Like many brands, GE is focusing on social media and mobile in 2012, according to Linda Boff, the company’s executive director of global digital marketing. GE is committed to being relevant and transparent online. But it also sees a lot of challenges in digital and is currently finding ways of addressing them.

What are you digital priorities for 2012?
In 2012, we’ll continue pushing to connect more people – both inside and outside the company – with the people, information, and products that they need. That approach manifests itself in different ways. Sometimes it means partnering with a GE business to help them get more social in their approach to marketing and sometimes it means rolling-out mobile apps like GE’s RailEdge Movement Planner — which is essentially air traffic control for trains — and helps customers run its trains faster, cheaper, and more ecomaginatively (shameless plug). We’re always-on in our quest to find novel ways to use digital to solve problems better, but, in concrete terms, I do think all of our solutions with include a mix of mobile, social, and collaboration this year. We’re always looking for new places to tell the human impact of our stories and that means that we do a lot of digital R&D on new platforms, start-ups and ideas. When we’re thinking about getting onto a new platform, we first try to understand the context — whose using it, how are they using it, and what are they using it to do. We really challenge ourselves to think like users in that respect. We then try to create a compelling brand experience — because the experience is the brand to live on a new platform.

There are new channels and emerging technologies launching every day. We love to experiment and are proud to be have been one of the first brands on Percolate, Instagram, Pinterest and Viddy. But you can’t chase everything. We try hard to focus on where we have the greatest opportunity to tell our story in a rich, accessible way,

How did social media start at GE and how did it grow?
Social started 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 22 percent of their time. The art and science of it is pretty simple. Social media will continue to grow for the same reasons it’s so big now: people prefer to connect with other people prefer to find information, share experiences, shape identity, and form social bonds. Our social media metrics focus largely on engagement because that’s where we connect with people and build the bond of emotional equity. For example, on Facebook, that means that we’re looking at things like unique engagement rate because that gives us a good sense of the actual size — and health — of our community. We’re also starting to move into social CRM so that we can understand and, where possible, delight individual members of our communities by sending them personalized thank you notes or giving them personalized gifts based on what they’re passionate about.

What tactics do you use to grow a community and spur customer engagement?
We do our best to grow and engage our communities through one-to-one engagement and one-to-many content that is focused on community interests. We’ve genuinely tried to understand how we can add value to our community and then designed tactics around those needs and values. With respect to content, across nearly all platforms we’ve found that creative, visual content paired with strong calls-to-action drives the highest engagement. That’s almost uniformly true as long as the content is relevant to our communities (we’re big believers that context is critical). With respect to paid media, we’ve been experimenting successfully with promoted tweets and sponsored stories to extend the reach of our best content. We’re using the content as a springboard for increased one-on-one engagement with individual users, which builds relationships with brand advocates.

How is GE using Facebook and Twitter to attract new business and also sustain old customers?
Social platforms have allowed us to get closer to our customers and tell stories about the human impact of what we do. We’ve found when we’re able to tell relevant stories — both about our challenges as well as our successes — in always-on channels, people reach out to us and share their experiences as well. That’s allowed us to build relationships over time with self-identified prospects or customers to help them solve their problems. When we take that longer-term view of having conversations on social with new or current customers, it turns out that they tell their friends or colleagues, which is the most powerful form of marketing out there. Again, it’s about people.

How has mobile redefined GE?
Mobile is redefining almost every industry out there. In the case of GE, we’re inventing how mobile can be used to usher in the industrial internet. We’ve built apps ranging from industry-specific monitoring and diagnostic tools to business intelligence resources. For example, our Transformer Monitoring app helps manage gas turbine inventory and electric transformers throughout the world, while PDS Movement Planner lets service personnel monitor railway tracks and get diagnostic information on locomotives. We’ve also used mobile to give our employees the tools that they need to succeed on the road by rolling out an internal app store with business apps that they can use for all kinds of professional productivity. We have a rich history of innovation — it’s GE’s hallmark — and we see mobile as the natural place for us to use technology make people and customer’s lives better and more efficient.

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