Do you use Twitter? That's been the UK media's number one obsession over the past few weeks. And the answer is yes, we do - as you'll have (hopefully) noticed by the widgets down the right hand side of this blog, showing our recent 'tweets'. We know that half the people reading will have turned off by now - because they're sick to death of hearing about it - but stay with me, because the auto companies - those supposedly slow-on-the-uptake, most old fashioned beasts, are quietly using twitter - and wider forms of social media - to dramatic effect.
A few weeks ago, Mashable published an article called "40 of the best brands on twitter and the people behind them" and heading the list were Chevrolet, Ford, General Motors and Honda. If you search closely, you'll also find brands and organisations like Renault, Citroen of Brazil, Daimler and Toyota's iQ on there. In fact Twitter has become a valuable tool - particularly for GM and Ford (no sign of Chrysler yet) - for communicating, updating (and correcting) people on the news that's been pinging around surrounding the recent auto bailout.
At January's Detroit Auto show, we got the opportunity to interview Ford's Head of Social Media - Scott Monty - to find out more. Watch the video below to see him explain how Ford are using various media channels to not only tell their story - but begin to change perceptions about Ford.
Interestingly, Monty has found himself at the centre of what you might describe as a Twitter 'row' these last couple of weeks. His detractor came in the unlikely form of Ray Wert, the guy behind online car site Jalopnik. He accused Monty of being a 'bit of a twit' on the Jalopnik site, suggesting Monty was merely enhancing his own personal brand, and not Ford's, by using his own personal account on Twitter, rather than a Ford one.
Monty is quite clearly capable of sticking up for himself, while Jalopnik is a site we massively admire for managing to do a rare thing in the online automotive world - offering informed, up to the minute news and analysis, laced with a huge dollop of humour. But here's not really the place to analyse this particular game of online fisty-cuffs (check back through this tweet search list of comments relating to it if you want to know more).
All we can really say is that twitter (and most forms of online media for that matter), to us, are about having a conversation (as opposed to simply broadcasting, in a one-way fashion). This is something Monty seems to be doing pretty well at for Ford. By using his own account, he might not be as 'findable' as simply being behind one account named 'Ford', but having heard endless criticism of 'faceless' or 'evil' corporations recently (we're talking about mainstream media vilification of banks and auto companies here), the notion of having a recongnisable, real, individual who reaches out to people from within an organisation to have one-on-one conversations, seems rather smart and refreshing, to us.
Whatever your take, one things for sure. The car industry - particularly that much maligned corner of it that resides in North America, has been on to Twitter longer than most. From an industry that is so often slated for refusing to change and embrace new ideas and technologies, it be just be an indication that the auto industry as a whole is now listening, and ready to change. Let us know what you think.
Posted by Joseph Simpson on 20th February 2009
Disclosure: Ford is sponsoring The Movement Design Bureau's design research work in 2009. We have an independent eye though, so tell us if it seems we don't.