I knew Scott Monty when he was still in Boston. When I first heard he was leaving the home of our beloved Boston Celtics for Ford Motor Co., I kind of felt sorry for the guy.
He was leaving a very cool place to join a company whose glory days seemed to be long ago and far away. His having to go to Ford seemed to indicate a great paucity for senior level social media jobs in the global enterprise.
Shortly before Scott was hired, I had visited Ford on assignment for Fast Company TV and had left very much underwhelmed by the automaker’s grasp of social media.
The shock is that all this happened in 2008, just a tad over two years ago.
Ford Motors is now writing, blogging, tweeting, and recording one of the great industrial turnaround stories of all times. Senior players are leaving Toyota to join Ford. Their cars are getting all sorts of awards for engineering, sustainability, design and sales.
Of course, Scott Monty did not accomplish all that. But what he did acheve is a brilliant braiding of social media into an ever-expanding part of Ford, its culture and it’s relationships with customers.
He talks about all this with a fair amount of modesty, but I’ll let him take up the story from here.
You began as a medical student. From there, you became a marketing consultant before centering your interest in social media. What drove you along that course, and why?
Let me take you back just a little further.
As an undergrad, I was a Classics major studying Greek and Roman civilization, art, culture, architecture, sports, drama and history. While I planned to go to medical school, I first wanted to study some subjects other than science, since I anticipated having a lifetime of science before me.
I had no idea that I’d wind up handling digital communications for one of the world’s best-recognized brands.
As it turned out, I enjoyed the humanities more than science, but didn’t want to give up on my aspiration, so I began the first year of medical school, to try it out.
I quickly realized that while I had the personality for medicine, my patience for applying myself to the deeply scientific side was lacking.
Rather than give up on what I began, I investigated other options and discovered a dual-degree program, where I could get a master’s degree in medical science concurrently with an MBA.
With the growing importance of managed care, I figured I’d be a double threat–or at least have enough knowledge on both sides to be dangerous.
While I was working on both degrees, I concurrently worked part-time as a writer for the US. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. I was on the team that wrote the report on the transformation of the VA health care system under the proposed Clinton plan, and as a speechwriter. This writing assignment, in addition to the numerous essays I had written as a Classics major and my thesis for the master’s program, continued to influence and hone my skills as a writer – a critical element for a professional communicator.
To make a long story even longer, managed care didn’t turn out to be what I expected, and after working in it for a few years, I left to join a biotech and medical device consulting firm, doing corporate development work.
Our clients had promising early-stage technology and we found larger companies and structured the deals to bring that technology to the market.
When the tragic events of September 11 occurred, the financial markets were particularly uncertain and it meant that firms hoarded their cash, leaving our small shop absent from the revenue we needed to continue. The owner eventually shuttered our division.
Luckily, I found a home at a business-to-business marketing and advertising firm that specialized in health sciences and high tech clients. My background led me to participate in many of the key medical accounts, but I was also exposed to some of the high tech work.
In this new role, I became aware of this new topic at professional conferences – one called “social media.”
I had been personally blogging since 2000, and social media struck personal and professional chords. I began writing The Social Media Marketing Blog in mid-2006 in an effort to get some of my thoughts down and to use it as something of a laboratory and sounding board for our clients.
Since B2B marketing runs 18-to-24 months behind B2C in terms of trends, I was ahead of my time when it came to convincing clients to try the new social tools. I subsequently left and joined a consultancy that specialized in helping large companies understand and adopt social media strategies.
Looking back at my classical education, I can’t help but acknowledge that it played a significant role in how I came to do what I’m doing. As I mentioned, the writing component was a crucial one. For anyone wishing to have a career in communications, I’d recommend honing your writing skills. You need to effectively express yourself. Writing is a muscle that always needs to be exercised.
Ford has become one of the great turnaround stories of recent years. But when you chose to join Ford, most of us did not see that coming. What did you see that made you elect to uproot yourself and your family and join an enterprise that had very few achievements in social media?
Probably like many people in late 2007 – particularly those on the coasts or in the technology space, Ford was simply not on my radar. I didn’t know enough about the company to jump at the opportunity.
But when I took the time to research it a bit, looking at the management team and their philosophy (One Team. One Plan. One Goal. One Ford) and the product cadence that the company had so heavily invested in (thanks to taking out a $26 billion loan in 2006), not to mention the raw talent and passion of everyone I spoke with I saw a huge potential. I had predicted that by 2010, there would be a convergence of Ford’s product lineup and the development of the social media industry.
Not everyone recognized that. I was asked, “Why aren’t you going to a successful company like Toyota?” While we may smirk at that question now, the fact is that in early 2008, it was a much different industry. I knew that Ford’s fortunes had to turn, and I thought I’d rather be part of a success story than simply maintaining an existing one. And since the senior leadership at Ford had created the position for which I was interviewing, I knew that I’d have their.
There’s no question that leaving Boston after 20 years was difficult. But the experience has been nothing less than exhilarating. It has helped me grow professionally and given me the chance to serve an American and global icon. In retrospect, my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.
Ford is a very big enterprise. Just what do you do there? Who do you work with and answer to at Ford?
It is indeed.
We make vehicles in 70 locations on six continents and have over 160,000 employees. A far cry from working for a five-person shop just before I left Boston!
My position sits within Corporate Communications, overseen by Ray Day, our vice president. Ray reports directly to our CEO Alan Mulally, giving a senior seat at the table and and involving us in strategic decisions.
It also means that we’re the central clearinghouse for company information and news, putting us in a unique position to clarify, debate, inform, educate and otherwise communicate with the outside world, whether they’re journalists, customers, investors, dealers or the public.
My responsibilities are many. I manage our digital publishing team, which is responsible for a number of weekly internal e-newsletters. My team maintains Ford’s media site.
Our group also develops the company’s social media strategy. I oversee the team responsible for our social media channels and accounts, our editorial direction on The Ford Story , blogger outreach, influencer engagement, program development, team training, global integration and more.
My position is global, so that last piece is crucial.
My team is pretty thin and is comprised of Ford and agency personnel, but we’ve been able to successfully integrate our efforts beyond Communications. While I get a lot of the credit, there are many people behind the scenes who are the real heroes: Connie Fontaine and Jeff Eggen from our Brand & Content Alliances team are responsible for some of our most fun and high-impact programs – particularly the Fiesta Movement and Focus Rally: America. With their agency team, they create these big talking programs that Ford is known for. Scott Kelly leads us in Digital Marketing and is like the other half of me. Scott and his team execute paid programs in the digital space, including integrations with Leo Laporte’s TWiT network and the Revision3 family of shows, among others.
Then there’s our constant communication with the Customer Service team, who are constantly scouring the web for mentions of Ford and handling issues that come to their attention.
I also serve as Ford’s most prominent online spokesperson. I handle incoming questions and requests via my Ford email account, my personal email account, Twitter @ replies and direct messages and Facebook wall posts as well as requests for interviews via Skype, phone, email, television, radio and more.
I’ve been fortunate to represent Ford as a public speaker at a events, webinars and trade shows. While I don’t get to do it that often, it’s one of the things I enjoy most, because of my ability to bring the Ford story to life and see the impact I’m making on the audience.
What cultural barriers did you face and how did you overcome them?
Interestingly enough, I encountered surprisingly few barriers when I came to Ford. We were fortunate to have Alan Mulally join as our CEO in September 2006, and he brought a fresh and different perspective to the company.
After three-and-a-half decades at Boeing, Alan brought his manufacturing leadership and vision for transparency and shared knowledge to Ford.
These are key tenets to social media, so what we’re trying to do with this new form of communication is very much the same culturally. The leadership team’s vision under Alan has been to align us globally so we’re all working together to achieve the same goal, and that we listen first – another social media tenet.
His mantra is, “First, seek to understand. Then seek to be understood.”
That’s not to say it’s a cakewalk.
One of the most difficult things to convey – and I’m still working on it – is just how complex and involved my job is. In the recent Altimeter Group report on the career path of the social strategist (and just quoted in the London Evening Standard), Jeremiah Owyang noted that the role is “deceptively challenging.”
One of our challenges moving forward will be how we integrate social media into more than just Communications, Marketing and Customer Service. While those three areas are the most visible and have the most impact to our reputation, we won’t be truly successful until we’ve unlocked the potential of an outside-in and inside-out mentality of public discourse, feedback and dialog.
What was your first big success? How did that change how Ford perceived you? How did it change how the public perceived Ford?
There were many firsts, and each has had a different impact.
For example, the Ranger Station incident marked a new way of handling crisis communications and taught us the necessity of being prepared at any moment and more closely aligned with our own Office of General Counsel.
The Fiesta Movement marked the auto industry’s first foray into an extended program that involved real people and demonstrated Ford’s comfort in showing the public what those real people had to say in an unscripted and uncensored way.
The Explorer reveal on Facebook — and in eight cities–showed us the necessity of integrating earned, owned and paid media for maximum effect. Being the first automaker to reveal a car at the Consumer Electronics Show, as we did with the Focus Electric earlier this month, resulted in huge buzz and chatter about Ford at what is usually a tech-dominated show.
With each of these, the public gave Ford credit for trying something new and being an industry leader. We get credit for being cool, hip and “with it,” but we also have used these opportunities, and others, to demonstrate that we have the products to back up what we’re saying. The fact that we were welcomed for the third year in a row as a keynote at CES and that we were heralded for debuted leading technology like MyFord Touch, MyFord Mobile and the Ford Focus Electric, shows that we’re not just an automotive company anymore; we’re a technology company. And when we can get the technology industry and those on the coast to start thinking about us and to consider us for a new vehicle, we’ve succeeded.
How do you think social media has changed Ford’s culture?
I think social media is helping to amplify the cultural change we’ve already seen at Ford and it’s showing employees that we’re serious about transforming the company. They see the programs and success firsthand through our robust and multichannel employee communications platforms, and they see that it’s more than just a series of clever marketing campaigns. Ford’s leadership team ensures that our One Ford message is consistent and constant, and that we’re staying on plan, which in turn ensures our employees that we’re innovating and succeeding. That in turn inspires confidence and morale.
How do you measure Ford’s social media progress?
We constantly benchmark ourselves against other large companies to ensure thinking about every possible angle. We look for the brands that are the most respected in the social media space and aim to be part of that elite group.
Overall, we look at volume and sentiment of coverage of our news and efforts, which includes traditional as well as digital outlets, to ensure consistency of impact across all channels.
When we’re executing finite programs, we perform pre and post benchmarking efforts so we’ll know the specific impact or our efforts. We listen to our customers and fans to determine what they need or would like and try to provide that. The challenge with social media is that – with the exception of the Fiesta Movement – it’s rarely a standalone effort. Our efforts are integrated at every turn, so we’re looking at the collective impact of every one of our media outlets and separating out the digital/social where we can.
Is social media used the same way in different countries as it is in the US? Can you compare and contrast just a bit?
When we look at the three major regional divisions of Ford – the Americas; Europe and Asia; Pacific and Africa – we find that there are disparities, but we’re aligning so that we can all benefit from each other’s experience.
There’s no doubt that each region–and country–may have its own preference of platform or device, but if we can ensure that we have a single global strategy, we’ll be in a good place. Think of it as One Ford for social media.
We’re learning about the advanced mobile space from Asia, of the challenge of dealing with a multicultural and multi-language market in Europe, of the needs of a developing nation in India, and of the aggressive growth of social media in Brazil, for example.
The challenge with all of this right now is that programs are now more visible globally than they’ve ever been before. And certain countries that have seen the impact of our work are naturally very anxious to start their own programs. But without the proper underlying strategy and fundamental understanding of some of the communities’ sensitivities, there’s the risk that we may make mistakes that we could otherwise avoid by taking the time to ensure we’re all aligned.
Can you share a little vision for social media’s role at Ford two, five, or 10 years into the future?
That’s a tall order.
Who even knew we’d have this function 10 years ago? In the short term, ensuring we have a globally consistent approach to our efforts is our priority.
Beyond that, we’ll be working to integrate social media into as much of the company as we can, bringing Human Resources, Product Development and other departments into the process so that social media isn’t simply seen as a marketing and communications tool. The long-term vision is that this will be built into the culture of the entire company and that, much like the telephone and email, it will be part of every employee’s workflow.
The last two-and-a-half years have been a whirlwind for me personally.
I could have never predicted that the industry would have taken the drastic turns that it did, nor the degree to which Ford has managed to stand apart from its competition.
Every day, I count myself extremely fortunate that I have the opportunity to serve with some of the best leadership and colleagues in the world in serving Ford Motor Company and that the company has placed its trust in our team. We’re just at the beginning and there’s an exciting and viable Ford that is continuing to make progress!