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Who Is Winning At Social Media Marketing: Ford or General Motors ?

“Ford Motor Company beats General Motors Company in monthly sales in February for the first time since 1998” says Business Week.

Since writing an article about Ford and its social media marketing competition with the Ford Fiesta, I thought it  be worth taking a look at social media marketing by the other large auto makers. So in recalling some blog posts on General Motors that I had read last year on David Meerman Scott’s blog, I decided to delve a little deeper. So let’s have a look at General Motors and how they are approaching social media.

General Motors

My initial encounter with GM and their use of social media came to my attention when David  posted a blog chiding them on their marketing strategy, where he made 5 suggestions on what they should be doing with social media .

From that blog post and the tweeting of the post on Twitter, General Motors  management reacted to the negative comments by David and arranged for him to meet senior management where he interviewed key staff.

One of the online video interviews was with Christopher Barger – Director, Social Media for General Motors and from the interview I found four revelations from that interview rather revealing

  • GM are monitoring conversations on Tweetdeck
  • The team of five directly involved in social media is being reduced to three
  • General Motors use an external agency to listen in to blogs
  • They react to negative conversations online whether that be a blog or on Twitter

What I found disturbing was that in not one part of the interview was there a mention of what GM were actively doing to promote and create positive Buzz online… (like Ford’s Fiesta Project)

In his final interview with General Motors David interviewed Mary Henige who is responsible for both broadcast communications and social media.

Her final comment about GM in the interview was rather telling when she said

“We have to get over the control issue”

In another article that referenced General Motors by ZDNet they reported on a a panel discussion at a workshop at Supernova on the rise of social media, including marketing whizzes from General Motors and Proctor & Gamble  and here are some of the comments gleaned from the discussion.

Michael Wiley, GM director of new media.

  • “The existing ad paradigm sucks, it’s woefully inefficient. It takes huge dollars to create ads on TV that run for 30 or 60 seconds and give the consumer virtually no information,” Wiley said. “The opportunity is to create relatively grassroots ads, six to eight minutes long that give an in depth brand experience and are released online.”
  • “The secret to GM’s success is listening to conversations, including the negative comments. GM has blogs and comments on posts frequently bash and criticize the company’s products. You need to be open to criticism and willing to enage detractors.”

Comment one is  still a mass media strategy and not an interactive social media implementation and comment two is a reactive strategy. It still seems that GM is not getting it.

Also commenting on the panel was Curt Hecht, executive vice president of GM Planworks (GM Planworks, a unit of Publicis Groupe’s Starcom MediaVest Group, handles all buying and planning for GM’s more than $3 billion account), he added.

“Enthusiasts and word of mouth is frickin huge for automotive. We haven’t leveraged that relationship yet. It’s a way to bring value to both parties…the voice could be larger than the Wall Street Journal [in influencing purchase decisions]. We just need to find the brand advocates,” he continued.

What is interesting is that Ford is already doing this.

In his final interview with General Motors David interviewed Mary Henige who is responsible for both broadcast communications and social media. The main thrust of the interview was about GM telling stories which is good idea in itself, but stories that are told by friends to friends (Social Media Word of Mouth) such as Ford has implemented is much more powerful strategy to create online Buzz and awareness.

Her comment about GM’s culture  in the interview was rather telling when she said

“We have to get over the control issue”

In summary General Motors approach has been very controlled and blog centric with a presence on the social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. You will notice that except for comments the content is all created by GM, with no almost no user generated content, so in essence General Motors approach is very much one of control and reacting rather than being proactive and and positive.


Ford’s social media strategy on the other hand is one of engaging their target audience and letting them have their voice. One example that I covered in a recent post is the Ford Fiesta Project where 100 socially vibrant individuals were chosen from a competition where they had to submit a YouTube video to be chosen to drive for free a Ford Fiesta for 6 months (read my report on this at “The 7 Secrets to Ford’s Social Media Marketing Success” post). This was so successful that Scott Monty and his team are now running a second competition called “Fiesta Movement 2” Where 20 teams of agents are handing over the keys to their cities, working with the best local talent to reimagine the way Fiesta gets advertised. Winners get their own 2011 Ford Fiesta (and all the glory).

You will notice on their  multiple Social Media channels of

That there is a lot more content created by the fans of Ford (crowd sourced content) than GM’s strategy of controlled content from the GM beauracracy.

Scott Monty’s comment on a video interview at Blog World Las Vegas was on the money when he said that they do things on social media a lot different to their competitors.

Stan Joosten, innovation manger at P&G at the panel discussion at SuperNova said “Consumers are pushing companies to an interaction-based model and away from the traditional advertising model”,

The other benefit to effective crowd sourced content is that is free and much more effective and powerful than anything you as a company can achieve through telling. The trick is motivating others to tell your story and that is where the true power of social media marketing lies.

So what is the best strategy?

  • Proactive (Ford) vs Reactive  (General Motors)
  • Positive (Ford) vs Negative (General Motors)
  • Open (Ford) vs Controlled (General Motors)

What do you think?

Jeffbullas's Blog


  • Jeff — Wow. An excellent analysis here. Thanks for pointing to my stuff.

    Having met personally both Scott Monty (Ford) and Christopher Barger (GM), I can say that both companies have good people at the front end doing an excellent job.

    However, what I am seeing for the future for all companies is how they can transform social media marketing from a handful of celebrity types like Christopher and Scott who work in Detroit to a corporate culture of engagement that cuts across thousands of employees and dealers around the world. That’s the challenge for 2010 and beyond.



  • Hi Jeff. A couple of points I thought you might want to be aware of:

    1) Michael Wiley hasn’t worked for General Motors since November of 2006. He’s been at Edelman since then. So the interviews with Michael you’re citing are at least 3 1/2 years old — eternity in terms of social media evolution. I suspect that if we look at interviews from 2006 from virtually any company then involved on the social web, you’d probably see a very different strategy reflected than those they’re following today. It’s kind of like citing an interview with an ABC, NBC or CBS executive before the advent of cable networks, and then using it to criticize their performance in the YouTube/Hulu/IPTV era.

    2) I’d invite you to follow along over the next two weeks at chevysxsw.com (also found on Facebook.com/chevrolet) as eight teams from across the USA embark on a road trip competition on their way to the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival and conference in Austin TX. They’ll be completing 50 ‘amazing race’ styled challenges — challenges that were crowdsourced, as they were all submitted to either @chevrolet or to one of the eight teams’ Twitter feeds or lifetsreams — and the content that you’ll find on Chevy’s Facebook page & on ChevySXSW.com will be almost entirely submitted by these teams, not Chevrolet or GM. For the next week anyway, nearly all of the content on Chevy’s Facebook main page will be coming from audience members — not generated by Chevrolet. The fun starts tomorrow (Monday March 8).

    I realize that the image of “GM bureaucracy” is a very easy thing to fall back on for people who don’t want to like us in the first place. But comparing interviews done more than 3 years ago with people who aren’t even in our organization anymore… to things done last year by another manufacturer? That doesn’t really seem fair, does it?

    Since I have an audience-driven program taking place literally as your post appeared in my Google Alerts, I thought you might want to be aware of it and follow along. Either way, I appreciate you hearing me out. Thanks, and have a good rest of the weekend.

    Christopher Barger, Director Social Media, General Motors

    • Hi Chris. Thanks for your comment and the update on GM’s new and continuing efforts in social media. I will certainly follow along and check into the chevysxsw.com and Facebook activities over the next few weeks. It looks like it could be a lot of fun and I am sure you will be monitoring it closely and enjoying the ride! Cheers

  • And that’s exactly what we’re working on at Ford, David. 🙂

    Jeff, thanks for the astute analysis and for the kind words about Ford. We’ve still got a long way to go, but with a staunch group of brand advocates behind us, we’re well positioned to keep the momentum of focusing on great products, strong business and a better world.

    Scott Monty
    Global Digital Communications
    Ford Motor Company

  • How awesome that both Christopher and Scott both commented. Scott, will you be at SXSW? I want to get a photo with both of you for my blog. Kinda like those photos people sometimes score with more than one former US President at a time!

  • Hi Jeff,

    As always enjoyed your post, and especially as I am somewhat of a car buff!

    Just to reinforce what was said in your post, the below linked review of Ford CEO Allan Mulally from one of our bloggers @GlenGilmore from the @TheSocialCMO crew provides additional support for your premise on current status.


    Thanks again!



  • Great article. I’ve always wondered why the big three ignore classics car enthusiasts. I think supporting older car owners online, not only does this go along way to building brand loyalty, but also adds to the resale value of cars in the long run, if second owners know they can find support online.

  • Great post highlighting a key element and ingredient to achieving success with social media. The big take away for me with respect to this post is the importance and the benefit of creating social media campaigns that allow your audience, customers, clients, etc. provide the content. Of course listening closely and interacting will facilitate identifying which and what campaigns make the most sense.

    Thank you Jeff for your astute insight.

  • Hi Jeff,

    Guess I’m last in . . . for now! I do hope you’ll follow @Chevrolet and everything we’re doing at SXSW. If you’re going to be there, let me know and we can meet — David — same for you! Would be a good conversation for sure and am always interested in ideas and perspectives.

    I agree that as a company we’re not where we should be, but I’m proud of the progress we’re making each day. Our goal is to train as many employees as possible, not to mention areas within our company, to get engaged on the social web. In other words, give them permission that some feel they need to post a comment on a blog, or to send a Tweet about something we’re doing. We’re also continuing to host webchats on our http://www.gmreinvention.com website with consumers. In fact, GM NA President Mark Reuss is hosting a consumer chat on Thursday, March 11 at 1 p.m. Please join us!

    As far as the control “thing,” as a communications profession, we need to get over the fact that we can’t and shouldn’t be with every expert who comments. That wasn’t true in the old day — we’d sit in all the interviews, etc. Our employees are our most knowledgeable advocates and having them reach out, and participate in conversations is a good thing. You also may want to check out our customer service team on Twitter @GMCustomerSvc. They’re proactively monitoring conversations on our Facebook pages as well as on Twitter. There have been a few blog posts already from happy consumers.

    Thanks for our post and interest.

    Mary Henige
    Director, Social Media & Digital Communications
    General Motors

    • Hi Mary

      Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to write a comment. I look foward with interest to seeing more of GM’s efforts in the social media space and especially the latest Chevy road trip social media competition. I will not be at SXSW, which is a shame as it would have been great to catch up for a chat.

      The interest shown by my readers about how major brands are using Social Media has been surprsing and welcome and I am sure that GM’s various endeavours with social media will continue to generate a high degree of attention, especially as car brands seem to generate such emotional involvement and passion.

      I look forward to hearing more from you and the the team as this social media landscape unfolds.

      Cheers Jeff

  • rbnolan

    A nice analysis, Jeff. And thanks for linking to my blog on Ford. I have had a particular interest in the US auto companies going back a long time. It has been hard for them to “let go” and let the community drive the messaging.
    I think they are “getting” it. At least David Meerman Scott’s comments give me some hope there.
    There was a time when Ford and GM were world leaders in marketing. The lessons have to trickle down so that everybody in marketing and customer-facing jobs is involved.

  • stanleyyork

    Regardless of the specific content and opinions posted here, glad to see the open/honest conversation. As a Detroit native, looking forward to the bright future of our city and companies. Nice article, Jeff.

    Stanley Stevens

    • Pam Seaman

      A positive sharing back and forth. Thanks to all for keeping it professional and setting the example for all to follow.

  • Thanks for this analysis. And kudos to the appropriate Ford and GM social media reps for commenting. It makes the analysis more complete.

    I’ve been doing my best to explore these two campaigns (Fiesta Movement and ChevySxSW), and learn and share what I can about them. They’re both groundbreaking in their own rights. But they also seem very telling about the corporate culture behind them. From the outside, there appears to be an important, fundamental gulf between the two efforts. And it’s reflective of what the companies think of themselves… going all the way back to Henry and Louis-Joseph.

    I would consider the Ford effort crowdsourcing, and the Chevy effort curation. The Ford effort was “by the people for the people.” The Chevy effort was “by the company for the company.” Ford reached out to the crowd to find agents and to build content that was aggregated—raw—on a site. Chevy reached out to pro-bloggers to control the situation and curate content.

    The Ford effort was both riskier and more powerful (and in some respects, more destined to succeed because of those traits). The Chevy effort was far safer and therefore not nearly as far reaching, impactful, or lasting. (Though time and sales will truly tell how this tale ends.)

    Ford’s advertising efforts are reflecting the feel of this type of crowdsourced, people-focused, digital effort — focusing on the intersection of the people and the product. Chevy’s advertising still feels like it’s touting features without a personal connection in sight.

    (And before these efforts, Ford dug a hole for themselves and decided to pull themselves out whereas GM chose to climb up our backs to get out.)

    Again, I applaud both companies for the effort. I’ll be eagerly watching to see what the companies try next… and how that effects both Ford’s and Chevy’s recovery. And, again, thanks for the post.


  • It was a great analysis and take on the state of social media today. I notice that Ford has carefully placed product placement in movies and TV in the past and they followed the model of not in your face. We all remember the ridiculous product placement with Fed Ex and Tom Hanks-Castaway. Here is a great example of recent product placement-The recent episode of Entourage when the owner of the football team is walking across the field and talking on his cell, and you faintly see ATT on the scoreboard in the back. Puts the idea in people’s head. Does it bring them sales? If people subconsciously identify cool Entourage with ATT, yes (Ferrari USA). I think that product placement should be like the ATT example. If we look at the Old Spice ads by Weiden Kennedy, we see major attention to Old Spice but an actual decrease in sales or no increase, depending on who’s stats you view. There is a simple solution to that problem, but, unfortunately, neither Old Spice nor Weiden Kennedy get it. I get it and could easily solve that problem and increase sales. Again, I will stress the point, attention is worthless (almost) if it doesn’t increase sales at some point. Axe had the brilliant idea to go to 20 colleges/musicians and pay them $1,000 to give away samples and promote their product-resulting not only in fantastic branding and attention, but also an increase in sales. Great idea again, but it would never work for Old Spice. GM has an image issue that could be solved. Ford is working one angle that will bring them additional sales, but is short-term in nature. I spoke with a marketing exec from Mazda years ago and he insisted that companies that he sponsored bring a Mazda to the event and feature it. I tried to explain why he was wrong, but he refused to listen. I listened to an older recording from a genius who said one small change can me the difference in success or failure and it is recognizing that change and implementing it that will determine success.Good luck to all and let me know if you want the right answers to your marketing campaign.
    Justin Routt
    Producer/Birch Creek Films

  • Taiwo Oyewole

    I think this is brilliant Jeff. I have been trying to develop a similar approach for the financial services sector.

  • I think it is very important to do comparisons like these so that it is clear who is getting it and who is not.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s very important to make comparisons like these make it clear who is and who is not receiving.

  • Rick Skinner

    Not discussed is the money Ford spends blogging on all the Forums as internet shills. You know, Ford covert employees pretending to be bloggers!