I don’t know what you’re into, but I’m into cars. Muscle cars, to be specific. Dodge Challengers, Chevy Camaros, Ford Mustangs—any vehicle with some power under the hood really gets my attention.
— Kerry O’Shea Gorgone (@KerryGorgone) January 12, 2016
Little did I know that luncheon would be the start of a partnership that would last for several years, and take me places I never imagined I’d go (like Dearborn, Michigan).
For 2015 and 2016, Ford Motor Company invited me (and more than 100 other “digital influencers”) to Detroit to attend the North American International Auto Show (“NAIAS”), the premier show for car enthusiasts and automotive industry insiders.
For three days, our group got access to Ford’s “Behind the Blue Oval” area at NAIAS, primo seats at Ford press conferences, and special events that brought us behind the scenes at Ford, like the Rouge Factory tour.
You might be wondering what the return on marketing investment is for something like this, and it’s a smart question.
First, let’s talk reach. During the event, Ford racked up thousands of social media mentions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, etc., and the Twitter coverage alone reached millions of followers.
By inviting a diverse group of influencers, Ford managed to dominate in terms of event coverage. They invite not just auto industry journalists, but parenting bloggers, Periscope personalities, social savvy businesspeople, and car enthusiasts.
And beyond NAIAS, Ford keeps in touch with influencers throughout the year, hosting regional events, like “Quality Time with Ford” at the Aveda Institute Orlando (manicures were involved). Ford also gave attendees tickets to the Central Florida International Auto Show so we could see Ford’s new line of cars up close and personal.
“These are relationships that we maintain all year long,” says Ramsay. “Whether that’s ‘Driving Skills for Life’ or Ford’s Smart Mobility Tour that we did this last summer, there are all kinds of different touch points that we have with our influencers that I think have been profoundly successful for us.” (Check out the full interview I conducted with JT. for MarketingProfs for more about Ford’s approach to influencer marketing and content.)
As a result, Ford maintains buzz about the brand and its line of cars throughout the year, with bloggers posting across social media and on their own sites. For example, check out Lynette Young’s post on Go Further With Ford, and Bess Auer’s post on lessons other brands can learn from the way Ford involves online influencers.
But does it sell cars? Probably some, although it’s difficult to know how many.
“Attribution is tricky,” acknowledges Ramsay. “However, I think that with some of our influencers they’ll even tell us, ‘I went to this event, I told a friend, and that friend bought a Ford.”
For what it’s worth, my last three cars have been Fords, and when I’m in the market for another, I’m very likely to choose a C-Max after my experience driving one for several months. (And that’s worth about $30,000!)
Here are some tips for nurturing influencer relationships (and measuring the contribution these bloggers and social media stars bring to your bottom line):
Don’t forget your influencers in between major events.
As Ramsay observes, “[Ford is] working very closely with our regional teams to keep in touch, and not simply parachute in for a national event or two per year.
”Those smaller events might seem insignificant, but they deepen your relationship with your influencers and keep a baseline of buzz going all year long.
Know what you want out of the influencer relationship.
Engaging digital influencers is a smart way to amplify your reach, but is that where your aspirations end? It shouldn’t be! Give influencers personalized links to landing pages, so you know exactly where your traffic came from. Give them discount codes so you know when people convert because they’ve come across an influencer’s content.
Give them direction in terms of what you’re hoping to achieve: what product lines you’re interested in promoting, what upcoming events you’d like people to attend, what corporate charity initiatives you want people to know about.
If you want influencers to share your story about sustainability (like Ford’s “Farm to Car” initiative) or charitable giving (like how Mullinax Ford dealerships in Central Florida give all employees $250 per year to contribute to any charitable organization they like), you have to tell them so.
Otherwise, influencers will do their best to promote your brand, but might miss the points you’re trying to emphasize. This ties into the next tip.
Give influencers the information they need to share your brand story.
Influencers appreciate gaining an insider’s view of your brand (if they’re truly passionate about what you do), and they’ll want to help you get our brand message out. That’s easier to do if you give them event press kits and real-time press releases as you hold conferences and make announcements.
Remember to build relationships with each individual influencer, not “digital influencers” as a group.In between group events for area influencers, occasionally reach out to individual influencers when you have something going on you know would interest them in particular.
For example, before driving the C-Max, I had expressed interest in hybrid vehicles, so after my successful experience with that car, Ford gave me the chance to test drive a Fusion hybrid. They asked only that I provide them feedback about how the two vehicles compared.
This kind of personalized outreach ensures that influencers feel like partners, rather than shills—a critical difference to people who love your brand, but don’t post product reviews for a living.
Finally, choose your influencers carefully.
You want people who are passionate about your brand (or at least your industry), and who will represent you in a professional manner.
The last thing you want as a brand is to have someone stand up and poke his head out of the sunroof of your roped-off prototype vehicle, then wave away show staff while saying “it’s okay, I’m an influencer.”
I’m a muscle car girl, but I’m also a marketing industry professional—nice fit for an auto brand!
Which brings us full circle: muscle car girl makes friends with Ford, gets to attend NAIAS and see the sexy cars.
Who will your brand’s best friends be?
A photo posted by Kerry O’Shea Gorgone (@kerrygorgone) on