How is a Ford Explorer post relevant in a community focused on inspirational stories?

A member of the Then life Happens community received an email last week featuring the author’s latest blog post titled Sometimes Lemons…Other Times, Life Throws You a 2012 Ford Explorer.

He felt quite annoyed and commented ‘here is a totally inappropriate & irrelevant “commercial push” that might just have me unsubscribe from what has been a very useful community. Sad to see the breakdown of social ethics by people trying to make a quick buck.”

I was curious to learn more about this community and understand where they possibly went off track. It’s clear that the community leaders were approached by FORD or an agency to participate in a test drive and there would exist an expectation that the experience or story would be shared within the community. This is actually common practice amongst ‘influencers’ whether they be journalists, bloggers, community managers, twitter stars or prominent members of a community. In some cases, these influencers are paid for their posts or provided with an incentive in some form – such as a free use of a car for 1 week.

There are existing guidelines for influencers to operate within that make it generally accepted by readers/ members to be exposed to sponsored content:

  • The influencer makes it clear that they have been approached by the brand or agency to participate in the experience and have received an incentive (this is actually law in most countries)
  • The content or experience is of relevance and interest to the membership at large
  • Members aren’t spammed blatantly by sponsored content

After reading about the community which states Then Life Happens was created to share experiences and life lessons with an intention to encourage, inspire, and motivate you to live a life beyond your imagination. We believe Your Story Matters and, through it, you can discover your amazing! I read some of the post which were truly inspirational such as If you’re not sure, ask for help and Fork in the Road.

However I did struggle to see the ‘meaningful’ connection or context between the FORD explorer post and this inspirational community.

Whilst the post attracted a handful of positive comments, it does read more like a post from a car blog. If I were approached to participate in such an experience to share with my membership base around the topic of inspiration and motivation, I would have taken a slightly different approach:

  • Positioned the sponsorship in a more meaningful way focusing more on the journey my husband and I would be taking rather than the car (the car becomes part of the story through photographs and anecdotes)
  • Wrote a different headline that doesn’t read like a glossy magazine advertisement
  • Not included the product photo that screams ‘advertising’ but rather included a snap of myself and my husband either picking the car up

And with most sponsored content, we would recommend creating a sponsored section of the community rather than leave your community guessing whether it’s your own initiative or one that has been influenced by the brand or agency. Very similar to magazines that feature advertorials that look like editorial however it’s clearly marked at the top of the page ‘advertorial’ or ‘sponsored content’.

Here is an example of a community Social Media Examiner which clearly separates and marks it’s sponsored content:

  1. I recently had an experience also related to Ford and dealt with it in a very different way. I was part of a group of bloggers, journalists and others invited to Ford in Dearborn for two days and nights of panels and networking to discuss future trends at Ford.

    Although my situation did not involve a group, I have a very strict rule for myself not to post about anything on my blog that does not fit into my niche (Connect with your Teens through Pop Culture and Technology). Automotive news is usually not in that category, however, while there, I learned about great things that Ford is doing in the areas of safety, including a program for parents of teens called MyKey, and voice control technology, that I focused my post specifically on those areas ( There is usually a way to do that without making your article a sales pitch.

  2. Thanks Jennifer! Your comments are spot on and you approached the opportunity in a perfect way. I love how you disclose the opportunity too. This is a great example of how to integrate paid or sponsored content into high quality social spaces.

  3. If there’s one thing I appreciate it’s honest criticism and constructive feedback. I was approached by someone asking if I would write an honest review of their products and post it on my blog. As the owner of Then Life Happens, and not intending for it to be a review site, I agreed under the condition that the articles would be excluded from the RSS feed and E-mail subscription on the site.

    After some investigation, I found that the article (the one referenced in this post and the second of its kind on Then Life Happens), was posted to a category (A Day In The Life) that was supposed to be excluded from RSS and e-mail subscription services. The exclusion did not work. This was an oversight on my part and one that was quickly rectified with a new section of the site that is excluded from RSS/E-mail subscription services.

    I am grateful to my community and my contributors and do not wish to push anything on them. There is no direct link on the site to any of the review articles and the category page includes a disclaimer.

    Today, the blog is undergoing a ‘behind the scenes’ touch-up and any and all reviews will be removed from Then Life Happens.

    I have read a few of your articles tonight… it’s always great to find common-sense and practicality in a blog. Thank you!

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