Ginny Skalski had an idea, so she went ahead and ran with it. To demonstrate how her company's LED lights are energy efficient and emit less heat than incandescent bulbs, this social media specialist at CREE Inc. shot a video. It showed an incandescent bulb and an LED light, each shining on a chocolate Easter bunny.
As the camera rolled, the heat from the incandescent light melted its bunny into a chocolate puddle, while the bunny under the LED light kept its cool and its shape.
At age 31, Skalski is a Millennial. And as a digital native steeped in all things social, she, of course, uploaded this whimsical b2b video on YouTube, where it has garnered more than 55,000 views.
“Around the company, I'm known as the chocolate bunny girl,” she said.
To her boss, CREE VP-Marketing Greg Merritt, she's highly effective. “She's aggressive,” he said. “She's smart, and she's willing to take chances and go try stuff.”
Despite 16.6% of Americans ages 25 to 34 being underemployed last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Millennials like Skalski and Katrina Craigwell at General Electric Co. are having an outsized impact on b2b marketing departments. CMOs are finding that this younger generation's social media expertise and easy familiarity with the digital world make them particularly valuable employees.
A recent study by marketing consultancy CMG Partners found that CMOs “are increasingly meeting the challenge of adapting and learning [social marketing] through a process of generational "seeding': creating internal teams that include younger, cyber-intelligent employees.”
Rich Beatty, partner at CMG Partners, said: “As b2b companies are becoming more focused on and comfortable with the idea that social marketing and social media have a role to play in their business, they're recognizing that they need people who speak the language.”
While some gripe that the Millennial generation dresses too casually, tends toward narcissism and is needy of positive feedback, many marketing executives find that the group, as a rule, is highly energetic. CMOs say members of Gen Y are not only full of ideas but see little reason why their ideas shouldn't be implemented—and quickly.
Michael Evans, VP-marketing at Mandiant Corp., described Helena Brito, a 30-year-old marketing specialist who manages the company's social media efforts, as a “rock star.”
“Her primary focus is social media, and over the last three years she has taken Mandiant from having literally no social media presence to surpassing companies 100 times our size, like RSA and Symantec, in terms of Klout Score and other metrics,” Evans said.
Brito hasn't had Mandiant indiscriminately dive into every social media pool. For instance, the company is tweeting as part of its content strategy but is not using Pinterest. “Pinterest is huge, but our audience isn't on Pinterest,” Brito said. “Creating an entire campaign wouldn't really have the ROI we want, and in the end it wouldn't have helped sales; it wouldn't have helped our brand.”
Meanwhile, GE is using its resources to experiment on Pinterest, using photos and charts to tell its visual story. Spurred by 26-year-old Katrina Craigwell, manager of digital marketing, GE is employing another visually oriented social media outlet, Instragram. An Instragram photo shoot appearing on GE's Tumblr blog was recognized by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences as a Webby honoree this year.
“If it weren't for her,” Linda Boff, GE's executive director-global digital marketing, said of Craigwell, “I don't think we would have been on Instagram so early.”
Craigwell is also contributing in other ways. She helps put together the “GE Show,” an online program that featured the “Factory Flyover” video, which used remote-control helicopters fitted with video cameras to find the proletarian beauty in GE's factories. The video has attracted more than 588,000 views on YouTube.
“I feel like, if I work hard and smart, I can build something that will have some impact; and you can be any age and do this,” Craigwell said.
GE is harnessing the optimism and digital know-how of this generation with a “reverse mentoring” program in which executives are mentored by a Millennial who teaches them about social media and other elements of the interactive world. “What I love about this program is that it's good for both sides,” Boff said.
At Molex Inc., a manufacturer of connectors for use in electronics, Brian Krause, the company's VP-global marketing and communications, placed a Millennial—Meni Bougiotopoulos, now 34—in charge of social media about two and a half years ago. Bougiotopoulos, whose job title is Internet marketing specialist, started at Molex in inside sales. “I was looking for something different, and just the idea of [social media] was very interesting to me,” he said.
Bougiotopoulos, who remembers playing Pong, the original video game, as a toddler, has helped oversee Molex's blog, “Connector.” He has also helped lead the company onto Twitter (where it has more than 2,000 followers) and YouTube (where its videos have had more than 200,000 views). Molex is also using a Chinese video-sharing site to make sure its social media presence is felt overseas.
In addition to populating social media with Molex content, Bougiotopoulos monitors Molex's brand in social media. This social media listening yielded positive results in at least one instance, he said.
“We had an issue with a plant closing,” Bougiotopoulos said. “I was able to notify our people that there was going to be a protest at a shareholder meeting.”
CREE's Merritt, who hired Skalski away from a local television station where she was handling social media efforts, said her outlook and skills have been a perfect fit with CREE's culture, which he describes as a “25-year-old startup.” He added, “It's pretty much "figure out what you want to do and go do it.' ”
In addition to giving CREE a strong presence on YouTube, Skalski has expanded the company's Facebook and Twitter efforts. But Merritt declined to attribute her success to the accident of her birth year. “I try not to categorize people much based on their generation,” he said. “I find it's never accurate.”