Last week I visited Ford and attended the North American International Auto Show, along with around 150 other social media folks from around the world. (Ford paid the bill for my travel and hotel; I wasn't paid for consulting and this post is a personal opinion.) There were Mom and Dad bloggers, design bloggers, green bloggers, and a collection of random others. Besides US attendees, I met people from Canada, Germany, and China. It was - to use an old Ford tagline - a bold move: invest in hosting a big group of virtual loudmouths in your backyard and at your facilities and let them talk about whatever they want.
My take is that it was great exposure to how Ford delivers on social business. On the auto show floor, I asked CMO Jim Farley about the importance of social media to Ford. He replied that having a huge group of non-insiders was exactly what he wanted - after all, cars are for everyone, so why should the auto show be an exclusive event?
That's one of the keys to social business - everyone can participate. Opening up an event to the social press - in addition to the traditional press - makes a ton of sense as a first step in broadening the company's ecosystem. (Contrast with CES, where coverage comes from mainstream media and mass social, e.g. Engadget, Gizmodo, Mashable.) As for results - influencers generated about 5 million impressions attached to Ford that day, primary related to the hashtag #FordNAIAS.
I saw all of the other company spaces at the show. There was interesting stuff to see - a 1983 Honda Accord, cars that cost over $400,000, and back-to-the-future concept cars. But for the most part, the other spaces were empty, except for their official press gatherings. Contrast Ford, which had constant activity in their massive space, along with continuous social media mentions.
Social business encompasses many operational elements - communications, connections, and culture to name a few. Ford clearly has support from the top in opening up the company to a wider ecosystem, activating all three of these areas in its outreach. One final element that makes this program notable: scale. Using lessons from social customer service as a guide, early attempts were interesting but had to grow beyond one or two evangelists for continued success. Similarly, brands must be strategic in connecting with network nodes - although bigger doesn't always mean better, with more voices out there than ever there than ever before, brands must combine quality and quantity.