaving digital influencers into every program we run for mainstream media. We’re also establishing digital-only events and programs for online influencers. Integrating with MSM programs - digital should not exist in a vacuum, it goes farther when amplified and paired with traditional efforts, which it can assist and compliment.
Scott: We’re increasing our digital touchpoints and connecting meaningfully with our community via platforms like TheFordStory.com Our goal is to become the most social brand, humanizing the Ford brand [Scott’s words]
Maggie: And Ford has seen their content come back to them in thousands of unsolicited posts and stories.
Content has been used in over 5,000 posts since Sept 2007 - meaning that journalists, enthusiasts and others are telling richer, better-informed Ford stories online* SMPRs are regularly used as a source of news and assets by Autoblog.com (Technorati Top 50), Wired, NYTimes, ABC News & many others, both traditional & “new” media Approximately 1.2 million video views on YouTube, 499 channel subscribers, 120,000 views on Flickr images Enthusiast communities are embedding SMPR RSS feeds into their sites as a credible source of Ford news *Based on 1300 links - sample surveys indicate that only about 1 in 4 people actually observe the attribution terms of the CC license The goods.