It should come as no surprise to anybody that IBMers are active in social media. In fact, we have, I believe, the single largest community of employees active in social media anywhere on earth. However, to the casual observer, it can be difficult to really grasp in a meaningful way our unique approach due to our employee-led, intentionally decentralized model for participation. (oh, if only I had a dollar for every time I was asked why we don’t have a single corporate blog or an @IBM twitter account…)
Over the past few years we’ve been looking for ways to raise the visibility of our employees’ individual contributions to the social Web and bring it all together into ways that represent the brand more holistically.
Which brings us to the newly launched IBM Expert Network on Slideshare. Beginning today, you now have a small window into the thinking of many IBMers who are now part of the Slideshare network.
This is a unique program for both Slideshare and IBM. Working with Rashmi Sinha and her great team at Slideshare, we spent the last few months constructing this program to create visibility not for IBM as an entity, but rather for the IBMers that shape our our brand.
For IBM, the value is clear. We are a knowledge-based B2B company that differentiates itself through the expertise of its employees. This program allows us to turn the most common activity of our thought leaders – creating and delivering presentations – into social objects with reach across the Web.
Now, a few notes on the Slideshare network. To be sure, this is a small start. We’ve capped this network today at only 50 experts. Compared to the entire IBM audience, this represents .01 percent of our employee base. It is also a bit too U.S. centric today (with a few exceptions). And finally, many, many more IBMers are already active on Slideshare who aren’t in this program. Over time, we plan to work with Slideshare to evolve the network to be more global, expansive and representative of our work, reach and employees’ expertise. For now, this is a nice start.
So, please take a look through the network, reach out to our experts and let us know any feedback you may have.
And for those interested in a little more context around IBM’s employee-led approach to social media, below is the presentation I am delivering today at the 2010 WOMMA Summit in Las Vegas. Fittingly, I’ve posted it to Slideshare.
Apparently, everyone loves lists and rankings. From where I sit at IBM looking out over the world of social media, I’ve come across a million of these rankings. What companies are the best at social media? What brands are the most active on Twitter? What company has the prettiest avatars on Twitter? And so on.
And every single one I’ve seen – even when IBM scores very high – seems superfluous and shallow. Even rankings from respectable analysts, like Charlene Li, are usually far off the mark (that’s for a future post if anyone is interested). It’s impossible to effectively look behind the scenes and evaluate how a company is performing in social media without understanding their unique approach and what they are trying to accomplish.
So, if you are going to rank anything, you better be damn well sure that your methodology is rock solid and you are absolutely thorough in your research. Otherwise, you end up looking far more foolish than when you began.
So what got in my craw today?
A company called NetProspex claims to have created the “first comprehensive look at social media activity among employees of the nation’s largest corporations.” (I originally stated this was Flowtown’s report, thus making the correction). Yet another ranking. It only caught my eye when colleagues on Twitter pointed out the Mashable post on it. So, after enduring far too many of these rankings, I’m finally speaking out: Rankings are worthless and do everyone (except the report publisher) a complete disservice. I’ll talk more about the disservice later. But first a bit on Flowtown’s “rankings.” (Click on the image above for an enlarged view).
See IBM there? Way down at the bottom. Tied for 48th. With GE. A company that doesn’t yet allow all employees access to Facebook in the first place (no disrespect meant for my GE friends, of which I have many, but the perspective is valid). Such venerable brands like NCR, Pactiv and BMC Software apparently have more employees active in social media than IBM. Really? Or even take Dell, who by all accounts (including my own) has done a fabulous and innovative job in managing social media. But it’s been a top-down effort, with controlled access and clearly defined accounts. But this is measuring the usage by employees. Dell still doesn’t have a policy for all employees to blog (Richard/Lionel, correct me if this has changed).
Again, I want to point out that NetProspex isn’t measuring effectiveness. Many of these on the brands on this list very well may be more effective that we at IBM are (though I think we have a compelling argument). But this list measured volume. So, on that point, consider the following:
- 200,000: current IBMers on LinkedIn, according to their own data… (By the way, it’s the LARGEST single community of corporate employees on any social network platform anywhere)
- >1,000: current IBMers actively blogging externally. (some on ibm.com, but most off domain).
- >3,000: current IBMers active on Twitter (my own estimate… but consider that Eric Andersen almost immediately quickly reached the 500 limit when he put together this list of IBMers. If no limit, it would be 6x larger).
- 75,000: current IBMers on Facebook.
- 100,000: current and former IBMers on IBM’s Alumni Social Network on ibm.com and LinkedIn.
I can’t see any possible way to justify the facts above with NetProspex’ rankings. Silly.
OK, enough with this report. I’ve given it enough press.
Finally, I want to get back to my point earlier about how these endless rankings are, ultimately, doing us all a massive disservice. Why do I think that? Well, primarily because it turns all of this into a race. And as companies try and keep up with each other, they start to apply the tactics that helped company “A” get to the top of the list without realizing they have a completely different business model and culture. It always ends awkwardly. I talked a lot about the impact of corporate culture on social media previously here on this blog. It’s worth revising that in the context of these lists to ask whether we should put a final nail in the coffin of endless rankings. If only.
I made some updates above to clarify that this report was apparently conducted/published by NetProspex, not Flowtown.
Go figure (sorry for just a link… CNBC’s embed is having trouble with WordPress)
Now, I do have to say a few things about this. First, I was really disappointed that CNBC’s Power Lunch doesn’t offer lunch (kidding, kidding). Seriously though, I haven’t yet and probably won’t ever actually watch this clip because I feel completely squeamish watching myself on TV. All of my annoying quirks are far too exposed. So apologies if it stinks – I’m going solely on memory of how it went. Anyhow, the one thing I do remember is that I didn’t get to nearly any of the things I was hoping to talk about.
So to capture some of that mental prep I’d done, below I’ve crafted what my dream CNBC interview would have been:
How is IBM taking advantage of social networking?
A great question… (wink, wink) IBM has the largest community anywhere on earth of employees engaged in social networking! (can’t speak for extraplanetary entities) That translates into almost 200,000 on LinkedIn, well over 50,000 on Facebook, thousands of external bloggers, thousands on Twitter, 17,000 internal blogs, etc., etc. By virtue of our size and technically savvy employee base, there’s no other organization out there with the scale, size and potential influence. We still have work to do to make our efforts more connected and intentional, but the value is there now and the future opportunities are immense.
What are you all doing on these sites?
Work!!! We are doing our jobs – the same jobs we were doing before social media. But hopefully now with better access to colleagues, peers and expertise than we had before. These platforms remove all of the artificial and geographical boundaries you find in organizations that lock up knowledge and information. Instead of relying on your office neighbors or reporting line as the sole source of information, you can reach anywhere into the organization – or out of the organization – to collaborate, learn, listen and influence.In other words, we are on these platforms because we can do our jobs better using them. Sure, we like t0 share pictures of our kids on Facebook too, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Connections, or whatever to learn from the brightest minds out there.
Won’t employees just waste time if we give them access to these sites? [My favorite question, btw]
Not at all. Blocking access to these sites is a self defeating policy for two reasons:
- This is a reflection of poor performance measurement practices. If you want to restrict access to Facebook in an attempt to push employees toward productivity, then you aren’t focused on results; you are focused on process. And we all know that process doesn’t mean anything. If an employee is spending 50 percent of his/her time on LinkedIn and Twitter, but performs better than peers who don’t, perhaps that’s a lesson in itself? And if they are wasting their time, that too will come out when it’s time to measure results and performance.
- Think of the message this sends employees. “WE DON’T TRUST YOU.” I can’t think of many things that undermines any sense of trust between the institution and the employee than micromanaging how they spend their time. This has particular consequences when it comes to morale and recruitment.
Any parting advice for other companies looking to dip their toes in this water?
Another great question… First, I’d say be pragmatic about how you approach this. Don’t be afraid of the blurring lines between professional and private conversations of employees. That blurring already happens with phones and email. That it happens in social networks doesn’t really change much. Instead, focus on getting great guidelines in place and make sure everyone understands them. Based on our experience at IBM, the guidelines can’t be a top-down mandate. Employees should be part of the process in creating them. Our employees actually wrote the Social Computing Guidelines, resulting in self-regulating, very large, very well behaved community of active participants.
Do you have any advice for where to get a great taco?
Why yes, in fact, I do…
So that’s my dream CNBC Q&A. To quote someone far more interesting than myself, “At the end of the day… I think the questions went… wonderfully well.“
This will be brief, but I did want to offer some of my own, personal perspectives on the issue of ESPN’s new guidelines for employee use of social media. I’m basing this on my own experiences here at IBM in helping maintain the IBM Social Computing Guidelines, which we’ve had now for over four years. The IBM guidelines were created, literally, by the IBM employees who were participating in these social spaces. I won’t go into too much detail here about it – but I’ve written up our experiences in a prior post for your reading pleasure.
Now, to ESPN’s guidelines. Overall, they seem fairly reasonable. ESPN has a business to run and they need to protect their reputation and revenue streams. I understand and appreciate that. Guidelines are absolutely essential for corporations to protect both the company and the employee. But, I did have two main reactions:
- They come across too heavy handed.
- They seem to have been created and communicated in a completely old-school, top-down manner without input from employees.
If my experiences at IBM have taught me anything, it’s the following:
- Don’t create social media guidelines for employees without including employees in the process.
Why? As far as I see it, there are a few reasons:
- Corporate-only mandates instill a sense of distrust between employee and employer. Nothing says we don’t trust you like management saying out of the blue that you aren’t allowed to do “X” or “Y.” If employees are part of the process, then this becomes a moot point. But by mandating behavior on employees you turn off those who are most likely your most valuable assets in the social media space. After all, nothing is more powerful for a brand than to have its employees out there talking to clients, customers, partners and – in this case – fans.
- Missed value. The suits in CHQ (yes, I’m one) can never know all the ways that employees are finding value through social media. And much of that is bringing value to the corporation. So to dictate rules without the perspective of the employees means a lot of potential value can get lost.
- Employee “ownership” of the guidelines results in a wonderful phenomenon: better behavior and a self-regulating community. We do no policing of employees in social spaces at IBM. One of the reasons for this is because the other IBMers – the ones who helped write the guidelines – keep everyone else in line. Positive peer-pressure if you like. And if you were trusted to help create guidelines, naturally, you are more predisposed to understand them and to follow them.
Social media in sports is still in its nascent stages. Heck, I even have my own little story about it. I’m very interested in seeing how professional sports leagues, organizations and media outlets ultimately find the balance for all of this. But one thing is for sure, they should all listen to employees and fans as their starting point.
Update: looks like someone else picked up on the IBM example too.
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.