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Idea: Use Social Objects to Start Conversations Among Your Audience

If you follow the social media trends of the zeptosecond, you’ve probably noticed there’s at least one consistent factor. No matter what this week’s hip new social media fad might be, General Electric (GE) will be the first mega-sized business-to-business marketer to try it out.

For example, a few days ago, Twitter started rolling out a collage feature that allows a user to display four photos in one tweet. By the end of the day, GE was already experimenting with the new feature, using it to support its ongoing corporate branding efforts.

Within moments, GE’s use of the new feature went viral among those obsessed with content marketing and social media. And within days, the tweet was declared by every news outlet and blogger who covers marketing as yet another example of GE’s mastery of social media.

In explaining GE’s content marketing approach, last week Linda Boff, GE’s executive director of global brand marketing, told a group of business-to-business marketers (including Hammock CEO Rex Hammock) that the company has assembled a “content factory” devoted to taking advantage of such a serendipitous opportunity. “We prepare to be spontaneous,” she said.

Another way to view GE’s content strategy is by understanding the concept of “social objects,” a concept and strategy encouraged by artist, author and web-marketing savant Hugh MacLeod. A social object is anything that serves as a node for a greater conversation, he explains. “In a nutshell, (a social object) is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else.”

When GE made its 4-photo tweet, the company wasn’t merely looking for another opportunity to prove its social media cleverness. It was continuing a strategy of encouraging social interactions among the types of people it wants to reach (engineering students, for example). GE obviously views content marketing and the creation of social objects as the fulfillment of a marketing philosophy described in the lyrics of a 1991 Bonnie Raitt song, “Let’s give ‘em somethin’ to talk about.”

Social objects come in a wide variety of forms, from cartoons to blog posts to 4-photo tweets. They are the hard currency of the internet, the beginning of a social exchange that creates and fosters conversations that lead to long-term, people-to-people relationships among those who go by such labels as buyers and sellers, shoppers and merchants, creators and collectors.

(Illustration: ©Hugh MacLeod, used with permission.)

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