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B2B companies can often struggle to make social work as people don’t tend to use Facebook and Pinterest for professional reasons.
There’s always Linkedin of course, but that presents an entirely different challenge from the four main consumer networks.
General Electric has managed to buck the trend and achieve a strong social presence, though it’s true that the company blurs the lines between B2B and B2C.
In an interview with Digiday last year, GE’s executive director of global digital marketing Linda Boff said that social platforms have allowed the company to get closer to its customers and tell stories about the human impact of what it does.
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.
So to find out more about GE’s social strategy, here’s a look at how it uses Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.
It’s the usual mix of questions, images, videos and links relating to a wide range of topics, including jet engines, medical science, outer space and data science.
There are frequent mentions of the GE brand, but the focus is more on technology and innovation rather than just overtly selling its products and services.
There are also more interesting initiatives, such as ‘Stump the scientist’ which asks Facebook fans to pose questions to one of GE’s chief scientists
However the most recent one achieved relatively few interactions and currently has just 261 views on YouTube.
Similarly, there are discussions with high profile execs from other companies, such as the founder of Tumblr and a data scientist from bit.ly.
In recent weeks most of the content has been promoting GE’s work in hospitals. The campaign uses Agent Smith from the Matrix movies and the hashtags #brilliantmachines.
Overall the range of content is very creative and impressive, turning what could easily be a dull, corporate Facebook page into something genuinely interesting.
Engagement with the posts is extremely varied – some achieve fewer than 10 interactions, while others attract more than 10,000 ‘likes’ and comments.
In general though the average is probably a few hundred ‘likes’ and tens of comments, to which GE does a good job of responding.
GE has also attracted more than 500,000 fans to its Appliances page which promotes its range of kitchen products.
The page is updated on a daily basis and nearly all of the content is food-related. The main tool for encouraging interactions appears to simply asking loads of questions and dishing out recipe ideas.
There are also frequent mentions for its ‘Social Foodfight’ app which gives you the chance to throw food at annoying social media users. It’s hosted on a dedicated microsite and is actually a fun, subtle way of marketing a GE washing machine.
It has been played almost 200,000 times, which isn’t a huge amount in the grand scheme of things but it’s certainly more engaging than a standard banner or video ad.
Overall engagement on the Appliances page is much lower than on the main GE page, with few of its posts achieving more than a couple of hundred ‘likes'.
General Electric has a number of Twitter feeds for its various sub-brands, yet it hasn’t really achieved the same level of success as it has on Facebook.
While the main GE feed has just over 125,000 followers, the accounts for Capital, Connections, Energy Europe, Global Research, Water and Appliances have all failed to attract more than 12,000 followers.
The content tweeted by the main account focuses on the same topics as the Facebook page, namely technology and innovation, yet it really suffers from not having the same visuals.
Without the impressive photos of jet engines and new inventions the tweets lack impact and are fairly generic.
Even so, the social team do a good job of responding to other users and recently rewarded people who complimented the new Agent Smith advert by sending them a Matrix-style photo of their avatar.
And obviously a company with GE’s expertise in social has also produced other noteworthy campaigns.
For example, on national inventors’ day in February it invited Twitter users to tweet their invention ideas using the #IWantToInvent hashtag.
The brand had a team of designers standing by to create blueprint sketches of the tweeted inventions in real time.
It produced more than 70 images in under seven hours, including solar powered wings and a doorbell ID, which can all be viewed in a Facebook photo album.
The campaign was supported with promoted tweets in timelines and search targeted to users interested in science and technology.
According to Twitter, #IWantToInvent took a month to plan and increased brand conversations over 4x the daily average.
GE has also been a prolific user of Vine, creating more than 20 clips in the past few months. A number of the Vine’s use stop motion, including this excellent clip that celebrates Pi Day – it’s an endless pie.
General Electric has attracted 17,000 followers on Pinterest, which is particularly impressive for a B2B company that only pins its own content.
In general it is beneficial to pin third-party content if possible as it increases the brand’s exposure and is a good way of interacting with other users, however GE isn’t alone in choosing to shun the social aspect of Pinterest to focus on push marketing.
All of the pins have been uploaded by the social team and link back to GE websites, which means its all on-brand but has the potential to be quite dull, as it doesn’t allow users to discover other interesting sites and products.
However GE’s content is generally good quality and highly visual, such as infographics, photos and memes.
As with its Facebook page, it manages to appeal to a tech audience without coming across as too salesy or just promoting its own services.
The boards currently include ‘That’s Genius’, which displays images and quotes from GE founder Thomas Edison; ‘The Art of Innovation’, a board that explores the beauty in science and art; and ‘Hey Girl’, which plays on a popular meme by replacing Ryan Gosling with Thomas Edison.
GE has also used a Pinterest competition to try and drum up some interest, giving away kitchen appliances and Visa prepaid cards.
To enter users just had to repin images from GE’s page, yet it was only a limited success as few of the daily pins were shared by more than a handful of people.
As you might expect from such a socially-orientated brand, GE has fully embraced Google+ and set up a number of different pages.
However they are not all given the same amount of care and attention. In fact a couple of the accounts – Healthcare and Capital – haven’t shared anything at all, while Intelligent Platforms and Lighting are updated very infrequently.
As a consequence they don’t have more than a few hundred followers between them.
The main GE page has more than 42,000 followers and is updated on a daily basis, but as normal with Google+ the level of interactions is very low.
Despite that fact that the posts contain excellent visuals, each one achieves fewer than 50 +1s and comments.
This is more of a reflection of the shortcomings of G+ rather than GE, and I’m yet to come across a Google+ page that actually attracts a large number of interactions.