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Ford Seeks Social Business Strategy

Ford Motor Co. is a pioneer in social media marketing and a proponent of enterprise social networking. But its plan for a unified social business strategy is still a work in progress.

"He basically said, I need something to bring this technology together and that technology together, and I don't know where to start," recalled IT architect Ed Krebs, part of an advanced technologies group that oversees the Yammer implementation. Within a week, one of the participants to that discussion -- from an IT group that normally didn't work with marketing -- was able to show Monty a prototype he had built in his spare time, which evolved into a mashup with Bing Maps. The social conversation cut short what could have been a months-long process of gathering requirements for a traditional IT project, while also avoiding the expense of hiring outside developers, Krebs said.

Ed Krebs

Ford employees have lots of other collaboration tools available, Krebs said (one coworker told him: "If you give me one more productivity tool, I won't be able to do my job"). But social networking within the company is something different. "It's much more cross-organizational as a way of identifying issues and allows people who otherwise might not have been engaged to bring in new solutions," he said.

While the Yammer network has racked up success stories, Krebs said it is "right now only semi-active," partly because IT is in the midst of evaluating whether it is the right long term solution. "We don't want to go whole hog until we know we're on the right product."

One hesitation: Yammer's lack of support for standards like OpenSocial, a method of application embedding that's so far been embraced most enthusiastically by Jive Software and IBM. Krebs team has been running some experiments on Shindig, an open source implementation of the OpenSocial specifications. Krebs thinks the real success of OpenSocial will come when it is pervasive -- for example, with engineers able to carry on social conversations from within the context of a computer-aided design (CAD) tool.

While it doesn't support OpenSocial, Yammer is promoting an alternate Enterprise Graph approach to social application integration, based on extensions to Facebook's Open Graph. Krebs said he considers that a more proprietary approach and in any case decided it was more appropriate to do some initial experiments on Shindig than to "get wrapped up in Yammer's weekly releases."

Because he works in an advanced technology branch of the IT organization, "I always have three or four things running back in the lab," Krebs said. In the end, Yammer "might or might not be a winner, but we didn't want to do was have 50 people on Yammer, 50 people on Socialcast, maybe 50 people on some other tool. We thought it was more important to get critical mass than it was to do tools selection" at this stage of the game, he said.

"Whether or not we stay with Yammer as a platform, the behavior is already ingrained," Monty agreed.

Meanwhile, Ford is thinking through ways to get its employees engaged in social communication not only internally but with the rest of the world. Through its @Ford Online the company publishes content such as news items that employees are encouraged to share with friends and relatives as they see fit.

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