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Ford Motor Company continues to separate itself from the other domestic automakers with a double win at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. On Monday, January 11, Ford was selected as the winner of both the prestigious Car of the Year (Ford Fusion Hybrid)) and Truck of the Year (Transit Connect van) awards. This marks the first time in 17 years, and only the third time in history, that a single brand has won both awards in the same year. The Ford Fusion Hybrid was also selected as Motor Trend Magazine’s Car of the Year this past November.

In recent months, Ford has gained consumer notice for not only its innovative design, but has seen unprecedented market share growth, increasing domestic share-of-market 14 out of the last 15 months. Ford’s domestic share stands at 17.3% and category-leader GM’s share, falling to 19.8%, is clearly within Ford’s sights.

The fact that Ford was the only domestic automaker to not solicit government bailout funding as well as the single domestic auto company to avoid bankruptcy has created “atta boy!” status with consumers and the American public at large. Consumers seem to appreciate the fact that the company can continue to be viable without the aid of taxpayer money.

Ford’s ONE Ford plan posits that cars built for the global market rather than different versions and sub brands for specific markets are the process needed in today’s marketplace. This bodes well as China is now seen as the largest potential market for US-made cars.

Like Driving an iPhone

Critically, Ford seem to understand more than most other vehicle manufacturers that the user experience is crucial to branding and sales. Ford’s SYNC in-car communications system melds music, entertainment, information and communications into one unit. Much like the iPod became a category leader because of the user experience and thousands of applications created by users, Jim Farley, Group VP of Marketing at Ford says “The bottom line is, when you enter your car, it should be as cool as your iPhone. My point of view is that we create an open platform like iPhone and let the applications flow based on Sync. This seems odd, since you would think we want dollars, but we want the Sync community to grow and these applications are more creative than we can create.” Ford’s SYNC is an open platform and Fraley hopes that developers will create unique apps for the system, much like the process that fueled the iPhone app phenomena.

Marketing Revamp Rivals Company Re-org

Farley also stated in a live-chat from the Detroit show that Ford is placing 25% of it’s traditional media budget in interactive and that social media will play a critical role.

We need to have enough creative horsepower to come up with unique ideas that viewers will find fun,” he said. “The advantages are credibility and efficiency.”

Ford CEO Allen Mulally was an early adapter to Twitter, and Ford seems to “get” social media better than its rivals. US efforts will be, er, focused on the launch of the Ford Focus, the first global platform car, and the Ford Fiesta. Fiesta’s effort will be the second iteration of “Fiesta Movement,” a successful effort from last year where a group of “influencers” were given Ford Fiestas to drive and then they blogged about it. This year’s version will be more “car” centric than the previous one.

The Ford Focus campaign will see the bulk of activity between April and October with a lot of web and social media programs.

Ford does some innovative things such as a dedicated time when CEO Allen Mulally can interact with consumers via social media. And, while the other makers were using traditional media and PR at the Detroit show, Ford was all over social media (the Farley quotes used above came from that effort). Ford’s Director of Social Media Scott Monty has one of the more perceptive Fortune 500 company social media strategies and he blogs about it.

What do you think of Ford’s strategy? Would you consider a Ford Fusion Hybrid when pruchasing or leasing your next car?

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For the past few months, I’ve been knee-deep in a local political campaign. We  were hired to do social media for a dark-horse candidate running for mayor of my hometown, Atlanta, GA. “My” candidate was barely a blip on the radar when we jumped in to create a social media presence in mid August. Yes, we were late-to-the-dance, very late, but we always love a challenge!  There were six viable candidates running for the non-partisan (non-party affiliation) office. Our client ranked #4 and had virtually zero social media presence. Of the three leading candidates, one had a very sophisticated SM presence, one was so-so and the third was mostly non-existent until the last few weeks before the November 3 election.

I will spare the suspense and tell you that my guy finished fourth out of six. The eventual winner (following a runoff held on December 1) was the candidate that had the best SM program. Did that win the race for him? Probably not – it was plain old “get out the vote” activity that caused more people to vote in the run-off election than in the regular election, BUT, the difference came from communities in Atlanta’s “intown” neighborhoods that common sense would say are among the most “wired” in the city. Social media was most likely a factor in these key neighborhoods.

What I learned from this campaign is interesting, and as far as we can determine, broke some new ground in the use of social media in local political efforts.

When we started this project in August, the eventual winner of the election already had the maximum 5,000 Facebook Friends on his personal FB page and had several thousand more on a “fan” page (ironically, this candidate polled in the single digits until just a few weeks before the election and was running a distant #3). The candidate that was polling in the #2 position had about 2,000 FB Friends and the candidate that was leading in the early polling had a SM presence next to nothing – about where our candidate was when we started.

We knew that we had to be aggressive – that we would have to be proactive in building a Facebook and Twitter presence. We would have to actively recruit “friends’ and “followers” rather than waiting for them to come to us. While our original plan called for a blog, the campaign communications people were not up to the task of keeping it up-to-date, so we eventually focused on Facebook as a message platform and Twitter to drive potential voters to the Facebook page.

Facebook worked well as a platform as we could attach videos, links to newspaper and magazine articles, links to political blogs, photos from events, etc. and we could do instant updates via an iPhone.

We met with a political consultant to get the lay-of-the-land in terms of who the key demographic / psychographic profiles elicited those most likely to vote. Atlanta is a city that is about 55% African-American and 45% White / Latino. Historic voting patterns in Atlanta city-wide elections showed this ranking of those most likely to vote:

1. African American women; 2. white women;  3. white men;  4. African American men; 5. Latinos.

We decided to concentrate our efforts on African American and White women, the top two “most likely to vote” groups. This was based on the concept that we had little time and few resources and needed to get the biggest “bang” for our effort. Furthermore, we knew that those aged 35 – 60 were more likely to vote than those younger or older.

We identified those women who fell into our target age group among the current 100 or so Facebook Friends that our candidate had in his small network when we started. Then, using the concept that most of their “friends” would be people like themselves, we went to these women’s “Friends” requesting that they become a friend of our candidate. We included a personal message stating that our candidate was running for mayor and attached a link to the candidate’s website. Since this was a City of Atlanta election, and only residents could vote, we did not pursue “friending” anyone who’s profile showed that they did not live in “Atlanta.”

We really worked this, and a small staff of three spent hours and hours “harvesting” friends in our target population from new “Friends” as they came on board. This was a laborious process – click on the profile of the potential “Friend,” copy and paste the personal message and click “send.” Even though we were using broadband and other fast connections, there was a lag as Facebook’s software processed the request.

Next, we knew that just because you post a message on Facebook, not all of your friends will see it. We determined that key policy statements should be posted multiple times in an attempt to have it impact the maximum number of people. We combined this with user info as to when Facebookers are most likely online. We focused on three dayparts: 1) early morning / early at work to reach those who log in to their Facebook accounts at home in the morning or as soon as they get to work; 2) late afternoon to reach those who may log in to their FB page while waiting fro the workday to end; 3) evening to reach those who access FB  from home between 8pm and bedtime. We would send a specific message “early morning” on Day 1, “late afternoon” on Day 2 and “evening” on Day 3. Time sensitive messages would be sent three times on the same day at the specified dayparts. Of the hundreds and hundreds of FB messages that we sent to thousands of people, we only received on complaint regarding multiple messages.

We also used Facebook applications to personalize our message. One of these was the “birthday” feature.  A list of “Friends” upcoming birthdays (today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow) appears on the right side of your FB Profile page. Each day, we would send personal birthday wishes to each Friend whose birthday was tomorrow. Although we used one of 5-6 standard messages that we created, we always used the recipient’s first name so that the message was more personal.

One of the most effective uses of Facebook was to pose questions or solutions to issues being raised during the campaign. This was most effective when our candidate’s Friends passed the 2,000 mark, as we had enough Friends in the network to elicit comments. We would create on-going discussions and have our candidate participate by making comments to keep the conversation going. Actually, our candidate was not doing this personally, it was done by us with specific input from the candidate’s senior staff.

We would also monitor the live News Feed and, when appropriate, our candidate would post comments to on going discussions. At times, we would use the “chat” feature to contact Friends one-on-one.

As our network grew, we received the ubiquitous requests to join all kinds of groups, support all kinds of causes, attend all kinds of events and become a fan of all kinds of people. Our policy was to NOT accept any of these invitations as they could become an “issue” in a political campaign, since we did not know anything about these organizations.  I cann0t stress how important it is to monitor this activity!  We learned a lesson when we accidently  “Twitter Followed”  a person in the “adult” business – who we immediately unfollowed!

By the end of the campaign, our candidate had the second largest Facebook and Twitter networks of all the candidates. We believe that had we had the opportunity to get involved with this candidate much earlier, we would have made a bigger difference. The winner of the election was the candidate that had the best Social Media presence, and defeated, in a run off, the candidate with the least impressive SMM effort. Draw your own conclusions.

Political candidates must realize that they can often reach as many people in a social media group with multiple messages much more efficiently and cost effectively than with traditional media.

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