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How GE uses social tools to support its digital strategies

How GE uses social tools to support its digital strategies

Rich Narasaki is global manager, digital marketing in the GE corporate global brand marketing group and, as such, works with and supports the digital strategy efforts of the company's eight primary business divisions. While not a member of the IT team, Narasaki works with IT and marketing constantly, so Network World Editor in Chief John Dix tracked him down to get his perspective on how digital strategy plays out in such a huge operation.

How do you define digital strategy at GE?

We're a 130-plus year old company and deal in many technologies and industries. When we first started developing our digital acumen four years ago our businesses were saying, "I know digital is important. It's the way things are going, but I don't quite see how it applies to a gas turbine or rail business."

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Others might have said, "I need to have a Facebook strategy." But Facebook isn't a strategy. People were thinking digital in terms of tactics, and we needed to pull it up to a higher level, to the point where the conversations were happening that effect the way we do business and create value for customers. How does digital impact the way our businesses operate? How does it create new business models? So when we think about digital strategy, it's about business decision makers getting real value out of the efforts.

What does digital mean in this description?

It's been evolving over time. When we first started, digital was focused on things like social, mobile and search; but it has expanded to include collaboration, revenue marketing and sales enablement. As GE's digital capabilities mature and customer preferences are shifting into social channels, digital is naturally evolving into a channel extension that's part of our overall business strategy to engage with business decision makers.

What does your day-to-day job entail, who are you working with and how do you go about it?

I'm with our Global Brand Marketing team, and I focus on digital commercialization. Essentially I'm an internal resource for our eight business divisions -- Capital, Healthcare, Power & Water, Oil & Gas, Energy Management, Aviation, Transportation, and Home & Business -- and help them accelerate their digital capabilities. I might go to them and say, "We've got some great ideas that can be valuable to you and we would love to partner on a proof of concept or a pilot." But it works both ways. Other times they'll come to us with an opportunity they are trying to figure out. An example is how we worked with a group of customers in the Aviation business to create a community where they can share ideas and learn how to better optimize some equipment for better performance.

I also focus on social selling and looking at how you take social platforms and use it for commercialization. It's about how we enable sales and bottom-of-the-funnel activities.

Can you give us some examples of success stories?

One of the things we do is look at social as a way to connect our sales people with customers. Our Capital business is very forward-thinking in this area and they've developed this idea of a company social graph. GE has 300,000 employees, and oftentimes we have common customers across the different businesses. But if you're a sales person or an account manager and you want to establish a relationship with a new customer, oftentimes you don't know where to start.

So we said, why don't we take the power of our internal network and figure out the social graph so employees can understand the existing relationships with customers and prospects. It allows us to have more meaningful conversations internally and externally. A sales rep might try to establish a relationship with a CFO or purchasing leader to better understand their needs. And we're able to do that now with social platforms like LinkedIn which provides this type of insight. It allows us to see which GE employees have the relationships. That person can call their colleague and say, "Hey, I'm with this other GE business and I'm trying to establish a relationship with one of your connections. I would love to get a better understanding about their needs and how they look at problems. What should I know going in? And oh, can you give me an intro so it's not just a cold call?"

That provides a ton of value, because it's working off of an established relationship. From a marketing standpoint, we've seen an ROI investment return of about 350x. So for every dollar we've put into training, and enabling the sales people and account managers access to this platform, we get a return of about 350 times. Those are closed deals, closed sales, pipeline leads, you name it. And we're talking nine-digit numbers.

Interesting. How about when it comes to public social tools like Facebook. How much do you leverage them?

Facebook and Twitter are just platforms where conversations happen. Social is really about engaging where your target audience and customers are having conversations. Each social platform serves a different purpose and type of content. Facebook is where you connect with your family and your friends. Twitter is where you listen or push out thought leadership. LinkedIn is where you connect with your professional networks. And within each channel people are sharing and consuming information differently. So I wouldn't go to LinkedIn to try to find out what my mom is doing this weekend. You go there to listen to colleagues and hear about business-related topics.

When we look at the consumer-facing social media channels we focus on what people are interested in as enthusiasts of science and technology. We have more than a million followers on Facebook, and they love to hear about innovation. We don't talk about how we built a great gas turbine that delivers return on investment. That isn't going to engage people on that platform. But we might discuss a new type of material we're thinking about or crowd-source ideas which do keep people engaged. The goal is to share some of the delight we have in being inventors with the enthusiast crowd out there.

How do you measure success?

With Facebook, we're obviously not there to close a sale. We look at audience reach, how many followers we have, what are our impressions, how many shares did we get. For us, shares are very important because it shows engagement, and how it helps us with our overall brand extension. So the performance indicators are much more upper-funnel metrics that relate to awareness that promotes our innovative culture.

On the other end of the spectrum, LinkedIn is where we share information with business decision makers. We start to look more at things like; did they download a white paper? Did it drive users to our business websites? What we're actually now trying to get into is lead generation. So when we push out thought leadership ideas and comments, can we drive members to deeper engagement, such as signing up for a newsletter. It's all about how you put out calls to action that are meaningful to your customer on the platform that drive a deeper level of interest.

Do you use YouTube at all?

We use YouTube in a fairly broad way. We'll post things like our brand advertisements, some of our more consumer-facing enthusiast types of campaigns. And that's where you can get that viral effect, like a video that shows how a jet-skiing doctor in Japan is using our portable ultrasound equipment to provide care in remote islands. But we also put video content up that is very specific and business related. It might be our chief economist talking about his views and outlook on the economy and what's happening within our industries. YouTube is the second largest search engine, so you have to make sure you have content where your audiences are.

Does the central marketing group own any of these?

The way we look at it there isn't any one person or business that can own these channels. Social media is too much a part of the customer journey to limit it to a single group. Each of us has different roles to play. In Corporate we have a group that owns our handles to drive brand and reputation. You'll see many different handles that are out there when you look at Facebook and Twitter. All of our different businesses have their own social media channels, and they manage those directly because they have much more specific audiences and strategies. So from a social perspective there is no single owner.

From a mobile perspective, we have a mobile Center of Excellence (COE) that falls under our Corporate IT team, and they are prolific when it comes to creating mobile apps. We're well over 200 at this point. There was one in particular that has been very successful called Genius. It is an iPad app that was created about three years ago for our commercial teams in our Capital business to help sales teams better prepare for customer meetings and manage key accounts.

If you're a sales rep in Capital you have a book of customers you need to contact and manage. And this app allows them to say, "I'm about to meet with this customer. I'd like to know everything about them." So you can click on that one button and it pulls in their CRM data, it pulls in third-party information, the latest news, what's happening. It will even pull in some of the social media feeds from that particular customer. So it helps our people be that much more aware and prepared for their meetings.

What's fantastic about the app is it was a joint partnership between IT, marketing and sales. And what we found is you need to have all three of those stakeholders present when you're engaged on initiatives because all three have to have a voice in the decision process. If it's only one of those legs, that's when you start to have some misalignment.  So we try to have all three of those at the table to get agreement up front. That makes the process go so much smoother. Overall we've got a terrific partnership between marketing, commercial and IT.

That was going to be my next question. How do you guys connect to IT. Do you have ongoing discussions with them in a fixed way, like a weekly update or something?

We're pretty fortunate to have such tight alignment with our IT partners. There is an incredibly high level of trust between our teams, so we don't run into the traditional challenges that frequently exist between IT and marketing. Our priorities are frequently driven by the executive leaders, and they are very much aligned at that level. The result is a process that runs very smoothly, with ongoing communications between the Corporate IT and marketing teams.

We talk to IT daily about different things, whether it is a status update or a quick note about a new idea. And what's been terrific is IT is incredibly embracing of new ideas and new technologies.

A good example is Google Glass. A few of our businesses are starting to experiment with it. I had an extra one and am currently partnering with IT to build out a proof-of-concept that can improve servicing efficiency for our customers.

Do each of the eight GE divisions have their own IT groups?

Yes, each one has their own. We're a very decentralized organization. Most of our businesses are Fortune 500-sized companies in themselves with multiple product lines, so each has a C-suite. Because of the complexity and breadth of our businesses, oftentimes there is another tier of CXOs for business divisions. So there is that opportunity for us to figure out how to make sure we're all marching in step. But having an internal collaboration platform has been one of the keys to really helping us stay aligned.

What do you use?

There is a team in Corporate IT that is responsible for all the different internal collaboration tools. They lead the charge on what we are developing, but we'll partner closely to help shape that offering. One of the newest tools is a platform we call Colab, which is built on a Cisco product.

Previously we used platforms like Chatter and Yammer. But our IT team said, "You know what? We're a huge company, 300,000 people, let's build one that is really easy to use and where we own the conversation". All of that content generated is now sitting within our own firewalls, as opposed to going externally. So Colab is our version of Facebook meets Twitter meets Pinterest, if you will. It's got a really nice user interface. And it allows conversation and information exchange across the entire organization for people that would have never known another person existed in the company that could help them.

An example could be somebody saying, "I'm trying to start this project. Does anybody have any information that can help me? Any best-practice?" And we wind up seeing five to 10 people raising their hands and saying, "Yeah, I've actually done that exact same thing. Here's the information." And it could be somebody over in the Aviation business asking the question and somebody in the Lighting business that has the answer. So it's really around creating those connection points across all the people. It's been a fantastic platform. The value is difficult to measure, but it's been around efficiency, cost savings, being able to go to market faster.

Where do you see this whole social thing going? What changes with time?

I think we're at the point where it's really about accountability of social. There is still a place for measuring likes and paying for likes, but we're further down the maturity path. We're using social to connect with our customers in ways that are much more meaningful and drive real business value. As companies invest more and more in social, they're going to have much more of a bottom-line lens on the activities.

In terms of how it plays out, I liken it to e-commerce back in the late '90s, where you had everybody going, "Wow, there's going to be no more brick and mortar." And then of course things changed in 2000. And now when you look at e-commerce, you just say, "Yeah, it's another channel extension." And that's what's going to happen with social. It's going to be another natural extension with any business. And again, it's going to be held accountable to the value it provides.

Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.

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