Google subsequently made a point of saying Google+ was not ready to launch its product for businesses or organizations yet, only for individuals, and began terminating business accounts, as well as many accounts opened under a pseudonym or nickname.
But the Ford Google+ profile lived on, albeit flagged as a test account--the only officially sanctioned business account on the service.
"We have a very good working relationship with Google and have had for over a decade," Ford Social Media Director Scott Monty said in an interview. Other than that, he has no explanation of why Google picked Ford, except that it got on the service early and was quick to offer input on formulating a business product for the service.
"We saw an opportunity for Google+, as it was being created, to be used for some of our purposes for our corporate social activities. We'd seen the rise of Facebook, and how Facebook eventually made brand pages available to companies. So we set up a preliminary profile, knowing there would be some sort of play for businesses eventually. The Google+ development team is working very closely with us, and we with them, as we're helping fine-tune just what it is that business accounts have that's different from personal accounts on Google+," Monty said.
Currently, except for being labeled a company account, the Ford profile really is no different from a personal profile, Monty said. Ford took advantage of it to host a Hangout, or group video chat as part of an event on marketing to the millennial generation it hosted Tuesday and has been experimenting with other ways of engaging the Google+ community, he said.
However, operating a business presence on the service through a personal profile is actually fairly awkward for a big brand. Google will presumably provide good analytics for brand pages eventually, along the same lines as Facebook Insights but they are not there yet--and analytics are at the top of Monty's wish list. Meanwhile, the Google+ Circles model for organizing contacts has potential as a way for a brand to segment its audience, but keeping up with the influx of new contacts can become a big job for individuals with big fan bases. It becomes virtually impossible for a major brand to address manually, Monty said.
"Fans know their tastes better than we do, so some sort of reverse engineer of Circles, where fans can self-select the Circles they want to be in, would be interesting to us," Monty said.
Still, Ford has secured a beachhead that allows it to experiment, learning what sort of content plays best on Google+ compared with other social networks. "We're finding there's a bit more of a cerebral crowd on Google+," Monty said. "It seems to be different from Facebook. On Facebook, we get lots of engagement and interaction when we post some interesting photos--they could be of a historic nature, or a first look at a new car. Or, when we ask people open-ended questions like, 'What was your first Ford?'
"On Google+, users seem to be much more interested in interaction with the people behind Ford, the designers and engineers. People are really interested having some interaction with them on Google+," Monty said. While it doesn't yet represent as much of a mass market as other services in this trial phase, Google+ is populated by "influentials and early adopters and technology enthusiasts" Ford is interested in connecting with, he said.
"The fact that this is a Google project means there is some weight behind it, which is important to us," Monty said. "Think of how much Google is wrapped up with the rest of the Web, with search and analytics, email and blogging, et cetera." Despite that, Ford was never tempted to dive into Google's previous attempt at a social network, Google Buzz, in the same way, he said. "Buzz seemed to be just kind of wrapped up as an extension to email. It seemed limited. We see Google+ providing the best of Twitter and Facebook, with the ability to share photos and videos in a very up front, transparent way." Google+ also provides "a fundamentally different way of sharing information than Facebook, and we think the discoverability factor is higher," he said.
Social media participation in general doesn't necessarily have a direct impact on selling cars, but it can drive awareness and positive impressions of the Ford brand that will ultimately make people more interested in buying one of its cars, Monty said.
"This is about awareness and perception and helping to improve our company's reputation--and I think Google+ is helping us do all of those," Monty said. "The fact that Ford Motor Company is partnered with Google is pretty significant. It takes Ford out of being an automotive company to being a technology company, and it associates the brand something cool and something cutting edge."
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