Want to put a question to a top executive of a leading multinational corporation?
There was a time when most of them were beyond the reach of ordinary employees or members of the public. Yet thanks to new demands for transparency—and live-casting technology—leaders are fielding questions in ways unheard of a few years ago.
Just check out the Facebook page of Beth Comstock, vice chair of General Electric. In a recent Facebook Live broadcast, she discussed how to deal with the breakneck pace of change, and customers submitted questions in the comments.
Why Facebook Live?
“You have to go where the world is, and everyone’s on Facebook,” Comstock says in the video. “And Facebook has created this great platform where you can … create a live conversation. And I very much want to be part of it.”
Beyond blogs and podcasts
GE leaders have long made use of blogs, podcasts and other channels to offer their thoughts, says Alaynah Boyd Tombridge, communications specialist. Facebook Live is the latest tool for executives, who find it an appealing medium for those interested in stressing transparency, honesty and accessibility.
“Facebook Live is just another way that we can provide access for the general public,” Tombridge says, “but also for our employee population, so that they can understand who the leaders are, what are their thoughts on things, what kind of person are they, what are they interested in?”
GE’s executives aren’t alone in that mindset. The company’s marketing department has embraced the possibilities of live broadcasts, producing Facebook Live campaigns such as a “Drone Week” advancing the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. GE’s team used a mix of aerial and on-the-ground cameras to feature those who benefit from the company’s technology.
The videos interview experts about the use of big data, show drones’-eye views of rowers practicing and offer a glimpse of Itaipu Dam, which supplied the games’ hydroelectric power.
In addition to engaging tens of thousands of drone and sports buffs, the campaign reaped a PR bonus as well, garnering articles in publications such as Advertising Age and Marketing Dive. This followed a previous Drone Week that featured videos shot at GE industrial facilities, among them a jet engine testing center and a wind farm in the California desert.
The feedback loop
GE is always looking for innovative tools to communicate with the public and its employees, Tombridge says. Although preparation goes into the broadcasts, the goal is to make it a spontaneous means of reaching out, “a candid conversation just like what would happen if you ran into someone in the elevator,” she says.
“It is a real-time feedback loop,” Tombridge says. “People are commenting, and the conversation can sometimes go in different directions. And there’s something’s much more authentic about that, versus a pre-filmed, pre-canned, very edited video, where some of the authenticity of message can get lost and too watered-down.”
Speaking of the PR benefits, GE’s executives have also gotten exposure in business media outlets through the broadcasts. Business Insider’s editor-in-chief Henry Blodget did a live interview on its own channel with GE chief marketing officer Linda Boff and Global Research Center chief engineer Rusty Irving about “the Industrial Internet” and why it matters.
“They were working on a project together, and we went over to Business Insider, and they had a conversation about the state of marketing, the state of digital transformation of the industry,” Tombridge says.
So how do communicators measure the results? At GE, they focus on engagement metrics such as comments rather than just opens or return on investment. The comments section indicates whether the message is resonating and people appreciate the communication.
“Our real goal is to have people understand who GE is as a brand and as a company and who our leaders are—the people who are driving our strategy,” Tombridge says. “So people that engage, more than just watching the content, are bigger indicators of where we are.”
GE plans to keep promoting its messages on whatever platforms people are using.
“We’ll be wherever the next new thing is,” Tombridge says, “because we want to be where our employees live.”