We see through the listening that we do, that as we increase our share of voice on sustainability issues, it has a positive impact on some of the key metrics we measure against – such as favourability, or willingness to invest.
We spoke to Nathan Strauss, Digital Communications Manager at GE to get his thoughts on what value GE get from talking about sustainability on social media and how they go about it.
What do you see as the purpose of social media communications for your sustainability or CSR efforts, and has this changed since the channels have evolved?
I think the purpose of social digital communications for sustainability is the same as it is for any other communications strategy. It’s really another vehicle to extend our reach beyond traditional channels.
With the advent of digital, we’ve really embraced owned communications for producing content to go direct to our stakeholders. For us that means gereports.com – our online magazine – as well as social media.
What’s different about it, other than being something we go direct on, is by nature it’s a two-way engagement, so unlike an advertisement where you’re pushing a message out, on social you’re sharing what you think will be of interest to your audience, and with that sharing you also have a responsibility to engage.
How has social helped your sustainability ambitions?
From a reputation perspective – any means we have to further the reach of our message and define the company and our competitive advantage – is going to have a net positive impact on our reputation. We see through reputation research, that as we increase our share of voice on sustainability issues, it has a positive impact on our key metrics we measure against – such as favourability, or willingness to invest.
So there’s certainly a return on investment when it comes to communications around sustainability and we find digital channels – both owned and social – as the most effective means for doing that.
On the business front, I think for GE, sustainability is not what we would consider a CSR or a philanthropic initiative. It’s the 10-year anniversary of Ecomagination, and we just surpassed $200bn in Ecomagination revenue and $15bn invested in R&D over those 10 years. By pushing out content around our technologies on social media, we’ve created a market.
What do you think is key to your success and influence in using social media to communicate on sustainability?
For us, being there early – and as you know on social media being early is everything, so I think we get credit for that.
Today, we sustain that by creating really beautiful and inspiring micro content on our social channels. This is true of the Ecomagination Twitter handle but it’s also true of @generalelectric on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram as well as Tumblr, Snapchat, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. We have a presence on all of them and considerable resources behind each. We produce unique content for each platform that’s visually interesting, offers something to our audience – it’s not just about ‘us, us, us’. It has some value for anyone and very little of it is selling GE, and most is just inspiring imagery, interesting facts and educational content for our audience, many of whom are what we refer to as our ‘tech enthusiasts.’
Do you have a strategy to reach and understand your ‘tech enthusiasts’?
I think this is a huge area that is ripe for opportunity. We do have a sense of who will use each channel for what purpose. For example, what we put on Snapchat is different to what we put on LinkedIn. The type of stories that we put on GE Reports are different to what we’ll put on Pinterest. So I think we have a sense of those who we refer to as GE ‘Insiders’, investors or just the young person who is just into cool stuff and wants to see what the latest and greatest is.
How does your social media approach to sustainability communications differ from your corporate brand or product communications?
For us it’s so intertwined, and that’s probably reflected in how well we’ve scored on the index. I don’t think we necessarily see it as distinct.
As you know we have an Ecomagination handle where 100% of what we put out is related to energy or technology or efficiency or water or renewables… but on our primary handles we’re talking about many of the same issues. We may not be using the word ‘Ecomagination’ but we’re showing beautiful jet engines at an air show on Instagram and they also happen to be the most sustainable in terms of efficiency. So we haven’t necessarily branded Ecomagination on all of these products, but how they’re positioned on the market and how we talk about them on social media is all about resource efficiency and fuel savings. So for us, I think it bleeds across nearly all of our content.
What are the top practical considerations you’d advise other organisations when they’re going about putting an effective social media strategy?
First, do you have the long-term commitment in place? At minimum, to establish presence on any social media channel, you should think in years, not months and not around a specific campaign or announcement.
Second, resources. Social media is not something to be delegated to the most junior person on the team who happens to be the most tech-savvy. I think it’s great to get their support, but to produce really compelling content really requires professionals. You’ve got to be willing to dedicate those kinds of resources if you want to be leading in this area – its not just a vehicle for pushing out abbreviated press releases.
Third, listening and the two-way engagement. Social media shouldn’t be a mouthpiece to push unless you’re also going to respond and engage. So in addition to daily social media listening to get an understanding of what’s being said about your company online, you should also be doing real-time community management.
What value does GE get from social media for sustainability?
As we extend the reach of our voice, there’s a brand halo effect in associating GE more with tackling these really tough energy and sustainability issues through innovative, technology-based system solutions. There’s a brand and reputation halo there to be gleaned from being active and vocal about our position, offerings and what we’re doing to find solutions.