GE gives social media new marketing role

21 July 2010

NEW YORK: General Electric, the US conglomerate, has rolled out an internal social network that it hopes will foster stronger connections between its marketing departments across the globe.

The company, which operates in the technology, media and financial sectors, believes its MarkNet platform could encourage the sharing of best practice guidelines among its 5,000 communications specialists worldwide.

Some 3,000 members of the potential audience have signed up so far, joining different groups – called "publications" – that focus on areas such as innovation, packaging and pricing.

Alongside message boards, this property allows staff to upload blog entries, and to participate in webinars where employees speak about their own experience.

Steve Liguori, executive director of global marketing at General Electric, said the strengths of this system included its reach, and the speed with which solutions are generated.

"Since we have now over 3,000 [people] logging in, you can post a question to the community within one of the publications and as people log on they can offer help and advice. It's global and it's real time," he said.

To illustrate the system's strengths, Liguori gave an example of a healthcare product in India that was failing to deliver the expected profit margins.

Using MarkNet, it would be possible to tap in to expertise from a mixture of sources.

"You might ask for a pricing model or advice from GE Capital or Health Care, or from any other GE division around the world," Liguori added.

This approach marks a major strategic shift for General Electric, which previously relied on much less reliable types of interaction to disseminate this information through the organisation.

"The simple analogy for how we used to do this would be an updated game of telephone, where one person tells another something, and that person tells someone else, and on and on," he said.

"We were basically doing an updated version of that with PowerPoint and email, one person to another."

A key motivation behind this project was the insight that GE's various marketing units had often "never met or heard of" their counterparts operating in other disciplines, even if they worked in the same building.

"That's because we hire by industry, but what we found is that people are struggling with the same kinds of issues," Liguori suggested.

A pilot of MarkNet was introduced in April 2009, and, while it was "clunky", Ligouri predicted the initial enthusiasm will be further cemented by the redevelopment of the service.

"It's not mandatory, but marketing functional teams have all formed their own volunteer leadership, so it has been very grassroots," he said.

"People who have stood up and said, 'I'll run the pricing team for six months.' Someone's also doing that on branding and communications."

Data sourced from MediaPost; additional content by Warc staff