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Ford Gets Social Media Marketing Strategy Right

By Eddie Reeves
Principal of Reeves Strategy Group

No multinational manufacturer gets social media marketing more than Ford Motor Company. The dynamos at Dearborn have scored repeatedly in the last couple of years, executing some of the most powerful social media promotional campaigns ever. And while there is no question they have leveraged their substantial resources to help speed their success, the basic components of their strategy will work for organizations of any scale.

In early 2009, Ford launched the celebrated Fiesta Movement campaign, loaning out 100 Ford Fiestas, its successful European small car, a full year before introducing it to the U.S. market. Ford allowed 100 "socially vibrant" recipients (Millennial Generation opinion leaders who were extremely active on social media networks) to test the vehicles with virtually no restrictions for six months. All they were required to do was share their exploits and opinions regularly on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, and/or their blogs.

Not only did the promo generate tons of buzz, but the buzz generated tons of buzz. Some of the campaign's outcomes:

  • More than 7 million YouTube views
  • More than 40 million Twitter impressions
  • More than 750,000 Flickr photos
  • More than 130,000 people pre-registered to receive more info

Ford achieved 38 percent awareness among its target market months prior to the Fiesta's actual launch—a level equivalent to vehicles that had been on the market for two to three years. And all of this was accomplished at a fraction of traditional marketing spend.

I could probably write a short book detailing how Ford scored such remarkable results. It first got the right people in place. Chief Marketing Officer Jim Farley joined Ford in 2007 from Toyota, where he launched the successful, youth-oriented Scion, which also benefited greatly from social media marketing. Farley quickly brought in digital media honcho Scott Monty, who has since become a minor rock star among the social media set.

Once the folks at Ford made sure they had the right people on the bus, they not only let them pick the route, but also do the driving. One of the most important strategic successes of the campaign was its discipline in market targeting. There had to be substantial internal pressure to broaden the effort beyond the sometimes-fickle Millennials, but because Ford held firm, it has established a crucial beachhead with a market segment whose importance will only grow over time.

The effort was also notable in its tight integration of paid, earned (free), and in-house media. This is especially significant, given the silos and turf wars that inevitably exist in organizations as large, complex, and old school as Ford. The only way pioneering approaches like the Fiesta Movement happen is with total buy-in from the top—in this case, from Ford CEO Alan Mulally.

A final key to the success of the Fiesta Movement: the basic understanding that to gain a certain amount of credibility, it's necessary to give up a certain amount of control. This is probably the toughest hurdle to clear in corporate settings, and Ford gets major props for getting past this corporate cultural block.

Monty and his team have clearly cracked the code on the simplicity and synergy of a successful social media marketing strategy. The runaway success of the Fiesta Movement campaign spurred subsequent successful campaigns for the 2010 Ford Explorer and the upcoming new-edition 2012 Ford Focus.

All these campaigns excel at the basic thrust of successful social media marketing strategy: figure out where your customers are, join them there, watch how they behave, and then behave the same way in order to become part of their community—on their terms.

Yes, it's simple, but it's not easy. But then, things that are truly worth it seldom are.

Eddie Reeves

Eddie Reeves has more than 25 years of success in journalism, politics/public affairs, public relations, and marketing strategy. He is Principal of Reeves Strategy Group, a consultancy that helps corporations, not-for-profit groups, and others design, develop, and implement strategies that help them connect to customers, clients, employees, suppliers, and other key stakeholders—in ways that help drive their organizations to new levels of service, success, and significance. Eddie provides no-nonsense, impactful advice, strategy planning, coaching, counsel, and tactical execution to C-suite leaders of entities that are serious about making a difference and making progress.