Social media and content marketing are second nature to many start-ups, but not all brands know how to integrate new-media tactics into their existing marketing strategy. Two notable exceptions: 39-year-old Microsoft and 122-year-old GE. Both companies have started telling stories, aiming to reach both consumers and businesses. Microsoft’s approach is founded on long-form narrative, while GE has mastered bite-size media on Twitter, Vine, and Tumblr. We take a tour of what exactly these (relatively) old companies are doing to make themselves new and why it’s working.
Microsoft’s Stories hosts feature articles about the company ranging from personality-driven pieces on employees to overarching brand sagas. In a five-chapter piece, Jennifer Warnick recounts the 10-year history of Microsoft-owned Skype, starting with its Estonian roots and including its spicy initiation rituals. By chapter five, the story verges on overt advertorial as it focuses on Skype’s predictions for the future, quoting Skype exec Mark Gillett as saying, “A decade from now, with distance conquered and communication at a higher premium than ever, Skype is well-positioned to become even more central across the devices people use at home, work, and play.” That sentence could have been pulled from a press release, but as a section of a Microsoft story, it finds more authentic context.
The profiles highlight employees such as Ryan Asdourian. Asdourian combines marketing and engineering to ensure that Microsoft has great apps on the Windows platform. But outside the office, he dresses up as Blitz, the Seattle Seahawks’ mascot. It is a rounded, tender look at Asdourian—this isn’t simply a quirky employee-of-the-day post. Such in-depth reporting and elegant writing implies that Microsoft invests in their employees, which is positive for both internal morale and the brand’s reputation.
Microsoft’s entire Stories space is sleek and intuitive. There are no ads or calls to action. Readers simply scroll through the text and images to learn more. This nontraditional way of spreading company news and history has been successful for Microsoft: Its first published piece, about the company’s Washington campus, got over 800,000 reads and sparked 15 pieces of press—in less than two days.
GE won best in show at Digiday’s Content Marketing Awards in May. Many of their campaigns are centered on social media: GE shared fun facts and a link to GE-branded Buzzfeed content on Twitter for #PiDay, curated a #3DPrintMyGift Tumblr for the holidays, and solicited #6secondsciencefair experiments on Vine. Especially because GE is a large, industry-spanning company, it’s important that these campaigns give consumers a clear sense of GE’s values and intentions. So far, their audiences are engaged: GE’s Vine account has over 103.5 thousand followers, while its @generalelectric Twitter account reaches more than 243 thousand.
To provide for the businesses that use its products, GE also runs three additional Twitter accounts so it can cater to diverse markets. All have pretty self-explanatory handles: @GEHealthcare tweets health discoveries and personal stories from around the web in addition to promoting GE’s products, @GEaviation is a one-stop shop for engine nerds and engineers, while @GE_PowerWater tracks turbine innovation and makes jokes about testing. Each account is focused on the businesses it serves, so followers know they’ll be getting industry news rather than more general GE items. GE’s Digital Marketing Manager Katrina Craigwell told Forbes, “The best way to create discovery is to plug into communities.”
The key to both these companies’ campaigns is personality. The age of the faceless corporation is over, and people want to know what their providers care about. Whether that happens through chaptered stories or a variety of social feeds is up to you. How are your stories best told?