With Tumblr registering its 100 millionth blog in March and WordPress reporting nearly 64 million sites worldwide, bloggers are gaining the type of influence traditionally controlled by television, radio, and print outlets. Recognizing that bloggers have the power to influence consumers’ buying decisions, brands such as Ford Motor Company are developing initiatives to provide them with information and experiences.
Scott Monty began developing Ford’s blogger outreach strategy after joining the company in 2008 as global head of social media. Based on the company’s brand campaign at the time, which was focused on the pillars of quality, green, safe, and smart, Monty identified people writing on those topics. His list varied from eco-focused bloggers to so-called “mommy-bloggers” who likely would be interested in the safety angle. “These are verticals that aren’t used to hearing from automotive companies,” Monty said. “We wanted these individuals to write about their experience with Ford in a way that was relevant to their users, not to simply write a traditional automotive-type piece. So we trusted it to each one of the members of these verticals to tell us what was relevant to them, and we then tried to create experiences for them that were unique and different and ultimately give them the tools and assets to write about us if they were so driven to.”
The experiences take on different forms, from small events targeting regional bloggers to invitations to join Ford at some of the nation’s largest auto shows. At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, Ford hosted 150 bloggers from 15 countries and five continents. “Typically what we try to do is dominate the news while we are there. We had 150 folks and commanded about 60 percent of the share of voice coming out of the show, which, considering all the other announcements, is fairly significant,” Monty said.
Ford has also created an annual conference aimed at strengthening its relationship with bloggers. This summer will be the third year for the “Further With Ford” event, with nearly 200 bloggers traveling to the company’s Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters compliments of the company for two and a half days of programming. The conference offers participants a mix of information about Ford vehicles and also broader topics from diverse speakers such as author Malcolm Gladwell and actor Adrian Grenier. “It’s an almost TED-like conference,” Monty said. “Rather than the old style of 'come listen to our spiel about our new product lineup,' this is really designed to be more of a thought-leadership conference. We bring in third-party experts to talk about things that affect the world, not that just affect Ford.” The event evolves each year and has shifted from a traditional press event with a fixed schedule to a conference-style approach that allows bloggers to choose their sessions.
Next month, Ford will launch what Monty calls an “influencer relationship management system” to track and document what bloggers are experiencing and saying about the company, with the ultimate goal of providing more relevant content for them.
“It’s more than just pitching them with a press release, or a story idea,“ he said. “It’s really about developing relationships with them over time.”