For a while I’ve been wanting to put together a longer post detailing the full background behind IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines and some our Social Computing experiences overall. While you can glean quite a bit about those topics by perusing some prior posts I’ve written and presentations I’ve given on related topics, unfortunately, I just haven’t gotten around to putting it all in one place.
However, I was recently involved in a small project that helped capture much of this content. Along with a few colleagues, I was asked by Harriet Pearson, IBM’s Chief Privacy Officer, to help put together a public submission to the Department of Homeland Security as part of their Privacy Workshops they hosted in Washington D.C. earlier this week. It was a great exercise to capture many of the lessons we’ve learned at IBM over the years about privacy, guidelines, boundaries and institutional opportunities in this space we now term social computing. The paper was selected for review at the workshop, so you can read the full submission here on the DHS site (warning, pdf).
There are a few parts I wanted to call out here regarding IBM’s experience in this area (I’ve added emphasis below):
As we all know, another major shift occurred early in this decade with the emergence of Web 2.0. These new capabilities were enormously empowering for individuals – facilitating not just global access to information, but the capacity for anyone to become a global publisher for free, in minutes. In addition, the distinction between “inside” and “outside” became far less exact or defensible. This holds enormous potential for enhancing collaborative relationships, but also raises significant issues with regard to security, privacy and governance
Based on our previous experience, IBM recognized the opportunity to tap into individuals’ use of social media as a way to flatten a geographically and organizationally dispersed employee population and to encourage more learning, collaboration and development – both inside the company and with external parties. Further, our research indicated that the personal interactions individuals have with IBM employees – online or face-to-face – have a more powerful influence on shaping the individual’s perception of IBM’s brand than any other form of communications, marketing or advertising.
With that in mind, in 2003 IBM was one of the first companies to provide employees access to social tools – blogs, social networks, wikis, video and podcast publishing — inside and outside the firewall. We did so in order to encourage collaboration and provide greater outside exposure to IBM’s greatest asset – its employees.
In providing such unfettered access to Web 2.0 technologies, the company’s management – and IBMers themselves – were not blind to the need for appropriate governance and risk management in relation to how these tools are used. In an effort to protect the IBM brand and employees themselves, in 2005 IBM became one of the first corporations to issue specific guidelines for employee behavior in social computing environments. Now called the IBM Social Computing Guidelines, they were initiated and written in significant part by interested employees themselves, were created on an internal wiki, and continue to serve as the framework by which employee behavior is guided in these online social contexts.
By empowering all employees to participate and engage within the clear framework of the IBM Social Computing Guidelines, IBM and its employees have embraced social media in dramatic numbers. Following are a few examples of some of the tools most popular with IBMers:
- Internal blogs: 60,000 users, 17,000 different blogs
- Internal wikis: 1 million page views per day
- Employee-created podcasts and videos: more than 8.5 million downloads
- Facebook: more than 70,000 employees
- LinkedIn: more than 250,000 employees
We believe that IBM’s experience over the past 25 years has shown that, with the proper guidelines and instruction for employees, the use of Web 2.0 technologies by large organizations can be managed and an open, more collaborative and efficient environment developed.
The paper then goes on to describe some more prescriptive recommendations for how the government can engage – safely – in these spaces. But if I were to sum it all up in just a few sentences, we believe the businesses – and certainly governments – have much to gain from empowering their employees to engage in these environments. And by working with employees to establish clear – but fair – guidelines for behavior, organizations can do so without opening themselves up to unsatisfactory levels of risk.
Take a read through the paper and let us know what you think.
Below is my presentation at the PRSA Digital Impact conference in New York City last week.
As you will notice, the front half is similar to what I presented in Berlin last month. However, the context is quite different. While Berlin was focused on a very technorati crowd, this was specifically amongst communications colleagues from mostly private enterprises. A much more familiar crowd of sorts.
This presentation really is a culmination of my public speaking for the past six months – all in the context of IBM’s continued six-year transformation down the path of social media. I’ll spare the details as you can read much of it in my other presentations on Slideshare, but I do want to focus on one slide in particular here, slide #10, “IBM’s Underlying Foundations.” Basically, what has enabled success for us in social media thus far? These three things:
- IBM’s values. This really has two parts to it. One of our core values is trust in the employee. This is imperative as we try and encourage every employee to engage in social media. But the experiences in how we created our values is every bit as important as the outcome themselves. Back in 2003, IBM set out to define what we stand for as a company. Rather than having it be created by a few folks at CHQ, we decided to put the task to every IBMer. So we launched ValuesJam in 2003, a massive three-day online brainstorm for all employees. Fine right?
Well, not at first. As soon as the Jam it went live, many employees found a place where they could vent their frustrations. And for the next eight hours, it was overwhelmingly negative. To the point where we were getting calls to pull the plug. We decided to see what happened if we let it run it’s course. And what happened? The conversation organically shifted from being overwhelmingly negative to being overwhelmingly positive. All without any moderation or prodding from the top. It was an eye opener that if we let employees do their thing, in the end, we’ll all gain from it. That experience gave us as a company more confidence that we could give open, free access to employees both internally and externally, which has informed everything we do in the social media context. And perhaps the most important benefit is that employees view the company’s progressive stance on social media as a public example of the values in action. A reinforcing circle, of sorts.
- IBM Social Computing Guidelines. I’ve talked a lot about these in the past. But basically, the guidelines provide the framework in which IBMers feel comfortable participating in social media. It gives protection to both the employee and the employer. And it gives formal endorsement from the corporation that employees are not only allowed but also explicitly encouraged to participate in these spaces to advance their day jobs. What’s the one thing that has contributed to the success of these guidelines? That they were written by the community themselves, not Communications, Legal or HR. That’s allowed for an accurate sense of community ownership which results in a wonderfully self regulating community.
- The Authentic Enterprise. This is a brilliant document (full disclosure, my boss’ boss, Jon Iwata, helped write it on behalf of the Arthur Page Society) and one that should be a mandatory read for any communications or marketing professional. It summarizes the role of communications in the current business environment. The gist is simply that we are moving from a period of mass communications one of masses of communicators. That has profound implications for us in communications. The whole traditional model of communications (slide #9 in my presentation above) is being turned on it’s side.
And, of course, the rest of my presentation focused on the simple fact that we simply don’t have the luxury any longer to experiment for experimentations’ sake. Instead, we need to extract tangible value from social media. If not, why are we doing it in the first place?
But I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you are seeing this play out in your organization or enterprise. Everyone company’s story is slightly different. I’m all ears.
While I don’t have too much time to recap the presentation in Berlin, I did want to share the slides here below. There are three distinct parts of the presentation, which, without context probably feel quite disjointed. So please read below for a little bit of context.
In short, here’s the main point: too often social media is taken on as a stand alone experiment devoid of a proper value statement and not rooted in the business model or organizational mission. And just as I said in a prior presentation that social media in conflict with corporate culture is doomed to failure, so too is any social media project without regard to what business you are actually in.
Which is why I think we are at a point where experimentation for the sake of experimentation is over. Given the economic conditions in which we find ourselves, any project proposed without absolutely clear value attached to it is not only unlikely to get off the ground, but also irresponsible for us as employees to even propose. Hence, the experiment is over.
Now, that said, I firmly believe social media that DOES have an articulated, well grounded value objective has a lot of opportunity. There is an appetite for doing things differently. But work needs to be done to show how it will advance the business’ or organization’s core mission.
Which leads me to the center of the presentation, which is focused on an IBM case study. More than two years ago we embarked on a massive crowdsourcing experiment called InnovationJam. (at the time, it was the third such “Jam” we’d done). The intent was to address a problem we’d been having of bringing to market some of the great technologies our researchers work on in the labs. Basically, how do we find practical business application for the great R&D work in the labs.
So, with that in mind, we opened up a 72-hour online brainstorm to all employees, clients, business partners, academics and even employee family members to explore possible applications for the research projects being worked on in our labs. I’ll spare the details, but 150,000 participants and 46,000 ideas later, we arrived on 10 unique business ideas. Around those business ideas we created mini business units, each funded at $10 million. (see slides 12-15 for details).
The result of that exercise has been pretty dramatic. If you follow IBM at all (and even if you don’t) you’ve probably heard about our Smarter Planet agenda (see more about that on the Smarter Planet blog and on ibm.com). The gist is, the major systems that make the world work – financial, health, food, traffic, energy, etc. – are all largely broken and in need of being fixed. And the solutions to those problems have a big technology underpinning.
What does this have to do with Smarter Planet? Well, take a look at slide #15. The ideas that came out of InnovationJam 2006 form the core of Smarter Planet. In short, without InnovationJam, I’m not sure we’d have Smarter Planet. And Smarter Planet is IBM’s overall corporate strategy. Pretty impressive proof point to the potential value of Social Media. But, going back to my original premise, it was rooted in a core problem we had, with a value statement at the back end.
Now, the third part of the presentation is on Smart Cities, which is very exciting, and following the presentation elicited some very pointed, but useful questions and conversations. But I’ll share more of that later on the Smarter Planet blog.
Photo courtesy of David Sifry via Flickr
My wife grew up a surfer. In high school, she’d ditch 4th period to head to the beach with her friend and her friend’s 9-foot longboard and surf the rest of the afternoon.
Some time during her senior year, she had an incident with a shark. Terrified, she paddled to shore as fast as she could. It turned out the shark was actually a playful dolphin circling underneath her board, but the result was the same. She never surfed again.
That doesn’t mean she is afraid of water or doesn’t love to swim. She’ll spend the entire summer in the pool. But when it comes to the big, deep blue ocean, she won’t go in past her waist.
Some people love to swim, but they are afraid of the ocean. Let me try and relate this to social media within the enterprise.
Those of us responsible in some way for driving adoption of social media within the enterprise face many of the same challenges. Foremost is overcoming the fear some employees – and companies – face when it comes to social media. Many harbor fear that Web 2.0 is a dangerous jungle with hazards lurking in every shadow. This fear can largely be overcome by providing a safer environment where people can learn, practice and experiment.
This has significant effect at the executive level too. As executives see social media work constructively inside the company, they begin to feel less need to control and more comfortable taking risks associated with new levels of openness and collaboration.
IBM’s approach – inside-out first
I wasn’t involved when IBM first dabbled its toes in the social media waters six years ago, so I can’t relate all of the discussions that went on at the time. But what I do know is this: the company made a deliberate decision to start our efforts inside the company first. We are a company of 380,000 employees, spread across the world, so it made sense for us to start our efforts inside the company – to find ways to connect more meaningfully across the world, to collaboration more effectively, and to flatten a massive organization.
(I’ll spare the lengthy discussion of what exactly we’ve been doing behind the firewall, but you can read about it here in Shel Israel’s interview with my colleague George Faulkner.)
This doesn’t mean that we haven’t done considerable work outside the firewall too. But our staring point was driving the adoption of social media inside the firewall first.
What has been the result? A culture within IBM familiar and comfortable with engaging in social media. As a whole, I think we are pretty advanced in our thinking of how to use these tools. We aren’t perfect, and I still see examples that make me cringe, but for the most part, the company is smart in its use of social media.
What does this mean for everyone else?
Adopting these tools and platforms behind the firewall first creates a safe environment where employees can safely learn the basics of social media without the fear of wading into the deep waters of a shark-infested ocean.
Employees will learn how to engage constructively with one another and behave in a way conducive to collaboration and openness. I can’t help but think many companies could avoid a lot of the embarrassing mistakes I see if employees had been able to experiment and learn behind the firewall first.
I realize that this approach doesn’t work for all companies. Perhaps their greatest needs are external and they need to address them immediately. IBM’s approach is IBM’s approach. But I can’t help but thinking that if more companies actively worked to create a safer environment within a company for employees to experiment and learn, they’d avoid many of the embarrassing mistakes that too often plague corporate use of social media.