It's been not even four years since Ford Motor Co. hired Scott Monty to head up its social media efforts, but his digital fingerprints are evident all over the online version of the resurgent U.S. automaker.
Ford's Twitter account, @Ford, has more than 100,000 followers, up from 3,000 in April 2009.
The company also has six blogs, 17 Facebook pages, a slew of YouTube videos, a Flickr account with photos of company vehicles, and even a Scribd site — which Monty, 41, describes as "basically YouTube for documents" — where users can read company fact sheets about topics such as Ford's safety ratings, its business plan, its energy-efficiency advances and the "smart technologies" it touts.
Monty, who in a 2009 interview with All Things Digital called social media "the cocaine of the communications industry," still wears his enthusiasm for online marketing on his sleeve. But he's more likely to describe it these days in terms of making human connections with customers.
"It's about building loyalty and trust by humanizing the process, showing people that there are real people behind Ford who are just like them, because that's who people trust, is someone like them," said Monty, who was in Madison Jan. 18 to give a talk about social media strategies at Monona Terrace.
After his speech, he talked to the State Journal about his career in social media at Ford's corporate offices in Dearborn, Mich.
A New England native, Monty earned an MBA and a master's degree in medical science from Boston University. He worked for a short time in managed care and as a biotechnology and medical device consultant, before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks changed his career plans.
Q: How did the terror attacks do that?
A: They basically made the entire deal-making market dry up. All the free cash that companies had, they hoarded, because it was so uncertain. So ... I went to work for an advertising and marketing company that specialized in life science and high-tech.
That's where I started getting interested in blogs and new technology, and I began exploring some of this stuff on my own — writing my own blog, going to conferences, following other people online that I looked up to — to try to find a path for what this meant for businesses.
Fast forward a few years, and Ford came calling (in July 2008).
Q: Does social media exist as its own department or division at Ford?
A: It really doesn't. It's integrated into communications and marketing and customer service. There are lots of different touch points. My role essentially is to ensure there's consistency across all of them.
Q: Do you believe social media is an imperative for all businesses now?
A: If your customers aren't on any of these platforms, then there's no need for you to be on them.
But at Ford, it's really at the heart of everything we do. Really, it's about people connecting with people. Whether it's inside of Ford or inside to out, social media is all about people.
Q: Do drivers of those heavy-duty Ford trucks you see in commercials really want to be messing around with online stuff?
A: You would be surprised. Our truck audience actually has a higher degree of customers online than even our Mustang audience. Because these are guys — and they are mostly guys — who use their trucks for work. We actually have a technology in our trucks called Ford Work Solutions, where they can connect to the Internet and have a mobile office. They can do printing and invoicing and track their whole fleet directly from their cabins.
And even farmers, they connect with other farmers (online) to expand their network, to find out what these other small businessmen are doing, and to look at suggestions for repairing their vehicles or to look at the new technology that's coming out.
Q: How much online advertising does Ford do now compared to traditional forms of advertising?
A: Of our marketing budget, 25 percent is spent on digital advertising and social media.
Q: In what ways does Ford use social media?
A: Our Ford Social (website), at social.ford.com, is probably the thing that we're the most proud of. It integrates our Flickr accounts, so you can get our pictures, and our YouTube Channels, for video, and our Facebook pages, our Twitter account, and even Scribd. So we use all these different platforms, but we bring it all together on Ford Social so people can decide what kind of content they want to engage with.
We've got storytelling that happens there, whether it's video storytelling or text-based storytelling. It's our fans bringing their own stories to life, and it's us bringing stories about our fans or our employees.
Q: What's different about how you would launch a new vehicle model now compared to 10 years ago, because of social media?
A: I'll give you an example of what we just did with the 2013 Ford Fusion. In December, we launched an app on Android and iPhone and iPad, as a four-week-long tease, taking (users) from mid-December to mid-January, as we got ready to reveal (or announce) the vehicle.
And the app actually gave you a virtual driving environment, where you could test drive the car and different technologies of the car — like the lane-keeping assist, and the active automatic parallel parking system.
In addition, we had 19 different videos from the whole team that brought the Fusion to life, talking about what they did differently, talking about the inspiration behind the creation of this vehicle.
Q: So the idea is giving online users some sort of valuable tool that hopefully will make them more likely to buy a car or truck?
A: It's more along the lines of giving them something that's entertaining, whether it's a video or maybe even a tweet that makes them smile. Or it's informing them of something, where we answer a concern or question. And ultimately it all leads to more brand affinity and brand awareness.
When they get into our vehicles, we hope that they're getting the value of our vehicles themselves, but the role of social media is really more of an awareness tool and a relationship builder than anything else.
Q: What do you think social media's future holds?
A: If I could tell you, I'd be in venture capital, not working for Ford. I think we will eventually see a time, not too far from now, when we're not talking about social media separately, where it's just a way we communicate and a way we do business. It will be like the telephone and email are now, just de facto.