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.
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.
My presentation from the Social Networking Conference in Miami yesterday:
I’ll be brief in this synopsis, since you can peruse through the slides yourself. But here’s the main point: That culture is, in my view, the most overlooked, underestimated factor determining whether social media succeeds or fails in a company. And when corporate culture and social media are pitted against each other, social media will always fail. Always.
Too often, people from company “A” will recognize great success that company “B” is having by doing XYZ with social media. So, logically, they decide to do the same at company A. But the results are dramatically different. Why? Because they didn’t account for the corporate culture variable which is inevitably different between the two companies.
This is also why it is so hard for any third-party vendor to really play a meaningful role in helping a company transform itself to be more collaborative and embrace these technologies. They don’t have that deep understanding of a corporation’s culture.
Now, all that said, that doesn’t mean that we can’t do a lot to influence culture to be more open, more collaborative and more receptive to social media. In fact, I believe that there is a lot that can be done to intentionally create a culture for collaboration. That’s really the heart of the IBM case study in the slides above.
So, to repeat the punchline of the presentation, any company’s use of social media needs to start with 1) the company’s core business model (what are you in the business of doing and with whom?) and 2) corporate culture. And when #2 is an impediment, take the long approach and find ways to stretch the culture to create a more collaborative environment.
If you know me, you know one thing. I love food. I really love food. And tacos are generally the focus of my unhealthy food preoccupation. Almost a decade ago I moved to the East coast and out of sheer self preservation, I started what has become a never ending quest to find the perfect taco.
Now that my day job is centered around social media at IBM, I’m realizing the process of searching for, learning about and sharing great tacos has given me better training in the dynamics of social media than anything else I could have done.
Following are some lessons I’ve learned about communities and social media, all thanks to the humble taco.
- Go where the communities are already congregated on the topic. When I really want to have a conversation about where to find the best food, I don’t start them on this blog. I ALWAYS go to Chowhound.com first. (and trust me, the thousands of contributions I’ve made there over the past eight years are a testament to spending WAY too much time in community efforts). While my blog might attract a few people (me, my wife, my mom, etc.), thousands are already congregated on Chowhound talking about where to find the best food. My goal is to find great food. My blog isn’t where that happens. I write my blog merely as a means to aggregate my random contributions online, but for real insight, I go to where the community already exists, where the conversations are already lively and the information sharing is the most helpful.
Lesson: If you build it doesn’t mean they will come. Someone else has likely already built it. Go there first.
- Want value? Add value. The quality of what you get from a community is directly correlated to the value of your contributions into the community. This is self explanatory, but suffice to say that the quality of taco recommendations I got increased the more I gave recommendations to the community. Building a level of trust and credibility is paramount to affecting other people’s behavior – including what they offer you, and what they do as a result of what you offer them.
Lesson: If you want to win friends and influence people, you’ve got to add value to the community. And “value” is defined by the community, not you.
- Listen, learn, follow. The great thing about communities is that you are never the smartest or most informed person in the community (if you are, I’d question either your community or your humility). Of all the great tacos I’ve found in NYC, Westchester or Fairfield counties over the past eight years, I’ve rarely been the first to discover them. Usually, someone else has already been there and reported about it. Those tips are often hard to find but through carefully listening, then following those tips, I’ve found some GREAT tacos. Listening preceded finding great tacos. Plus, I was able to see some of the dumb mistakes members made that alienated the rest of the community. Taking a listening-first approach helped me avoid many of those mistakes.
Lesson: Listen first and you’ll learn things you didn’t even know you were there to learn about. You’ll also understand the explicit and implicit behavioral rules of the community.
- Closed loop. I’ve found the more I close the feedback loop, the more valuable feedback I end up getting. Finding tacos requires a lot of probing, asking and discovering. As I’ve taken people’s recommendations to try a certain taqueria, reporting back on those experiences often generates more discussion than the original query. Plus, it has the added benefit of assuring community members their contributions are considered and valued.
Lesson: Companies would do well to create a more closed feedback loop, illustrating how community contributions are having an effect.
- It’s a long-term commitment. If I’d measured the value of the tacos I ate as a direct result of my participation in food communities after the first few months, I’m not sure I would have stuck around any longer. But, I took a long-term view – let’s be honest, food is a lifelong effort – and stuck to it. Over time, I found incredible value from the community (i.e., I eat better now than ever before).
Lesson: Community focused efforts by companies are often short term in nature. And even when the mission is long term, if the measurements are short term, momentum quickly fades and companies drop their efforts.
- It’s not just about blogging. Blogging might be the poster child of Web 2.0, but blogs have not been that helpful in helping me find great tacos. Frankly, the best tools I’ve found in discovering food has been old-school message boards. That’s what chowhound originally was, and, in reality, still is. But that’s where people can share the most information and communities can get the best contribution. After all, forums are the original wiki.
Lesson: Companies often take a myopic view with social media and focus on the Web 2.0 tool du jour. But sometimes the best solutions are the most boring. Find what works given the intent of the mission.
- Avoid any place that sells “hard shell tacos”. OK, I’m not sure how this relates, but let’s be honest, Taco Bell sucks and if you eat there, what you do with anything else in your life really won’t matter that much.
Lesson: Got some great food tips? Share them.
Now I’m hungry.
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.
I spoke to a group of financial services communications professionals yesterday. It was a small, private event, with an impressively unique agenda. It isn’t every day that I present directly after Ari Fleischer and the Secret Service.
Given the current economic environment, and, specifically, the financial crisis that this crowd is steeped in daily, I wanted to make sure whatever I said passed the “Why does this matter to me?” test. Here is my take on that issue.
When companies are under incredible duress, the first priority rightly becomes fixing the fundamental problems with their business. Experimenting with social media isn’t the top of their agendas. Social media doesn’t replace simply doing business well. I agree with this approach.
In light of the huge issues these companies face, does that mean social media doesn’t matter at all? No. And here’s why: the brand. Nothing gets the attention of communications and marketing people more than talking about brand reputation or brand management. So how does social media influence the brand?
Take a look at this chart from an IBM study done earlier this year:
Note where the traditional levers used by PR and marketing are in the hierarchy of what really shapes people’s perception of a brand. Near the bottom. What’s at the top? People’s interactions with employees of a company. The opinions of analysts and third parties. The personal opinions of family and friends.
So why does social media matter? Because it’s the way we in communications can move up the value ladder illustrated in that chart. We can start to participate in the conversations that really shape people’s perception of a brand much more effectively than our traditional vehicles.
My colleague, George Faulkner, asked me last week if I’d accompany him to Poughkeepsie to speak with a group of communications students at Marist College about our work in leading the social media communications at IBM. Despite the keen feeling of being old, speaking with communications students was refreshing. When I asked the students about why they chose public relations as a major, their answers revealed a fair amount of uncertainty as to what the field is really about. That’s not all bad, in my opinion. I’ll try to explain why by sharing my personal history with the profession.
I’ll spare most of the details, but in short, I was about to start my sophomore year at BYU and had selected chemical engineering as my major. After a year of struggling with the major, I realized that this current path had only two outcomes: 1) at best, I’d trudge through school and be a mediocre engineer; or 2) at worse, I’d end up accidentally blowing up a chemical plant. Since neither outcome seemed palatable I started to look elsewhere.
I had heard of public relations from a friend and based solely on the name, changed my major. My rationale was simple: I liked people. And I liked having relationships with people. So public relations seemed perfect. I had no idea what the profession was. Just like the Marist students. And, frankly, the decision has turned out to be a good one for me in the end.
Now, this all has a point. I realized as we spoke to the Marist Students that my understanding of the profession has changed significantly from my first impressions while in college. And while the field evolves over time, at it’s heart, it’s always been the same: understanding what makes people tick and finding ways to influence and impact behavior. It was never only about pitching the media. Or even about media relations at all. It’s about understanding how to create a brand and reputation.
With the advent of social media, half of the PR professionals I know express consternation that the profession is changing, while the other half celebrate that the world has changed and none of the old rules apply. Both camps are wrong. Fundamentally the objectives and designs of the profession remain the same. Now we just have more opportunities and methods to engage with people. Hopefully that gives some level of comfort for those anxious about the changes in public relations, while tempering the exuberance of some who would hope to never talk to a reporter again.
In short, the profession is evolving. Social media, done right, simply enhances our ability to do what the intent of the profession has always been: understanding how people tick, and helping to influence people’s behavior.