Earlier this week I drove home my new Ford Flex. It is our official family vehicle and something that we've been thinking about for the past year since we were leasing out last car and knew we'd have to replace it this fall. I am not a "car guy" and at the end of the day want something that meets my needs, looks good and is a solid safe car. I even tried to put out feelers last November and the only company I heard from was Ford. Plaza Trailer Inn, Oct 21, 2008Now, I feel I should point out that my close friend Scott Monty works for Ford so it didn't surprise me that he replied when I put out feelers and anytime I had a question about Ford, I knew I could go to him. I go to him as a friend, but the great thing is that I know that complete strangers can also go to him and get the answers to their questions. I love that.

But, anyone who thinks that I bought the car because of Scott and all the great social media work that Ford is doing is delusional. No matter how good your social media program is I am not going to drop $40,000+ on anything based on just those efforts alone.

I'm writing about this because I want all the consultants, agencies and brands to realize that having an active and useful communications program that leverages the online space is a crucial part of every business today, but it can't be what you balance your bottom line and future success of your company on. If you do, you can bet you won't be in business for long.

I remember the first time I saw the Ford Flex, I hated it. Scott picked me up at the airport in Arizona when we were both speaking at a conference there. I thought it was a boxie thing with a dumb white roof (I don't get why people like this) and it felt like Ford was trying too hard. I mean if you haven't seen the commercials or print ads for the car they were always at night, trying way to hard to make it feel like a hipster mobile. I rode in them at various conferences that Ford had a presence at and I liked the roominess but it never clicked for me.

We needed a car that could hold our two kids, our dog and luggage. We based it all on being able to fit everything needed for a weekend trip to New Hampshire to visit our parents. If it couldn't handle that then we didn't want it. Originally I wanted (and still would like) a hybrid car, but the options in this size are extremely limited so at the end the final consideration was that it needed a third row so we could fit some of the kid's friends as well.

I have zero brand loyalty when it comes to cars. I shouldn't say that. The first car I ever bought new was a Saturn SC2 and I had nothing but an awesome experience with them. I wanted to buy a Saturn this time around, but actually found their one option was not big enough for us and now that the brand is going away it really wasn't an option. They understood how to sell a car and keep a customer happy.

One thing that I always loved about Saturn was how they would allow for extended test drives. I remember them giving us the car and telling us to bring it back before closing and we went off and spent the day in it. That was the only way I knew I loved it.

Our Cabin & Ford FlexIn Orlando this summer we were given a Flex on an extended test drive so that we could try it out with the kids for longer then a spin around the block. We took it to the grocery store, ran errands and used it for a few days for everything we did. Both Laura and I drove it and got a feel for it. The kids got to experience it as well and tell us what they loved and hated about it. We really got a full opinion of the car that we would not have any other way. At the end of that we both were thinking that it would be a great car for us.

Now, I don't know if this is something that Ford usually does or if it was something unique because of my friendship with Scott and the company. I personally think this is something that every car company should consider. Yes, it can't be done for every single shopper, but if the situation is right and the manager feels it is OK, then dealers should be empowered to allow for longer test drives then what is normal. All car company should consider this.

At the end of this summer we went out and tried out all the other cars that were in the running for us. There actually weren't that many options based on what we wanted in the size and price range we were aiming for. It seems that car companies only want to sell you a mammoth SUV if you are in the market I was. At the end of it all as we sat down to talk all the options over we ended up going with the Flex.

I'm laying this all out because as you can see Ford was very active with us and that helped us form our opinion. But, at the end of the day if the car hadn't met our needs all of this extra good will wouldn't have mattered when it came time to purchase. You can give me a good feeling and that might make me buy your CD, stay at your hotel or fly your airline, but it is not going to make me lay down a lot of money for something as large as an automobile. Safety, function, price and quality come first and foremost.

As you set out to begin using social media, I hope you realize that what it can and can't do for you. I hope that whatever agency you are working with or consultant you've hired to make this a reality,  knows what they are talking about and are not just selling you a bill of goods and promises that twelve months from now you are going to be upset about.

The New CarYou need to be listening, responding, outreaching, engaging and always being helpful. This isn't an option anymore for you if you want to be a successful business. But, even with all that, it still and always will boil down to having a good product first.

One final thought for you, is that no matter how much good will you build up, it only takes a single employee to ruin it all and put you back to square one. The dealer I bought my car through almost made me call the whole deal off just on the actions of a single phone call. I almost canceled my order, after waiting weeks for the car to arrive, and went to purchase it from a different dealer. I most likely will not recommend to my friends that they go to this dealer if they are looking for a car.We live in an always on society now and this means every one of your employees must realize what their actions can cause.

I'd write more, but I haven't even gone for a drive with my whole family yet as I've been traveling for business and I've got to go do that!

Be smart about social media and don't think it is going to do more for you then it is. Alone, it won't do you much good. Integrated with good products, smart campaigns and a solid business strategy it can work wonders.

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