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Mary Henige, General Motors Director of Social Media & Digital Communications 

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I’ve been critical of many companies for not quite “getting” social media, in some cases not even by a long shot. But I can tell you after engaging in private discussions earlier this week with General Motors Director of Social Media Mary Henige as well as a public discussion I co-hosted yesterday on Blog Talk Radio with communications strategist and author Deirdre Breakenridge, GM most definitely “gets” social media far better than most.

Our thirty-minute, wide-ranging conversation yesterday on Blog Talk Radio was co-sponsored by and Ragan Communications. Henige, a 25 – year corporate communications veteran at GM and award-winning corporate communications professional, outlined the company’s approach to social media as it relates to both internal and external stakeholders. In doing so she stressed the importance of an empowering corporate culture that has provided the foundation for strong levels of internal communication. It’s that internal communication and collaboration that have been key to GM’s recent social media successes according to Henige.

“It’s not magic,” said Henige. “What we do in social media is a lot of hard work, it’s engagement, it’s building relationships and that’s something that people in corporate communications and media relations are particularly skilled at doing.”

What struck me as most interesting was the willingness and ability of Henige and her counterparts in marketing to take a collaborative approach to social media rather than one based on a turf-war mentality.

What’s even more interesting to me is the nature of that collaborative relationship. Indeed, one of the most important roles of the social media team led by Henige in relation to social media appears to be that of a trusted internal social media consulting center of excellence. According to Henige, ”Because we serve as a resource to our internal…colleagues, our expertise is sought after all the time.”

Citing GM’s sponsorship of the South by Southest Conference as an example, Henige stressed that the collaboration between GM corporate communications and various departments within the divisional brands like Chevrolet have been key to GM’s success.

“Increased collaboration is the way that you win…[Responsibility for social media - related initiatives] should be shared. If you really want to do [social media-related initiatives] well, you need to leverage the expertise of each team…We’ve made great progress this last year.”

Interestingly the collaboration has extended beyond the marketing and PR silos to also include increased teamwork between corporate communication and customer assistance. And the results there have been equally impressive.

As an example, Henige pointed out that her team was “able to help customer service reduce their lead time from about 24 hours based on when they were online down to about 90 minutes just because we were able to filter out so much of what they were seeing.”

We asked Henige to outline some of GM’s goals for social media and she explained that while the brands that fall under the GM umbrella were primarily concerned with goals related to lead generation, customer loyalty and ultimately sales, GM corporate’s first priority for the use of social media was enhancing the corporate reputation and regaining customers’ trust in the aftermath of GM’s bankruptcy.

She stressed that listening was a key component in these efforts.

“Listening is very important…We’re there and we’re still listening. And that has [also] given us a great way to collaborate among GM employees globally.”

Selim Bingol, GM’s VP of Global Communications
GM uses SocialCast as its internal enterprise collaboration application of choice and the user adoption rate has been solid with some 27,000 employees joining the internal community hosted by the web application in a single year, according to Henige. She says GM has also begun using the Town Hall feature set that Socialcast offers which has allowed managers within GM to hold Town Hall meetings online with GM employees to further enhance internal communication.

From a strategy perspective, the March 2010 appointment of Selim Bingol as GM’s new Vice President of Global Communications appears to have had a positive impact on the significant progress GM has made on the social front. According to Henige, Bingol, who recently started blogging at a new GM blog called BTW, stressed the importance of benchmarking GM’s social performance which prompted Henige’s team to undertake a gap analysis that helped to identify areas of strength as well as areas in need of improvement.

GM’s social media benchmark approach, its marketing and communications’ employees willingness to collaborate rather than compete internally, and its efforts to ensure that the GM story is communicated clearly, may together help to explain the company’s significantly improved reputation.

The recently released 2012 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ) study evaluates customer and other stakeholder perceptions of the 60 most visible companies in the country, across 20 attributes that are grouped into six dimensions of reputation:

Products & Services
Financial Performance
Workplace Environment
Social Responsibility
Vision & Leadership
Emotional Appeal
General Motors saw the greatest increase this past year among all 60 companies whose reputations are measured in the report, showing gains in every one of the six aforementioned dimensions of reputation.

Some other points of interest regarding GM’s social media – related initiatives:

GM’s FastLane blog began in 2001
GM sent out more than 1000 media releases last year
GM uses Google+ to distribute some of its news releases because of the ability to segment news releases according to blogger and media interests. Google+ also enables GM to add additional multimedia “color.”


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