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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.

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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?

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