August 28, 2011

Ford Has My Back

I Want Their Voice.

Back in May, Ford reached to out some members of the Diabetes Online Community asking them to participate in an online chat about research to connect CGM data into their SYNC® system. I was not one of the folks their PR contractor emailed. (I assume that shows good judgement on their part.) Too bad for them, a friend shared their email with me and I got myself invited into the chat.

Who would think I would butt my way into a conversation? (OK anyone who has ever met me would think that.)

They were very nice about my butting in.

You can read the story about Ford’s research and see the chat transcript here.

Many of us who participated, myself included, came away with the impression that Ford didn’t “get it” when it comes to diabetes and diabetes social media in particular. I know I felt that the chat was a vehicle for Ford to generate positive PR about addressing diabetes health concerns with out actually doing any actual addressing.

They seemed to be ignorant of basic realities managing diabetes. I found this comment particularly difficult to take, “Our plan is to go with open standards, so we align with the healthcare industry.” As a self appointed leader of the where are the data standards for diabetes committee, I know there are no industry standards open or otherwise.

I and others worried that Ford’s PR efforts would create a bunch of stories that will be seen by people who don’t live with diabetes. Those folks will have a positive impression of Ford marketing something useful to diabetics. The reality is there is no real product, only slickly packaged remote possibilities. These false impressions could add to the existing list of multitude of misconceptions about living with diabetes. I can just imagine comments, “It must be so easy now that your car monitors your blood and tells you what to do to manage your diabetes.”

Given the way Bloomberg picked up and spun the story, the fear that Ford was in it for the buzz seemed to have merit. They wrote of Ford seeing a sales surge from such devices.

Ford’s folks were kind enough to maintain a follow up conversation with me on twitter. That lead to a phone call with the research and PR team working on the project. That call cleared up some of the questions I had about the research. Ford tried to clarify their communication approach too.

From a research perspective, this project is the investigation of possibilities that they know are way down the road. There is no product expected any time soon. They do have to start someplace and this is that start. I appreciated the candor that said that with.

Given that this research is not likely to provide actual capability in a Ford anytime soon, I questioned a communications strategy that seems to position this as more of a coming attraction than candidly remote possibility. Ford’s communication person strongly objected. He insisted that Ford’s communication made it clear this was research. In all fairness, technically, it does.

Still, Ford’s PR efforts created a number of articles in a variety of media outlets about SYNC® and health. As the whisper down the lane process evolved the far far away research aspect kind wore off. The result appears to be a vehicle for Ford to generate positive PR about addressing health concerns with out actually doing it. At least until an undefined remote future.

The last thing diabetes needs is media now about a remote undefined future. That where a a lot of better living with diabetes and even the cure lives - the undefined future. The place is crowded.

To me this raises an interesting question about how business use of social media. Many experts say the first rule for businesses using social media is to listen. There’s even books about it.

I think Ford could stand to be seen listening a little more attentively on this. Ford reached out to diabetes social media writers with a story to tell. I am not aware of them listening or joining into conversations before hand. The came in with an ad campaign and a call to support it.

The result was that in the #DSMA chat at the time, Fords PR efforts around the SYMC/CGM connection was called a “Gimmick.” Another participant said “Ford's In-Dash CGM” would be a used by, “Slime Salesman (to push a) ‘diabetic upgrade.’”

About the same time as Ford’s CGM SYNC® press releases Charlie Kimball became the first driver to race the Indy 500 with diabetes. He as Dexcom CGM mounted to the steering wheel of his car. Charlie clearly demonstrates the value of CGM information and driving.

He is a great guy with a great story: Type 1 Racer dosen’t let diabetes slow him down. His autographed picture is on my daughter’s wall. We watch Indy Car races to see him. Charlie is a role model. To be clear we should leave the 200+ mph stuff to him but we also should encourage every diabetic kid to chase their dreams just as aggressively as Charlie drives.

Sadly I don’t think in car CGM information is going anyplace other than the receiver in the cup holder or like Charlie’s attached to the steering wheel. FDA scrutiny on devices is tough. CGM data on that remote display may be seen as clinically significant information making the display a medical device. I don’t see Ford applying to the FDA for approval of each different car model configured with SYNC®.

It would be easy to be pissed at Ford for what kinda appears to be exploitive use of the diabetes community to generate PR. I don’t think that is entirely fair.

I think Ford has the diabetes community's back. - Literally.

I wear a lot of JDRF walk T shirts. You may too. Mine all have a Ford logo on the back. Ford is a big supporter.

The Ford SYNC® researcher I spoke with about the CGM/SYNC® has type 1 in the family. Type 1 impacts the lives of Ford employees across the spectrum from rank and file to executive management, just like it impacts lives across the world. I think this personal connection is the root of Ford’s research desire to make diabetes management in the car easier.

I think where they may have dropped the ball was in communicating. The impression that CGM and SYNC® will work together in the foreseeable future not a realistic expectation. It is a worthwhile effort. Ford has demonstrated they can do it - so it is not a technical issue. I suggest that sharing CGM data to other means of display is a regulatory hurdle. One that will take a lot of voices to overcome

If Ford’s goal was simply to manufacture a vehicle to generate positive PR about addressing health concerns with out actually doing any actual addressing then they have succeeded. Google can find a lot of stories about it. If Ford really want to be part of the diabetes social media that serves the families of their employees and customers living with type 1 then I think they need to be part of the dialog.

I think Ford gets diabetes because they have coworkers who live with it. Bloomburg may, or may not, be right about a sales surge from SYNC® displaying health information. I think the real motivation is a desire to contribute to better lives through their products. It is what they do. The fact is nothing can happen in an environment that restricts information from regulated health devices from being shard in innovative, useful ways.

I would love to see Ford communicate, through their lobbing team, and share their interest in making driving safer with elected officials. More and more powerful voices can only help.

I would love to be part of that conversation.


  1. I viewed the Ford SYNC announcement in May as a tad premature. Regardless of Ford's support for the diabetes community, the effort suggested the company hadn't done its homework and was the equivalent of the "cure is 5 years away" line given the sluggish approval process at the FDA. Although I believe there may have been some admirable intentions behind the development, it was executed poorly and Ford as a longtime brand-builder in the advertising industry should have known better. However, social media is a complicated channel for many companies and in my opinion, few have really learned the listen part of the equation because most are so ingrained with the advertising/promotion that this really is a new experience. The real question is whether Ford learns anything from this first social media experience and can improve upon it going forward?

  2. Great story thank you for posting it. I had no idea Ford was even thinking about this technology (PR or otherwise). I have 7 years before my CWD is old enough to drive, but a car that could simply display CGM data on the dash would be very cool.

  3. thanks a bunch for this info. very informative.

  4. thanks for the preferable points....gud keep it up..thanks