I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but at 36,000 feet inside a Boeing 747, things are pretty cozy, and the guy across the aisle from me wasn’t exactly shy. He was having what sounded like a not so pleasant conversation with a client. It seems he began a transaction based on some assumptions that may not have been accurate. Conversations like his are all too common. He was talking at his client, not with him. It’s the difference between talking and communicating. In fact, it highlights what he doesn’t understand: The new communicating is not just understanding, but sharing.
When I wrote this column, I was en route to Dearborn, Michigan, for the Further with Ford trend conference. For a week previous to the trip, I quietly chewed on a few thoughts that had been nagging at me ever since I was invited. As soon as I received my invitation, I Googled the event for 2011 and this year. It didn’t take long for me to notice the lack of large, slick, well-known publications making noise about being invited. There was no Motor Trend, no Car and Driver, no Consumer Reports. However, there were plenty of smaller publications and bloggers—many quite successful bloggers—also many seemingly off-topic media groups, such as Quality Digest Daily. Why?
The scheduled presentations were void of technology and performance-related issues. All were more of a socially-related nature: urbanization, democratization of design, and eco-psychology. Why?
I thought of an article I read that opined about how automakers had missed the mark by not naming vehicle models with a moniker that was descriptive of the job that the vehicle was designed to do, “Why You Need This Vehicle,” so to speak. Why?
Then I remembered what Northwest tire tycoon Les Schwab said: “People don’t buy from companies. People buy from people.” Hmmm. Why?
It’s all about the sharing—sharing experiences and emotions and fears and joys. The Ghost of Communications Past effectively explained performance, effectiveness, and return on investment... and why you should buy the product. Today people seem more apt to respond to a shared emotion that inspires a gravitational pull. This goes beyond effectively communicating the benefit of one’s product. Instead it reaches to the core of everyone’s “why.” Why do I feel this way about that car? How do I feel about this pair of jeans? How do I feel when wearing those glasses? “You too? Cool.”
But what does this have to do with Ford’s trend conference? Before the conference I thought I had really scooped on Ford’s secret social marketing agenda by figuring out the why of the odd cross-cut of invitees (sharp as a marble, me). When I met with Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media, I hit him with my exposé. Monty responded with calm enthusiasm, “Yes, people have an innate desire to connect through shared interests and goals.” And more important, shared emotions. “You guys are going to take what you see and hear this weekend and tell the story from your point of view and connect with your readers,” he said. Monty points to the popularity of Redditt, Stumbleupon, and the emerging Pinterest as indicators of the way forward in communicating/sharing with customers.
All of these ideas and more are openly shared in Monty’s own The Social Media Marketing Blog. So much for my big scoop.
Ford has even launched Ford Social, a linked site with heavy reliance on the sharing aspect of their fans and customers. It’s obvious this site appeals to the emotional ties people have with their vehicles. Not the vehicle performance per se, but the family gatherings, sports events, vacations, moving—all emotional events that tie people to their automobiles—how owners feel about their vehicles and how they are intertwined into their lives.
Using social media in the business world is a hot topic for a very good reason. Recently, Harry Hertz, head of the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) wrote an editorial, “Embrace It or Not, Social Media Affects Your Organization,” which appeared in the July 12, 2012 edition of Quality Digest Daily.
“According to a report from InSite Consulting released in June of this year, 80 percent of American companies use Facebook, 45 percent have Twitter accounts, and 48 percent are present on LinkedIn,” Hertz reports. “Six out of 10 companies listen to customer conversations on social media, and eight out of 10 answer customer questions and complaints via social media. Social media are critical to listening to the voice of the customer (external and internal) and provide a significant mechanism for engaging them and building stronger relationships.”
And what does any of this have to do with the guy sitting across the aisle in 38C spinning his business wheels? Easy. He was stuck with the Ghost of Communications Past. I wondered if he had even considered how his client felt. He certainly wasn’t sharing emotions. It seemed his only concern was to communicate just the right idea to close the deal.
Hertz, along with Ford Motor Co., understands the far-reaching implications of embracing (or not) social media as a viable tool for communicating and sharing rather than merely using it as an attention-getting gimmick. As Gretchen Gscheidle, director of Ford’s Insight and Exploration Group, put it, “Behind the scenes is so important to our audience. It’s part of our story.”