General Electric has launched a private online community for its global network of 5,000 marketers. An intramural social networking platform called MarkNet, the program is designed to connect marketers from different GE divisions who normally wouldn't speak to each other because they belong to different marketing silos.
The company says it now has about 3,000 marketers around the world signed in to the program to share best practices via communities differentiated not by GE products but by marketing practices. The effort is via Passenger, which has done similar programs for Fox, Microsoft, Mercedes and Coca-Cola.
Steve Liguori, executive director of global marketing at GE, tells Marketing Daily that community members can participate in webinars, blog posts, message boards and marketing issues like innovation, pricing and packaging. He says it's a big change from how GE has done idea-sharing in the past.
"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 says. "We were basically doing an updated version of that with PowerPoint and email, one person to another. Who knew that best practice had anything to do with what you need when you need it?"
He says the MarkNet program is sort of an intramural social community. "Since we have now over 3,000 logging in, you can post a question to the community within one of the publications [differentiated by practice] and as people log on they can offer help and advice. It's global and it's real time."
Liguori says that if, say, a marketer in Mumbai hears from his supervisor that the company is losing margin on a product, and that "our pricing must be wrong," and there is no pricing expertise there, "You might ask for a pricing model or advice from GE Capital or Health Care, or from any other GE division around the world." He says that until now, there had been no platform to exercise that kind of cross-functional conversation.
The idea came to Liguori a year and a half ago when he was working out of GE's London office and discovered that people doing the same job in the same region in the same building not only weren't sharing information, but had no idea that their counterparts existed.
"I'm on the fourth floor at GE Capital with someone who handles pricing for Europe and Asia. A few hours later, I'm upstairs with someone who oversees pricing for GE's healthcare division in Europe and Asia, and he has never met or heard of the person downstairs. That's because we hire by industry, but what we found is that people are struggling with the same kinds of issues."
Liguori says GE launched a beta test of the new network in April last year. "But it was clunky," he says. "Still, we got tremendous reception: users said it was great even though it was hard to use the software." He says since the official launch in April this year, about 75% of all GE marketers around the world now voluntarily participate.
"No, it's not mandatory, but marketing functional teams have all formed their own volunteer leadership, so it has been very grassroots -- 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."