Case Study: Social Media Guidelines

Ten years ago, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube hadn’t yet been invented, and blogging was just beginning to gain popularity. Today, these and other social media outlets are ubiquitous in the daily lives of millions around the world, and are credited with everything from reconnecting long-lost friends to helping bring down dictators.

At Ford, we’ve worked to harness the power of social media to communicate better with our customers. A number of our recent product launches, for example, have utilized innovative social media campaigns. (See the Economy section for more on these.) And some of our employees – such as Sue Cischke, Ford’s Group Vice President for Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering – publish blog posts periodically to reach out to consumers.

Of course, our employees are also using social media in less-official ways. They may be active on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn or YouTube; have a personal blog; or take part in online discussion forums on topics of interest to them. Through all of these media, they may participate in discussions on issues related to Ford – perhaps about a particular vehicle or technology, or about aspects of their jobs.

Traditionally, companies like Ford have communicated to the public more formally with messages from the marketing or advertising departments. Having employees involved in social media is a much more open, personal and un-edited approach, which offers both risks and rewards. The risks are that employees will misrepresent the Company or its products, reveal confidential competitive information or behave in a way that is contrary to the firm’s corporate values. The rewards, however, are that customers gain a more personal, “insider” view of the Company and ultimately feel more connected and loyal to it.

To help ensure that we minimize the risks and maximize the potential rewards, we have developed a set of “digital participation guidelines” for our employees. A version of the guidelines is available publicly. We also use online training to educate our nonmanufacturing workforce on the guidelines and how they affect their use of social media.

Completed in 2010, the guidelines encourage employees to use social media in a responsible way. They advise employees to be mindful that online communications require the same kind of ethical behavior and honesty that we expect in other external communications.

Specifically, the guidelines emphasize several key points. For example, if a discussion relates to Ford or the automotive industry, employees are expected to be honest about the fact they work for Ford. At the same time, employees need to make clear their opinions are their own and they are not official spokespeople for the Company. Conversations should remain respectful and in good taste, just as would be expected in any other medium. Employees should use good judgment in not revealing confidential Company information, including financial information. And finally, employees should always remember that whatever they say or write is there for all to see, permanently.

With these guidelines in place, we feel confident that our employees’ online interactions will represent us well, and will only help to strengthen our already positive reputation and deepen our connections with customers.