Marketers love to celebrate forgettable things.
Every week I read magazines covering the most popular marketing campaigns of the moment. Reading about creative campaigns is fun. Yet it is easy to underappreciate the brands who take a long term view. The brands that choose to skip the quest for momentary results can be forgotten in our excitement to talk about brands taking advantage of opportune moments like Oreo’s at the Super Bowl or viral videos of people undressing each other like the sexy promo for Showtime’s Masters of Sex show.
Among the under appreciated, there is one brand that has been quietly keeping its eye on implementing a brilliant social media strategy for several years now despite being routinely passed over for recognition in favor of more visible but less strategic brands.
The smartest brand in social media today is General Electric.
Of course, their current marketing strategy goes far beyond just social media – as you can see in this brilliantly simplified TV spot talking about all the ways the company is making an impact in the world:
The ad campaign is highly visible and (according to some analysts) may even support GE’s stock price. Yet what you may not have been watching as closely is just how many ways GE is surrounding that big advertising spend with some very real and very strategic programs in social media designed to humanize the brand and illustrate the impact they have with many different communities.
Here is a collection of some of the highest profile efforts from the brand, along with some lessons for how to create a strategic approach to using social media for your own brand that goes beyond a single campaign:
In an ambitious effort to rethink big topics, GE partnered with a crowdsourcing community for data scientists called Kaggle to launch an open challenge for any science team to optimize the inefficiencies within two big existing systems – air traffic control and the patient experience in healthcare. The resulting concepts were valuable, actionable and allowed GE to inspire a conversation about exactly the sorts of challenges their own teams are trying to tackle and solve every day.
2. Humanize the brand. (#instawalk + #springbreakit)
Letting people behind the scenes to see what you do and why you do it is perhaps the greatest opportunity social media offers to any brand. Humanizing your people and work can offer great benefits from increasing positive brand reputation to becoming an employer of choice to attract the best talent. By using “Instawalks” to invite influencers into GE facilities to share their experiences on Instagram – GE offers that rare look behind the scenes. Their recent #springbreakit effort to show the products they help make under duress (reminiscent of the popular “Will It Blend?‘” videos) is engaging, fun and almost impossible not to watch and share.
3. Aggregate multiple efforts. (GE Social Media News)
No matter how many amazing ideas you have or campaigns you execute – the only way to realize a greater benefit is to bring all those efforts together. One way GE does this consistently is by using a smart aggregation of the latest news from many of their efforts all in a single place on the GE main website. By curating the best of the all the content in a single place, they allow anyone interested in learning about science, ideas or the work that GE does to have an easy point of entry to follow their own curiosity and engage with one or multiple initiatives.
4. Experiment often. (Snapchat + GE Moon Boot Sneaker)
On July 20th, it will be the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon … and the boots he wore that day were designed with GE silicon rubber. To celebrate that fact, GE turned to a new platform (Snapchat) to announce that they will be releasing a custom edition “Moon Boot” with retailer JackThreads on July 2oth. The shoe itself is an interesting departure in product manufacturing from GE (which is hardly known for making footwear). The concept behind the launch itself, though, is a perfect example of one of the philosophies that GE continually keeps when it comes to social media. They choose to experiment often with new platforms and see what works.
5. Connect with real life. (3DPrintMyGift + Quirky)
Social media is a virtual thing – and the closest many brands come to bringing it into the real world is inviting people to come to a retail location with some type of promotion delivered via social channels. Instead, GE actively finds ways to integrate the virtual world with the real world. At the end of last year, the brand launched an initiative designed to help people design and print 3D gifts for loved ones. For several years now, the brand has also had a partnership with Quirky, a crowdsourced platform for inventors and anyone with a new product idea. Through this latter collaboration, GE has helped Quirky launch several products into the market for consumers … including the Aros Smart Window Air Conditioner pictured above.
6. Curate great conversation. (Ideas Laboratory + #6SecondScienceFair)
Perhaps the biggest myth in social media is that everything needs to be a conversation. There is a time and place for conversation, and a time when simply creating great content is much more important than having a dialogue. GE shows a mastery for separating those two things but focusing its more conversational efforts on content rich communities like the one at Ideas Laboratory. In addition, their ongoing competition style efforts such as the #6SecondScienceFair encourage anyone to interact with the brand by sharing their own best ideas to potentially get featured and recognized by GE.
7. Publish relevant content. (GE Reports + Txchnologist)
The smartest thing about the integration strategy GE uses is how shorter term efforts like #3dprintmygift are weaved together with longstanding content production efforts such as the GE sponsored online magazine they call GE Reports. Aside from the more heavily branded GE Reports, though, the brand also supports a third party created technology magazine called The Txchnologist. By combining the brand voice with supporting media that features both GE content as well as other innovations from outside ensures that GE can engage people with their brand while still thinking bigger and supporting like minded efforts from others as well.
The Bottom Line
My ultimate aim in collecting all these examples together and sharing these lessons was to illustrate what an integrated social media strategy can look like when a brand considers it from every angle. It is easy to brainstorm a great creative idea to capture eyeballs or attention for a short time. It is far more difficult to create a long term strategy that consistently uses social media to humanize your brand.
Launching a new sneaker made of materials that once allowed a man to walk on the moon is a great story. Integrating that with years of using social media to solve real business challenges and inspiring people in the process is a great strategy. GE has both – and that makes them the most strategic brand on social media today.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “5 Unexpected Storytelling Lessons From Beth Comstock” – inspired by three sessions I moderated with her at the Future of Storytelling event in New York on October 1, 2014.
Further Reading About GE’s Digital + Social Media Strategy:
- GE Makes ‘Super Materials’ Relatable With Moon Boot Makeover
- 16 Fascinating Vines From the #6SecondScienceFair
- Inside General Electric’s Digital Strategy
- How General Electric uses Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+
- GE Gets 30% Better Returns Through Smart Content Marketing
- GE: The Most Exciting Boring Brand On Social Media
- How 122 Year Old General Electric Is Killing It On Social Media
- Inside Social Media Podcast: Katrina Craigwell, GE’s Digital Content Strategy Leader
- Breaking Down GE’s Social Media Success [Infographic]
- The Original GEeks: How GE’s CMO Is Keeping The Geek Flame Alive
- Dots Implements Its First-Ever, In-Game, $ponsor$hip
- GE On Social – Shorty Awards Entry For Best Fortune 500 Brand On Social Media