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The Golden Ticket of Social Media

Posted At: January 21, 2012 3:30 PM
by Hope Peterson

If social media were tagged and shelved at Walmart, it would be a best-seller. Due to its rapid growth, the power of social media has become limitless.

Before social media gained its non-discriminating popularity to all fields, PR professionals had placed social media in their tool kit.

Good or bad, persuasive or informative, PR is about communicating. Communicating efficiently means connecting with culture as it changes with the current trends. An evolving plan utilizing social media does just that.

In an article in New York Times online, Adam Lavelle, a board member of the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association, said, “PR has to be more about facilitating the ongoing conversation in an always-on world.”

While social media is obviously helpful in PR, its fast-growing, accessible and efficient nature has attracted an increasing amount of the non-PR areas within companies. Areas not normally reliant on PR, such as marketing and advertising, are beginning to recognize this important tool to connect with consumers in a way that is prominent in their daily lives.

As professionals in every field attempt to connect to publics through this “golden ticket” idea, the field of PR can’t keep this tool locked up.

The movement

Entering the economic recession, Ford Motor Company managed a miracle. Still able to profit, Ford generated a successful new reputation for cars that had, 10 years prior, been associated with dismal success in the U.S. market. The magic Ford performed during the recession was possible by embracing a new type of marketing strategy. Ford looked into the future and created more than just “buzz.”

The idea for the movement started as just a new way to view social media use within the company. Ford wanted to connect the company as a whole internally as well as to its publics. In a January 20, 2010 post on Social Media Influence, Scott Monty, head of social media for Ford, said, “Everyone from the CEO to members of the executive board engaged with social media to prevent ‘isolation from reality.’”

The entire company wanted to be seen as accessible and transparent. Ford even started creating accounts for senior executives on Twitter to directly answer Q & A’s.

The players

The new campaign Ford launched was called The Fiesta Movement. It began in Europe in 2009 when Ford hoped to re-introduce a newly improved version its Fiesta car model.

Ford wanted to market its new car by using customers’ Internet knowledge to generate interest and eventual feedback.

In a blog on Harvard Business Review, Grant McCracken, author of Chief Culture Officer, said Ford was “reaching out to consumers not just to pitch to them, but to ask them to help pitch the product.”

The customers selected for participation in the campaign were called agents. In a blog post on TK Carsites, David Lux said Ford selected 100 “agents” or “socially connected trendsetters” who were heavily engaged with social media.

The agents were offered a generous deal: they would spend six months behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta in exchange for broadcasting their experiences through social media channels. Ford showed confidence in its product through the relinquished control of advertising to the newly “hired” agents.

Although the agents were encouraged to document their daily lives, they were also asked to show any special adventures with the Fiesta. In a recent telephone interview, McCracken said, “Ford would supply the inspiration and the exposure” for the adventures. Agents then embarked on adventures ranging from wrestling alligators to running away and eloping.

The outcome

To say the Fiesta Movement was successful would be a gross understatement. Although rare in advertising, McCracken explained, “for Ford the costs were low, the benefits high.”

According to Lux in his blog post, “without breaking the bank or burning through massive media budgets, Ford was able to promote the Fiesta nameplate, gain traction with consumers and get people to connect with the Fiesta in an all-new way.”

These agents did more than expected by merely documenting their adventures and lives to promote the Fiesta. The numbers alone speak for themselves: “The 700 videos produced by the agents have generated 6.5 million views on YouTube, and there have been more than 3.4 million impressions of Fiesta Movement on Twitter.”

Even more impressive than the numbers above is the desire for the car that the agents generated. According to Ben Parr, this initiative garnered 50,000 handraisers, or people who were impacted by the campaign who expressed interest in Ford.

And after all, the “fate of the campaign rests on these people and whether they are willing to dish out a five digit sum to purchase a fiesta,” Parr wrote.

The future

This initial success encouraged a second round of the initiative. Ford launched “chapter two” of the movement in 2010.

This chapter approached the same idea of social media promotions, but the players changed. The agents now consisted of 20 teams of two.

However the stakes for the agents remained the same. A December 2009 article on Marking Vox said the teams would complete a series of adventures “’that will immerse them in cultural movements’ in their communities.” The teams then were responsible for producing creative online content for the website based on their experiences.

Why it worked

As anyone connected to the outside world knows, it doesn’t take showing your credentials to set up an account on a social media site. There are endless hours spent in cyberspace, but Ford managed to utilize all the potential of social media to control the cyberspace and transform the meaning of traditional advertising.

The focus of using social media should be to build relationships, not to gain profits. By emphasizing relationships rather than profits, companies reap long-term benefits. However, confusion about how to build adequate relationships through social media often corrupts the way companies relate to consumers.

Pick carefully

A vital part of building the relationship is choosing the right people. Failing to choose the right audience to engage or the right people to engage them with are the first mistakes many companies make in social media use. If not chosen wisely, the whole effort is lost into the aimless cyberspace hours.

McCracken said, for Ford, “the idea was to find people who were active as culture creators [as the providers] and those who were active as culture consumers [the rest of us].”

In his TK Carsites blog, Lux said the chosen agents were innovators “looking for more content to create.”

Ford chose the right people to actively keep up with the evolving changes and trends.

Not a sales tool but relationship dynamics

Founded on “fair trade,” the relationship between Ford and the agents was set up perfectly. McCracken said that Ford was able to come up with benefits that would work for all three parties: the agents, Ford and the consumers.

The exposure the agents gained, the long-term value Ford created and the altered product customers received, allowed everyone to “win.” This mutual gain cycle built trust among customers because they had no reason not to believe the agents.

In the blog on TK Carsites, Scott Monty, head of social media for Ford, said, “Social media allows for a level of trust that would be unattainable through traditional marketing.” Monty goes on to explain that Ford listened a lot more than it talked. Ford wasn’t focused on selling, but rather connecting.

This lesson can be illustrated through the norms society already adheres to. As a society, we get to know one another before committing to further involvement. Does it make sense to walk up to someone you’re interested in and demand her number without first getting to know her?

Social media should be approached in the same way. When companies use social media to control conversations, they are not getting to know their audience. The focus must be talking with the consumer to garner a healthy relationship, rather than talking to the consumer to soley garner a quick profit.

The Fiesta Movement encouraged the agents to not just look at their mission as advertising. Ford hoped that these agents would actually change the manufacture of the car by becoming the engineer’s eyes and ears for complaints and suggestions.

The path to getting the “golden ticket”

When social media is used with long-term benefits in mind, trust is built through two-way conversations through current, updated channels. Ford used the foundation of trust so customers could rely on honest opinions that promoted the Fiesta.

Through this movement, McCracken said Ford has found the way to “read contemporary culture” so that all parties benefit. Once Ford realized how to accomplish the magic anomaly, it was able to offer products that customers continually desire.

With just a few mistakes of too many tweets, too much direction, little trust or no feedback, social media will not serve its full potential. With a little patience and some manners, social media creates value: the golden ticket for companies.

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