General Electric's best tour guide might just be Katrina Craigwell. She's GE's head of global digital programming, and the person responsible for telling the company's story in a digital space.
So, she sees herself a bit like a tour guide — a link between content and audience. The first time she walked into a wind turbine facility in Upstate New York she thought: "Oh my God, every geek needs to see this. This is amazing."
But before she figured out how to make that happen, she started off in a fairly different area, professionally.
Craigwell is originally from Canada. She moved to New York City after graduating from college. Despite studying international relations and languages, she pursued an interest in television production. She got an internship with the Independent Film Channel, and then stayed on as part of the public relations team.
At the time, IFC was digging into less traditional digital strategies, like bloggers-only screenings, or acquiring the final chapters of R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" for IFC.com. After that, she helped produce a web series on the 2008 election by partnering with AOL and College Humor.
When Craigwell left IFC, she joined a social media agency called Attention. She was the 17th employee.
"It was interesting being in a small company like that and being scrappy and getting things done — which is a dynamic that I love," she said. Eventually, Craigwell ran Attention's broadcast efforts. Clients included HLN and CNN, and PR outreach became less traditional, and focused on producing content and experiences that were web-first.
For Craigwell, seeing firsthand the shift toward digital content has come in handy during her last three years at GE. One of the best examples of a successful web experience she helped orchestrate is GE's Instagram account.
It's a place where the brand can connect its audience with what happens in its labs and factories.
"If I give you a white paper PDF on a GE jet engine, your eyes might glaze over although it's a beautiful piece of machinery," she said. "If I show you that engine rigged up in our test cell or on the wings of a Dreamliner plane, and it's beautiful, it starts to get your attention."
That may be one of the account's biggest achievements — making machinery visually appealing enough to survive the aesthetics of Instagram. From wind turbines in Cape Cod, to trains traveling through the Australian desert, the photos are usually stunning.
Part of how GE does that is by hiring not photographers with lots of brand experience, but working with photographers from Instagram with followings.
"The imagery from those photographers that is now becoming part of our larger brand visual language," she said.
GE has adopted the idea of working with content creators from specific platforms like Youtube elsewhere, too.
One recent campaign is The Sounds of GE. Using recordings of the many sounds GE machines make, artists Reuben Wu and Matthew Dear created electronica tracks.
"When you think about visual imagery and moving imagery, and then sound, again, it's all about how do we give people more ways to experience GE from a sensory standpoint an be a little bit surprising along the way?" she said.
Taking that a step further, GE held an event where they invited dancer Marquese Scott — who goes by "Nonstop"— to do a performance at a jet engine test facility in Ohio using the latest Matthew Dear track.
"As a former dancer — it was my sport growing up — it was the perfect coming together of my teenage years and my professional life," she said.
On YouTube, they partnered with The Slow Mo Guys. For the unfamiliar, the duo make videos using high speed cameras of things like getting hit in the face with a soccer ball or putting firecrackers into glass bottles of paint and blowing them up. The videos are mesmerizing.
GE invited the Slow Mo Guys to their global research lab in Upstate New York and worked with them to create videos featuring demos of GE products like hydrophobic coatings or cold spray, shot at thousands and thousands of frames per second.
But what's more, the videos also include GE scientists explaining the technology and why it's important, which provides for an opportunity to bring the everyday work of folks at GE to an audience in a viral setting.
The series got 8 million views, all organic.
Craigwell said when she walks in to these GE facilities, she reaction is often this: "I just want to shake our scientists and engineers and say 'You have no idea how cool you are.'"
If electronica dance performances and YouTube stars sounds unexpected from a brand that's more than a hundred years old, that's perhaps because Craigwell has embraced the unexpected throughout her career.
"The thing that always makes me laugh in a slightly alarmed way in the back of my head is that my career has, in a way, found me," she said.
In her own words...
How do you unplug?
"I told you I'm addicted to television. I'm a little embarrassed to answer these questions. I watch a lot of bad television. I like my reality tv because it lets your brain just shut down. Also, I've been watching Manhattan and it's about the scientists on the Manhattan Project, starting around 1943. It's a really good show. Love the Good Wife, love Madame Secretary — amazing female characters. I say I love shows with strong female characters and strong science. I started watching the West Wing, which I had never seen and now I just binge watch it and start to feel very patriotic."
You mentioned you get to travel for work.
"I love to travel. I'm on the road a lot for the job, but I think especially living in New York, New York feels all encompassing. Everything's here, but it's also important to remember that there's an entire world outside of New York. I spent two months in Dubai at the end of last year, which isn't a far cry, in terms of some of the cultural aspects, but you're in the middle of the desert and there's something amazing about that. I've spent time in India, Europe, etc. I try and see as much as I can and understand as much as I can about the rest of the world."
Is there a social media account you follow for fun?
"There's the Fake Grimlock one, which I think is supposed to be a parody of a startup founder, which is pretty funny. There are more than a few people I think are really smart and I love to follow them — Anil Dash, Benedict Evans. It's a mix of comedy but also hopefully getting much smarter people than myself in my feed."
If you could try out different profession, what would it be?
"A scientist or an engineer. I wish I could just ingest the knowledge and make something valuable."
Erin Carson has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.