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Ford Hosts Google+ Hangout Chat On Millennials

Ford uses its unusual position as one of the first business brands on Google+ as part of seminar on marketing to the millennial generation.

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Ford took advantage of its privileged position as the first officially sanctioned brand on Google+ to incorporate a hangout video chat into a seminar on marketing to millennials it hosted Tuesday.

The Ford business profile on Google+ is a test page Google has allowed at a time it has been insisting that the service is not ready for Google profiles and business users yet. When Google+ first launched, many businesses that wanted a presence simply entered some version of the company name into the first name and last name fields of the signup form for personal accounts. Google subsequently and abruptly evicted those business users in late July, saying it wanted to create a different type of profile for business accounts. Ford emerged as the sole survivor, with permission to stick around and make suggestions for what the business experience on Google+ ought to look like.

So when Ford convened a panel discussion in New York Tuesday to discuss "Cracking the Code on Millennials," it included video piped in from a Google+ hangout, which is what Google calls video chats on the service. One of the video chat "participants" was the Ford Google+ profile used to capture that video feed, and another was Ford Social Media Director Scott Monty.

In an interview, Monty said Ford had previously used the hangouts features for "some limited events, just talking with fans" but always intended to figure out how they could be used for "more publicly oriented events." Access to the hangout itself was limited to a list of invited participants, but the event was also live streamed through livestream.com.

The panel discussion itself was led by Sheryl Connelly, manager of global trends and "futuring" at Ford, with participation from Brian McClary, digital and emerging marketing manager at Ford, Andi Poch, senior vice president at Alloy Digital, and Christina Warren, an entertainment and technology writer at Mashable. Google+ wasn't a major topic of discussion, even though the hangout participants were projected on a wall-size screen throughout the discussion in New York.

Instead, the focus was on decoding the personality of the millennial generation now entering the workforce and the consumer market. "The millennial market is really a big question mark for us at this point," Connelly said. As a car maker, Ford has to be concerned that this generation seems to value the mobile phone as a status symbol far above the automobile, she said.

McClary, who works on social media advertising as well as promotional vehicles like games built around Ford products, said the need to connect with members of a generation that tends to be skeptical of traditional advertising has driven Ford to try some edgy things, like online campaigns for the Ford Focus built around zombies or a sock puppet named Doug who goes around saving lives. Offline, Ford has also hosted a social gathering at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo where it showcased some of the Ford SYNC connectivity features in its vehicles.

"A lot of people were nervous about this, and justifiably so," McClary said, but the offbeat ads "got people thinking about the Focus entirely differently." One goal of the ads was to communicate that the new Focus was a sportier, more stylish vehicle than the one it originally introduced in the early 2000s, he said.

As Monty commented from the video screen, half the battle these days is just getting people's attention. "We're living in a 140-character world, like it or not," he said.

Humor is also one of the most effective elements you can build into an online promotion, Poch noted, because "if a millennial likes that content, they will share it."

Millennial consumers know when they're being marketed to, but they don't care if the content is fun, Warren said. "If you can get this 'you've got to see this' factor I think that's the best thing you can do with advertising."

Attend Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara, Nov. 14-17, 2011, and learn how to drive business value with collaboration, with an emphasis on how real customers are using social software to enable more productive workforces and to be more responsive and engaged with customers and business partners. Register today and save 30% off conference passes, or get a free expo pass with priority code CPHCES02. Find out more and register.

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