At GE, business is social with 'stock and flow'

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“We use the mantra "business is social' increasingly at GE,” said Linda Boff, executive director-global digital marketing at General Electric Co. “Social is accessible no matter how big your company is.”

Boff, BtoB's Top Digital Marketer in 2011, made these observations during a recent presentation to the Chicago chapter of the Business Marketing Association, pointing out that 90% of b-to-b decision-makers say they consult social media in the buying process. She outlined several social programs GE has undertaken in the past two years to connect with these decision-makers.

She said GE takes a “stock and flow” approach to marketing via social media. She defined “stock” as more traditional content marketing fodder, such as white papers and videos that have long shelf lives. “Flow,” she said, is content that is “lighter, more perishable.”

“It's the combination [of stock and flow] that's engaging people,” Boff said.

As examples of flow, she said GE has used simple games, such as placing two photos of a GE locomotive side by side and challenging site visitors to find five differences between the shots.

“It helps our brand be more human, more approachable, more accessible,” Boff said.

The rise of social media, Boff said, has altered the way content marketing works on the Web. “It's a Web rebuilt around people,” she said. But she added: “Content without context is actually not a good use of money.”

GE has created scores of Facebook campaigns, often creating a Facebook page for a particular initiative and then abandoning it. Boff led an effort to clean out GE's Facebook “closet.” “It's like a weed,” she said of Facebook, acknowledging that marketing on social networking sites and elsewhere on the social Web requires vigilance.

As part of this vigilance, Boff said GE's appliance unit has found value in monitoring Web chatter and seeking out customers who are complaining in social media about GE products. This effort has been so successful that GE has moved employees out of its call center and into a social customer service group.

On the flipside, Boff said one of the most powerful uses of social media lies in identifying those who have an affinity for a company's products. She recommended finding “the right people who care about your brand.” She said GE is exploring creating more groups on LinkedIn in an effort to get pinpointed messages to targeted audiences.

“I don't think we've scratched the surface there,” she said.

She added the GE has been exploring the possibilities offered by Pinterest, which has been dismissed by many as having little potential for b-to-b marketers. The experiments, which include posting inspirational quotes from GE founder Thomas Edison, have paid off with significant Web traffic, Boff said.

“We're experimenting,” she said. “We have fun and we're learning.”

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