Social media experts and PR

I’ve just read Jalopnik‘s post: Scott Monty: Ford Social Media “Expert” A Bit Of A Twit – which contains a great point in relation to Monty’s role:

But at the end of the day, Ford will have to ask itself — did that money spent sell any more cars? Our best guess is no — but maybe a couple more PR people doing real work might.

I believe that PR people can be using social media to do “real work”, but the interesting thing about the “social media expert” route that Ford took is that it is fronted by one individual, who has certainly connected with the SM fraternity, but has he connected with the Ford brand and its publics?

Scott Monty doesn’t have robust understanding of the automotive industry and its history – which can be useful, but is also dangerous when some of the things he says come over as naive to those who are informed.  I’ve also found him rather marketing-puffy in his posts – but put that down to a cultural difference in style.

The heart of automotive PR has always been about building relationships – whether with traditional owners clubs or specialist motoring media – and this is predicated on a genuine love and understanding of companies and their vehicles; with historical context a key element.

So it isn’t surprising to see the specialist automotive media – even online – not engaging with Scott Monty.  They have relationships with the PR team at Ford – and they’re not convinced that Monty does.

Media Bistro has some debate on this point, with Scott Monty fans arguing his corner.  David Armano at AdAge picks up on the interface of the personal and corporate online presence.  To a large extent this has always been a potential issue for PR practitioners in industries such as automotive as the media know you are representing one company and for many in PR, their career path has involved brand switching.

But it is different online.  How would Monty disconnect himself from his Ford online presence if he decides to move on – which he undoubtedly will at some point. Can he readily untie the legacy and leave something meaningful to the company. 

Having personality for the brand is important, but Monty isn’t Bill and his last name ain’t Ford.  I’d prefer to see other faces from Ford having engaged in social media – there are great engineers and designers, for example, who are the guys who really will sell cars and ensure a future for the company.

As with certain blogger outreach initiatives there is still debate (see recent posts by Mack Collier and Jenn Mattern) over the value of focusing on “influencers” in social media rather than those who actually connect with real stakeholders, be they of beer or car companies.

It is currently relatively easy to build a reputation in social media for being in social media, but I think that converting online chatter into return on investment in respect of reputation, sales or stakeholder satisfaction should be the true measure of social media PR.

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9 thoughts on “Social media experts and PR

  1. Thought you might be interested to know that Scott Monty was selected as a keynote speaker at mesh09: http://www.meshconference.com/scott-monty/ (His bio is fairly extensive, but doesn’t appear to include any in the automotive realm.)

    I also noticed, though, that the mesh conference (in its fourth offering) no longer includes “public relations” in its list of Who Should Attend and Why. Now the four identified groups are: Marketers, Media, :Entrepreneurs and Citizens: http://www.meshconference.com/

  2. Thanks Judy – also interesting to see that Scott is mainly presented as marketing here. It seemed in the Jalopnik criticism that they’ve been told Scott has a pretty impressive salary – can only imagine that comes from within the PR fraternity at Ford. Again, another danger of bringing in an outsider. I recall something similar happening in the UK when the head of a car company’s PR function came in from outside and never won over the automotive media.

  3. Great article.

    I love the point you made at the end. You really need to be able to find a way to measure your social media effectiveness as a PR firm. If you cannot do this, you will not be able to see whether or not your social media campaign is effective.

    -Timothy

  4. Heather,
    I agree more in the company should be on social media. Just as Zappos does. People may not relate to Scott, but they may be more like one of their other employees. It also makes your social media efforts contain so much more mass and influence, just by having strength in numbers.

    I think the problem is still that companies are scared that employees will give the wrong message, however for a lot of companies that message may be no message if they don’t get in shape considering the economy. I think that all comes down to making social media more like a process for employees not directly involved in PR/Marketing/Sales/Social Media. Make it a no brainer, how to respond. What’s it going to hurt if an employee sees something negative and says “Hey, I work for company xyz and saw you were having some trouble. Email or call me @ blah blah blah and I’ll get you to the right person to get it taken care of”. Instead of that comment hanging out on some blog or message board for days tarnishing the reputation of your company and potentially sending your company in a death spiral straight into the ground.

  5. Thanks – I wonder if your two points aren’t related though. Social media can perhaps be of real value to organisations once it becomes more mainstream as a communications route rather than being seen as a marketing tool for campaigns. Do organisations have to prove the value of other communications such as the telephone or email (or even snail mail)? As marketing tools, yes, but they are now seen as essential parts of business, particularly for most employees. So is the answer as David implies that if more employees were simply communicating using social media, then it would benefit the organisation?

    Or is the reverse the case and we need to review the other means of communication and ensure they also are delivering value in these tougher economic times? What does each email or phone call actually deliver?

  6. Having done a fair bit of auto PR in t’UK Heather, “those who actually connect…” (take it you mean ‘real’ PRs?) often develop their media stakeholder relationships with booze, junkets and ritzy meals; not sure about total purity of that system. And why separate out ‘Soc Med experts’ and PRs? SocMed doesnt live in splendid Comms isolation, but is an associated s/holder forum that PRs need to understand and interact with. As for anyWeb2.0guru career/client switch…I’d hate to be a SocMed ‘expert’ without core Comms skills; its these skills that add longevity to your career, not ability to ken yer way round a tweetdeck or upload a podcast. Good thought provoker though Hetha! Gerry McCusker

  7. Gerry – By “those who actually connect with real stakeholders”, I was referring to journalists, bloggers and others who may influence customers, employees, etc.

    I distinguish between the online social media that is connected to relevant stakeholders and those who seem to simply talk to other social media folk. Scott Monty seems to be a poster boy for the SM for SM world rather than with the automotive social media.

    I agree entirely that PRs need to understand and interact with SM – and part of Jalopnik’s criticism of Scott Monty was that he wasn’t doing this sufficiently for Ford.

    I do think a lot of the social media fraternity does seem to be in splendid comms isolation and not connected outside its own bubble.

    Also, I wouldn’t disagree that too much traditional PR in the motor industry has been developed using old-fashioned “social” means. What we’re seeing with the current economic climate is less of the fancy four star hotels, which those who actually care about journalism and PR will see as a benefit.

    I suppose what I’d prefer to see is that companies recognise the value of engaging using traditional and social media in an integrated way, rather than employing an SM expert who acts in isolation from the rest of the organisation.

  8. Heather, to your comment above– I’d argue that organizations that adopt SM early are far better off than those who wait around for its effectiveness to be proved. And to your point, I see it as far more effective as a communications, rather than a marketing, tool, if not only for the analytics it provides. There’s something very impressive about an organization that responds to criticism on Twitter, for example, just minutes after it’s been posted.

    Your make THE point, though– was Monty (who I admittedly know little about) pulling a Brogan by failing to focus on a target audience?

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