Big brands in social media: Ford and Southwest Airlines

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There are many examples of big brands in social media (in fact you can find a whole range across different industries in our online community examples), but at the Marketing 2.0 conference in Paris it was great to hear some real case studies from the people behind these strategies and campaigns.

Two presentations that particularly stood out were from Scott Monty at Ford and Paula Berg from Southwest Airlines. Both have a strong history of customer engagement and have been, to some extent, pioneers in their use of social media and online communities. And both of their presentations were refreshing in terms of the information they shared. For me, four core themes came from what they said:

  1. It’s about people not firms - social media is about people engaging with people, and firms that want to engage with them all also need a personal touch. You should put faces on the individual people who make up your brand and let people see and engage with them. Of course, from the brand’s perspective it is best to do this is a way that is sustainable even when the individuals leave the firm.
  2. Make things public - social media is a about sharing and it provides a real platform for firms to share their knowledge and information. In fact, Scott Monty told us that Ford, as part of its social media strategy, shared with the public anything that used to appear on its intranet that was not commercially sensitive. This seems to be a great approach - social media and online communities are about openness and honesty. Brands who are open and honest will be most successful.
  3. Connect with people where they are already - don’t make it difficult for people to find and connect with your brand. Rather provide them a route, a way to connect with you. As Scott Monty said “every obstacle we put in the way closes a distribution channel”. The best examples of social media marketing, and the best online communities also engage people where they are - be that on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or blogs. They engage them and then provide an easy route for them to engagement.
  4. Provide a place for people to go to - whilst engaging people where they are is important, you need to provide something for them to do once you have engaged them and the best examples of big brands in social media provide a place for these people to go to. An online community, web site or other activity that you drive people to where they can really engage with you on a site that you provide and where you benefit from the engagement as much as the consumer does.

Read all of our posts based on the Marketing 2.0 Conference here.

  • Social Media Marketing: Time Trap or Opportunity Magnet? New Study Reveals the Answers (
  • Big brands on Twitter (
  • Innovators in Social Media (
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Examples of online communities in the automotive industry

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People are always asking us for great examples of online communities in their particular industry, so we thought we’d start a series of great examples from different industries: Online Community Examples. Each Monday we’ll be taking a particular industry and giving three short case studies of online communities, whether for marketing, customer engagement, market research or other reasons. Today we start with the automotive industry.

Online communities in the automotive industry

The Automotive industry is a great candidate for social media and online communities in particular. The product is one that people are passionate about, either because it is an aspirational purchase, or because it fulfils a very important and functional role in their lives. People very often have strong allegiances to particular brands and may choose to always purchase, for example, a Ford or a Renault.

In this kind of market the best examples of online communities are those which build on and strengthen the strong consumer-brand link, or those which leverage the passion and involvement to help support the brand. The three examples below show how this can work. Feel free to add your comments of other examples you know of in this industry.

Harley-Davidson Museum Blog

The Harley-Davidson Museum Blog shows how brands in the automotive industry can capitalise upon the strong connection consumers feel both to the brand and to its heritage. The blog provides a way for Harley-Davidson to involve people in the brand, keep people up-to-date on what’s happening, share knowledge and content about the brand, interact with consumers and fans through the blog and comments. It’s a good example of where social media and online communities can really add value to an experience:

Before this blog existed, people would have to visit the physical museum, or get in touch with the brand direct to learn in this way. Now people all over the world can learn and even interact if they want. Whilst there are many fan sites out there, this has the benefit of coming from the brand itself. This not only lends it a level of credibility but also, and perhaps more importantly, means that they have information and data to share that others won’t.

This is a great example of engaging a passionate consumer base (and indeed a fan base), and the blog is a great way to share information and knowledge. It would be good to see more community and sharing elements included in the site - an ‘Ask Harley-Davidson’ discussion area would, I’m sure, be really popular.

Mini Insider

The Mini Insider online community is a fantastic example of amplifying word of mouth. The community was originally set up to work in tandem with an offline advertising campaign but has since grown in both numbers of people engaged and the ways in which it is used. It’s reported that 75% of Mini owners in the USA are now a member of the community, providing a rich resource of advocacy and of information. Not only do most members of the community stay loyal to the brand and buy another Mini, but it’s claimed that about half of all sales leads are actually generated by the site.

A resource like this is a great way of decreasing your conversion costs. Getting existing owners to talk about and showcase their own Minis helps those who are new to the brand to understand what they could have and what they might want to buy. We know that people trust peers more than a marketing message and so the Mini Insiders online community can be a much more powerful conversion tool than other sales and marketing routes. And when compared to face-to-face advice or sales, the online community is significantly cheaper.


GM’s GMnext community is an interesting example of using the brand and the consumer’s relationship with it to talk about another issue. The site brings together people from senior GM exectuives (up to and including Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner), front-line employees, and retirees as well as consumers. They are encouraging conversations in five areas: vehicle design, current and emerging technologies, the environment, ideas and global corporate social responsibility. For GM, these are the areas that they think will drive the future of the automotive industry and they want to be part of (and perhaps own) the debate in these areas.

This is a good example of brands using their position in an industry to discuss issues amongst themselves and with their consumers in a very public arena. This can be a great way to position yourself as both being at the forefront of your industry, and also of being an innovative and responsive communicator. Using internal expertise and seeking external commentators is what many brands probably want to do, and online communities make it really easy for them to do it.

See all our Online Community Examples

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