By any measure, General Electric is one of the leaders in the technology and innovation space. Founded in New York in 1892, the company has grown and diversified into one of the largest and most well-known brand names on the planet. A world leader in innovation, particularly in environmental initiatives, it comes as little surprise that GE has also been an enthusiastic adopter of social media, regularly amongst the first brands utilizing new platforms and technologies. These efforts have been widely recognized, with much written online about GE's excellent social media efforts, which have even garnered award nominations for their implementation and execution. There's much to learn from GE's social presence - I recently got a chance to speak with Anthony Spargo, Director Public Affairs GE & Communications GE Capital, Australia and New Zealand, to get an insight into how GE approaches social and how they measure their performance.
One of the standout aspects of GE's social media presence is the company's leadership. They are regularly among the first brands on new platforms and are always willing to experiment - with everything from Vine to Yo to Snapchat. GE is quickly able to understand the audience of each specific platform and tailor their content to suit - which is an achievement in itself, given that many probably wouldn't associate a company like GE with the focus of such apps. "For us," Spargo told me, "it's really about understanding our customers and prospective customers, and knowing how and where we engage with them in an authentic and productive way."
This approach extends to the brand's presence on LinkedIn; "Take our GE Capital LinkedIn program for example. Since 2012, GE Capital has released a report each year on the Australian mid-market, based on a survey of 5500 CFOs across the mid-market sector. We looked for ways that we might engage mid-market CFOs in conversations around the findings of this report, but found that our target audience were time poor, and didn't spend a great deal of time on digital platforms. The one platform that they did consistently use was LinkedIn. As a result, we worked closely with LinkedIn to develop the GE Capital Australian Mid-Market Hub, a place for discussion about the key issues and trends impacting innovation and growth, how the mid-market is changing, and how this is driving the Australian economy. The group has been a great success, and now boasts 2250 plus members, the majority of whom are senior leaders in the mid-market space."
Understanding where and how their audience is interacting is a key driver in the GE social media philosophy, they don't try to push messages so much seeking to deliver the right content on the relevant platform. This is most evident with campaigns like #6SecondScience (which encourages users to share their own 6-second science Vines) and #MoonPrints (which celebrated GE's role in the 1969 moon landing) - GE clearly takes the time to listen, to understand how and why users engage with content on each platform, before seeking to connect.
One of the ever-present queries of social media is return on investment (ROI), or more precisely, how do you demonstrate it? I asked Spargo for his thoughts and how GE approaches this aspect: "Social media ROI is really about growing brand favorability within the various industries we're playing in - healthcare, aviation, finance etc. Whatever industry we're talking about."
"The question is: "Are we demonstrating our value as a brand to the key business decision makers within that industry?" That means producing a cohesive strategy with strong targets around engagement on our social media platforms, sentiment, the level of traffic we're driving to our business sites, and about how users are behaving when they arrive on site via our social platforms - are our social platforms taking them to content that they want to see."
Demonstrating value stands out as a key tenet, and is definitely an aspect underlined in by the various iterations of GE's social presence. The link between engagement and traffic seems a solid measure of strategic success, and while it's not a direct connection to the bottom line, the correlations, based on value and favorability measurements, would show strong ties in overall measurement.
Along with early adoption, another impressive aspect of the company's social presence is their customization relative to each platform - the approach to Tumblr is very different to, say, their Pinterest presence, the approach to Google+ is entirely unique to that platform. This differentiation has been a significant factor in GE's success on each - on G+ in particular, GE sees very high engagement.
"If you want to genuinely engage your audience, you need to understand the environment in which you're working." Spargo said. "A good example lies in the work we've been doing around our brand marketing site - GE Reports A&NZ. This site is really all about telling the great stories about the research and technological innovations coming out of the GE businesses. The site has pages for stories on the various industries we play in - aviation, healthcare, energy. So the challenge for us is in how we use our social platforms to engage with the business decision makers and enthusiasts across each of these interests - what does a healthcare specialist look like on LinkedIn? What do they want from the platform? How can we best engage people who work in mining on Facebook, a platform used for very different purposes? Are they actually on these platforms? It's all about finding the answers to these kinds of questions."
A Social-First Mindset
In researching GE's social presence, I came across this great quote from GE's Executive Director of Global Brand Marketing Linda Boff, from an interview with DigiDay:
"Social started (for GE) because we wanted to be having conversations with people: consumers, employees, investors, and anybody else that shares our passions. If that's what you're looking to do, then you've got to be we're people are now spending their time."
"That's absolutely right" Spargo said. "I think this goes back to what we were discussing earlier - it's so important to understand what people want, not just what you want as a business. You always need to ask that question: "What would our target audience want to see from us in terms of content, approach, and channel? If you can answer that question and combine your findings with business needs to produce quality engaging content, that's where authentic engagement and business success lie."
"The true value of social media is in finding that point of intersection where you're producing a genuine dialogue between business and audience," Spargo said. "It's authentic engagement that proves valuable for those on either side of the conversation."
This is an excellent approach to social, and one which is clearly woven throughout GE's social media properties. GE is a brand that gets social, that understands how the medium is used to connect, as opposed to simply broadcast. Through their innovative and intelligent use of social platforms, GE provides a great example of how social media can generate interaction and community around the various aspects and initiatives of your company. Some great lessons to be learned - I strongly urge you to check out GE's social properties if you're seeking ideas on innovative ways to approach the various platforms and utilize them for best benefit.