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Influencer Marketing: Q+A w Tami Cannizzaro, IBM

08/14/13
INFLUENCERS

4 of the 25 VIP Influencers at IBM event: Drew Neisser, Brian Eisenberg, Sandra Zoratti and Robert Moore

“So do you think all this influencer marketing stuff is overhyped?” asked the CMO standing next to me last night. Like a veteran batter expecting and getting a curveball, I didn’t swing at this one too hard but rather went with the pitch so to speak, letting the conversation ebb and flow until it landed in just the right spot.  That spot, for me, is the influencer marketing program conceived and lead by IBMer Tami Cannizzaro.

And while I’ve covered some of my learnings about the IBM program on this blog already, I hadn’t gone to the source and discussed things like how the program came into being, success metrics and the importance of not just “talking the talk” as a client.  This last point above all really struck home–if you want to run an influencer program especially a B2B one, then at least one individual at the brand needs to invest the time to build individual relationships with the influencers and actively participate in their conversations.  Here is my conversation with Tami which also serves as an insightful preview into our panel discussion next week at the MediaPost Social Media Insider Summit.

Drew: When did the “VIP Influencer” program you are running for IBM Smarter Commerce conferences begin, where did the idea come from and what were your expectations Year 1?
I had to think about this one, Drew! I recall speaking at a CMO Club Summit event in New York about two years ago and Ted Rubin and Margaret Molloy were sitting in the audience. They both actively tweeted my session and it received lots of great pickup by influential people in the marketing community. It hit me that we could scale this phenomenon and invite prolific social influencers to our events to extend the reach of the content beyond the four walls of the conference. In year one, my objective was simply to drive a robust social conversation that would amplify all of the great content coming out of the conference.

Drew: Did the program evolve in Year 2 (2013) and if so how?  

By year two, we scaled the program to 25 influencers and hired social media reporters to amplify the content. These social reporters tweeted, wrote short blogs and created shareable video content about the event. All reporters tweeted under a branded backchannel and identified themselves as reporters hired by IBM, so it was transparent. Between the influencer community and the reporters on site, the single conference this year yielded almost 300 million impressions and trended on Twitter as well.  We also added a Social Business Command Center, which brought the activity to life and helped support broader participation and competition among our influencers. (I can still be heard bragging from time to time about my stint on the leader board!)

Drew:  What are the factors that guided you in putting together a list of influencers for the IBM Smarter Commerce Summits?   

My social media team monitors social channels and measures those influencers with the most “signal” in our industry—tools like OneQube can help you navigate, measure and manage social relationships.   We wanted to field a group of influencers who were prolific at generating content and who also had a very engaged following. Some notable people include Jay Baer, Ted Rubin, Pam Moore, Bryan Kramer, Kim Garst, and Glen Gilmore. They have an active and influential voice in the community and a daily cadence of active publishing.

Drew: Are there any pitfalls to avoid when putting together a program like this?  

The hard part is that you have to depend on good faith that the investment will yield. If you have a CEO focused on ROI, it may not be immediately evident how it’s returning back to the business. I liken it to a relationship with the analyst community. Nurtured over time, these relationships help you to build traction in the market and drive momentum for your brand. The pitfall is that it takes faith—and a lot of times, that isn’t enough to garner support for the program in the first place!

Drew: I couldn’t help but notice that your VIP Influencers bonded at the event. Was this part of your plan or just a happy by-product?  

The misconception exists that social is just about digital—and that interacting on Twitter or Facebook is the whole power of social media. But the biggest payoffs can happen when the physical and digital worlds merge and people from social channels like Facebook or Twitter become in-person friends, colleagues, and customers. It sounds hokey, but there is tremendous power in building community, and that, to my mind, is at the core of an influencer program: Building a community of like-minded people who know and support one another.

Drew: You personally have invested a lot of time getting to know these influencers. Is that an essential part of these kinds of programs or could a marketer try to run an influencer program like yours without being personally involved?
Outsourcing the program completely to a staff person or an agency is missing the point of an influencer program, which is to make these people part of your overall brand strategy, to treat them like VIPs and give them insider access to your strategy and brand. Influencers tend to be a passionate, entrepreneurial community. Sharing your passion for your business with them and asking for their help to accomplish this is perhaps the secret ingredient of a successful influencer program.

Drew: Clearly there are costs (time, OOP) associated with assembling an influencer program list this.  Can you speak to the costs and what kind of metrics/KPIs you use to rationalize this investment?  

The time and investment is significant, but it’s one of the best parts of my job. Becoming a member of the influencer community has enriched my knowledge of the industry and paid me back in a number of ways. There are also measurable success factors. We actively measure the increase in engagement for our properties. For example, years ago, we were seeing limited pickup and reach from our social efforts. Today we have surpassed over 2 billion impressions and we’ve seen a significant increase in engagement on our owned properties. Driving from owned to earned is a slow process since you need to build a community and following over time, but it is definitely measurable.

Drew:  Seems to me, you are still getting “ink” from some of the influencers (like me!) How do you extend the value of your investment in an influencer program?

We’ve asked some of our influencers to be guest bloggers on an ongoing basis. We also activity promote our influencers throughout the year so they receive value from IBM. IBM has a strong social fabric—one that’s getting stronger every day—and that’s helping to extend the value of being aligned with the IBM brand.

If you had one word of advice for a brand starting an influencer program, what would it be?

If you’re going to start an influencer program, take the time to think through the process of choosing the right brand sponsor within your organization.    The program need to be nurtured by someone who will invest the necessary time and personal investment. It’s not a one-shot event—it’s a strategy that will evolve over time.   Ted Rubin, Chief Social Marketing Officer of Collective Bias, has coined the phrase “Return on Relationship.”  I agree with his thinking here. Social business is not about making a business transaction. It’s about building a network of business relationships that will yield results over time. You’ll get as much out of the program as you put into it.

Tips on Influencer Programs courtesy of IBM Smarter Commerce

06/20/13

Craig HaymanEvidently, I’m an influencer. Or at least IBM thinks so which is why I was invited to their Smarter Commerce Global Summit in Nashville this May.  There I joined 15 or so true influencers like Pam Moore, Glen Gilmore, Sandra ZorattiTed Rubin, Dino Dugan, Rob Moore, Pete Krainik, Bryan KramerBryan Eisenberg, Peter Shankman, Tonia Ries, Kim GarstSteven Dennis and more including the emcee Jay Baer.  None of us were asked to write anything or say anything favorable about IBM but of course, we did.  Not because we felt obligated but because IBM served up genuine news, impressive case histories and provided access to senior sources for interesting content.

For me, the real education was seeing how to put on a world class influencer program. Here are a few of the tips I gleaned:

  1. Assemble an eclectic mix of influencers so they aren’t all talking to the same people.
  2. Bring the influencers together so they can bond, cross-pollenate and help amplify each other’s content.
  3. Have a social media center with a leader board so there’s a bit of a competition during the event.
  4. Have a photo booth of some kind to make it easy to get pics that will get shared.
  5. Let them do your video interviews–its fun for them and saves you the trouble.

Which brings me to the other purpose of this post–give you a quick overview of my video interview with Craig Hayman, General Manager, IBM Industry Solutions.  Figuring that most of you don’t have a spare 17 minutes and 7 seconds to watch the whole thing, here are some of the highlights of our conversation which focused on how big data is changing the way companies do business.

Drew: Tell me what you think are the three biggest takeaways from today’s activities at the summit?
First off– how big data analytics applied through mobile, social and cloud is better serving the customer. The second thing [is the] very exciting announcement here — Watson has another job. Watson, the doctor, is now Watson call center agent as an advisor or behind the scenes. And the third area [is] the moment of engagement. That precise moment when we as individuals, we as consumers lean in.  Lean in to a discussion that’s occurring and we become interested in something.  I think we all experience that as individuals but how do you get large companies to do that at scale [and in a] reputable way.

Drew:  Interesting. Can you share a real world example where a big company is leaning into an individual and catching them at that moment and doing something with it?
One of the examples we talked about earlier was ING Direct in Canada.  So, you know everyone’s got a mobile application for banking.  You can check your bank account.  You can move money. I think most of us are used to that by now.  They did that and they did something special.  They caught onto that moment where you don’t buy something where perhaps you forsake a purchase.  Maybe you don’t buy a cup of coffee [or an mp3 download].   And, so they found a way to connect that moment with their brand.

In their mobile application you can mark that moment by moving that money into the account, to say, ‘I just saved a couple of bucks here — I didn’t buy a cup of coffee,’  and even better than that you can share that we your friends.  Together you’re sharing to buy something, maybe a summer rental or something with some friends.  And you become a passionate advocate for that brand.

Drew: What role does IBM play in the ING example?
First, we have mobile capabilities that we deliver to allow them to deliver that mobile first application.  Secondly, we’re collecting the data allowing the transactional systems connecting to that mobile application.  And third we’re sort of guiding them in terms of reinforcing [and encouraging ING Direct] to do more of that.

Drew: How about another example?
We’ve helped Costco replatform their commerce engine on WebSphere Commerce.  We’ve connected their suppliers into a B2B network so new suppliers can on board as Costco goes through this amazing growth of over 50 to 60 million members of Costco.

But for me personally, a great moment was I was able to order a year’s worth of contact lenses [from Costco online].  It was delivered to the store in less than three days and this was an example of their supply chain connected to the online experience in the store.  And that’s the reason why Costco is in the top four optical suppliers in the United States because it’s just so easy to do business with them.

Drew:  I heard at the presentation today that IBM is helping Caterpillar, especially in the area of post-purchase support.  Tell me about that.
So, let’s assume you have a piece of Caterpillar equipment.  You need a replacement part.  So, what they’ve done is come up with QR codes that can be attached to the part that are actually in the Caterpillar goods as they’re manufactured.  So, if you need a replacement part for something, you hold your phone up, scan the QR code, and you’ll now get precisely the right part.  Not the part you think you need, but, precisely, the right part that you need for them.

The second thing they’ve done is connect through social and mobile to reach out to dormant customers.  To progress them.  Perhaps they had a relationship with their distributor.  Maybe today they don’t.  Maybe they’ve moved or something.  So, they reach them through social, mobile, progress them, and educate them.  Give them information about advances in technology.

And at the right time, hand that lead together with the information about what that person is interested in back to the distributor, to again convert from what is a digital handshake of relationship education into a physical relationship based on trust and authenticity.

Drew:  We’ve been talking a lot about big companies.  I’m curious, is there an opportunity in this sort of big day that customer service world person midsized companies?
I think for midsized [companies] this is where cloud really plays a role.  Of course, if you buy software, then you have to install it.  You have to buy the machines to install it on.  You need the services to configure the software, etc.  The beautiful thing about buying things through the cloud is you avoid all the capital expenditure.  You have minimal operational expenditure to run it.

So, what we have been doing is delivering more and more of our capability as a service in the cloud.  Most recently, we delivered Websphere Commerce as a service.  We delivered something called IBM Marketing Center as a service.  We’ve actually made this available to our business partners for one year for free, so they can kick the tires and make sure they understand it.  And so for these small and medium businesses, this is a great way to consume marketing or procurement capabilities or online e-commerce capabilities.

Drew: How is IBM using some of these tools to market themselves?
We push our own internal teams to use our capabilities.  So, for marketing, IBM Marketing uses Unica and Coremetrics.  For procurement IBM uses Emptoris. For commerce, we use Websphere Commerce.  And even internally, we’re using Watson ourselves to understand our customer.

Drew:  Interesting.  So, let’s sort of wrap up here and if you could sort of, as we look at smarter commerce and big data and customer services, give me sort of the best practices really in a nutshell in this world.
We have worked with [nearly] 3,000 global brands now.  And we spent a lot of time understanding what it is that they did that worked and understanding what they did that didn’t work and try to let everyone know what’s the recipe, right.

      • So, first, [leverage] big data and analytics, apply that through mobile, social and cloud.
      • The second is, understand your customer.  Capture data about that customer at every touch point.  Every time you touch that customer in store or online capture data so you can better predict their behavior.
      • Third, engage with that customer in a way that’s very compelling using that data.

Drew: Let’s dive into the 3rd point a bit deeper.
When you walk in a store and someone says hello, welcome to my store.  It’s not that engaging. Whereas perhaps if you know that you’re browsing the shirts and you’ll looking at a certain stack of shirts then maybe assist them [by] checking out a collar size or sleeve length or something, that’s an engaging dialogue.  Or do that online.  Progress and engage people.

“Long-Term Success is Made Up of a Series of Short-term Successes” Q&A w IBM’s Yuchun Lee

12/5/11

While doing homework for another article, I ran across a recent study by IBM called “From Stretched to Strengthened” that offers insights into the challenges facing CMO’s around the world.  The study is well worth reading, especially if you are a CMO, and stresses a number of important themes including the needs to:

  • Deliver value to empowered customers
  • Foster lasting connections
  • Capture value, measure results

After reading the study, I reached out to IBM with some follow up questions and got in touch with Yuchan Lee, General Manager of IBM’s Enterprise Marketing Management business.  I think you will agree that Mr. Lee has smart things to say about measuring ROI, using social media for research, the importance of having a clear “corporate character” and finally, the need to think long-term when it comes to customer relationship building.

DN: Is ROI the right metric for CMOs or just one of many important metrics?
It is the most important, as reflected by our CMO Study. Other than a metric based on reflecting customer up-take (e.g., revenue, satisfaction level), which most companies already measure, marketing ROI is essentially the highest level scorecard for an organization’s ability to efficiently and effectively allocate its resource to hit marketing goals.

DN: Why do you think so many CMOs struggle to demonstrate ROI?
The heart of the challenge is the nature to which marketing activities influence buying behavior, and how behavior manifest itself over time. Measuring ROI in marketing involves sifting through tons of noise in the data to connect all the pieces of evidence that influenced the purchase behavior.  This is an inexact, statistically-based science that, until recently, was too hard to tackle.

DN: Why do you think marketers have been so slow to embrace research via social channels? (i.e. only 14% mine blogs)
Before a company embraces a social channel, it must first believe it has to.  This requires a shift in strategy based on the realization that consumers are more in control and the company is losing its grip on branding.  In my experience, this shift is scary to many companies and many are slow to realize it and to turn this realization into action.  Furthermore, even if one is ready to take action, the newness of engaging social networks makes it challenging to know where to begin.

DN: Why should marketers expand their research horizons beyond traditional channels to things like blogs?
We believe traditional marketers need to expand not just research but all areas of market and customer engagement as well as demand generation to the social channels.  That’s where the center of influence for purchase decisions is and will continue to be. That’s where detailed, real-time, and unfiltered market feedback data can be best gathered and analyzed, and ultimately where the brand of a company will truly be reflected in the future (if not already!).

DN: What’s in it for the more proactive marketers who are mining new digital data sources?
Additional data, if incorporated properly, allows a company to know what is relevant to its customers — potentially down to the individual customer level.  We believe the ability of a company to deliver relevant communication in sales/marketing/services is the basic ingredient to a successful customer relationship and a prerequisite to staying in business.

DN: A lot of marketers pay lip-service to their corporate values.  Will developing a clear ‘corporate character’ really deliver competitive advantage?
Having clarity on a company’s corporate character is a necessary but not sufficient element of success.  It must be followed by execution by the organization, every day, delivering a consistent customer experience that is aligned with the corporate character.  The true reflection of the corporate character will come out quickly, most likely in social media.

DN: Your report emphasizes the need to “foster lasting connections.”  Is this goal in conflict with the typically pressing need to deliver short-term revenue?
No.  In our experience, being relevant and adding value to the customer in every communication and interaction is the common denominator for forging a lasting connection with the customer AND the ability to drive successful short-term revenue.  After all, long-term success is made up of series of short term successes!

Q&A with IBM’s Ethan McCarty, Part 3

09/13/11

I realize this was a long interview and you may be ready for me to move on BUT this last part contains some really smart advice for other companies looking to develop their own Social Business programs.  Also, this interview produced my latest post on FastCompany.com entitled Move Over Social Media; Here Comes Social Business.

Drew: What advice would you give to a B2B company interested in pursing a similar program?  What three things would you say to them?

Ethan: Probably, don’t use the word, “expert.” There are some cultures that are completely allergic to using that word in reference to themselves.

Drew: Makes sense. How did you get this thing up and running?

Ethan: One of the things we’ve done that’s been really helpful is we made sure that we had people from all around the world working on the project. I’m a member of a team we call the Expertise and Eminence Round Table.  It started with six of us just meeting on Friday morning and talking about the work we were doing.  The group represents some people from our hardware group, some from software and others from Services and the CIO office.  They heard about the work that my team and I were doing and they wanted to be apart of the project. We realized we were all managing lists of experts, so we got our lists together. We started with a base population in the Expertise Locator System that’s very diverse so we can learn a lot from that. From there we hit the ground running.

Drew: What else would you advise?

Ethan: We are trying to apply what’s called “agile development” to this system so we put out a new version or update it just about every two weeks. The idea is we try to learn quickly, and if we need to fail quickly, we’re failing quickly.  When stuff doesn’t work, two weeks later we’re changing it.  With Digital systems like the Expertise Locator,  you can’t spend 10 months planning it and then launch it.  From the point when we wanted to get this on ibm.com to the point we had it on ibm.com was four weeks.  It wasn’t a service at that point; it was this manually coded thing. In the next version we had the database set up, and in the next version we had the API described.

It was very iterative; my advice – you really want to get something up that you can start to have people experience quickly.  It’s complicated because people expect [that because] it’s from IBM, surely it’s done when it’s out the door. It would be quite different if this were a product that we’re putting into market, but this is a cultural program, a communications and marketing program.  In that way we have a bit more flexibility to iterate and learn as we go— that would be a very key lesson for anybody who’s going to try to get into this.  You’re talking about working with lots of people, and you can’t predict how people behave. It would be tremendous hubris to say that you could predict how people are going to behave.

Drew: Is there a component of this where the accessibility of these experts is giving away the very expertise that you sell?

Ethan: The interaction that experts have or that people have with IBMers right now through this is pretty light.  It’s not like a free six-month consulting engagement with a team of our principle consultants. I think it’s more of a means to get to know us, and we can help you build your business through that.

Drew:  What’s in it for the expert?  I mean they’ve got their own job.

Ethan: That’s a great question. First of all, there are some IBMers for whom interaction with the public, clients in particular, or prospective employees or whomever, is a facet of their job.  If you’re going to be one of our most eminent technologists, you’d be called a distinguished engineer or maybe you’d be a member of our academy of technology or a master inventor. These people already have it in their job description to interact with clients and prospects, and they’re supposed to be mentoring people. There are all kinds of things that they’re already supposed to be doing and quite directly participating as someone in our Expertise Locator System or participating in social business at IBM would allow them to do that more effectively.  Soon, they will actually be able to track it. You could say, “Look, I showed up on web pages 350,000 times.”

Secondly, these days employees are sort of global capitalists in a way. You’re a citizen of a digitally interconnected globe at this point, and your reputation is everything.  If you cannot manage your reputation— your digital professional reputation— you’re in real trouble. One of the things that we’re building out in social business at IBM is a personal dashboard that starts to show things like how many times you were surfaced and how many times people connect with you. We’re helping to establish each IBMers digital reputation with these tool, and a digital reputation is becoming vital in today’s business world.

Q&A with Ethan McCarty, IBM’s Senior Manager of Digital and Social Strategy

09/11/11

Here is the first part of my interview with Ethan McCarty IBM’s Senior Manager of Digital and Social Strategy.  Its hard not to be impressed with IBM’s approach to social, elevating the discussion from a “nice to have” media component to a “must have” means of doing business.

Drew: Most businesses are trying to get their mind’s wrapped around social media, and you folks are now talking about social business. What’s the difference between those two terms?

Ethan: I think there’s a variety of interpretations for these terms : social media and social business. Social media is typically about mediated experiences with content, and sometimes it’s about dis-inter-mediating the experience. Social media is about media and people, which is one dimension of the overall world of business. With social business you start to look at the way people are interacting in digital experiences and how you can apply the insights derived from all the data and apply them to business processes that may not necessarily be about dissemination of information.

Drew: Tell me about the various dimensions of Social Business, and how companies can deploy it.

Ethan: Social business is about looking at  business processes differently;  from how you are listening to your customers, to how you are engaging with a wide-variety of constituencies. It could be your employees, or it could be potential investors; it could be current investors; it could be prospects for your business.

One of the main dimensions of social business is about managing relationships through these new business processes. Social media is more about disseminating information in new ways, using people as the medium rather than broadcast systems as the medium.  In social business you might be managing community relationships or relationships with individuals; you might be identifying and activating experts or rewarding and recognizing certain kinds of behaviors. And then of course another really important dimension of social business is collaboration. I think that is beyond the thought of social media because it’s not always about creating an information document.  It could be things like collaborative editing, but it could also be file sharing or expertise location.

There are things in the realm of social business that are more about working to improve the efficiency of teams as opposed to just getting a message out there, which I think a lot of the initial social media really were about. Social business is sort of a super-set of social media. Social media is one component of social business.

Drew: Is social business a mind set or a skill set? Or is it a product?

Ethan: All of the above. There are certainly products that enhance an organization’s ability to become a social business. For example, IBM offers a platform of products that enable social business – wikis, blogs, communities, instant messaging, etc. Beyond these products, and really in order to implement and adopt them successfully, social business has to be move than just a mindset, it has to be an organization’s cultural priority. Leaders have to be committed to making significant business process changes in order to actually make work getting done easier and more efficient. We have at IBM a social business management council that  includes some very high-ranking IBM executives, IBMers in the CIO office, in HR, etc., [and] we perform risk analyses and opportunities analyses to help us establish new modes of work. One of the efforts that I’m leading with an IBM HR leader is to look at how we’re going to formalize these new modes of work into our skills at IBM. Social business at IBM is a priority, we’re constantly fine tuning our processes to better serve our customers, partners and ourselves.

Social business is a pretty broad thing, and it includes skills that aren’t necessarily obvious to every employee.  Also there’s a broad area of policy development that we, as an industry, need to do. If you think about how many relationships between an enterprise’s employee base and those with whom they are supposed to be working have been mediated and controlled by processes that are not necessarily enabled by the most contemporary social business approaches, you’ll see the world has a lot of work to do in this area. That is, to me, very promising.

Drew: How is Social Business being integrated into IBM’s business model?

Ethan: There are a couple major concepts that we’re currently working on. One is acknowledging that social, digital activity is moving from the periphery to the center of business. And to me, that’s a big part of what social business is. It’s the transition of all the interesting and fun social activity that’s taken place in the commercial domain is becoming increasingly applicable to enterprises, and how enterprises get work done; how enterprises manage relationships with their clients; how employees work together. That’s a significant change in business.  Social, digital activity and experiences are no longer a frivolous, nebbishy thing for teenagers and college students. Enterprises are realizing the power of these tools to transform there business.

IBM’s a great example of this social business transformation; a lot of our work is done using digital, collaborative means. Consider this, I’ve got eight people on my core team, and, not one of us lives in the same city, and many of us are in different time zones.  I work with IBMers in Australia and California and Michigan and all around the Tri-State area, and we’re doing all kinds of great work together, every day. It’s asynchronous; it’s collaborative. The way we work together is digital and a lot of it this work and collaboration is not happening over email.  Email is a very limited tool, and in some ways completely antisocial.  It does a lot of things to silo the work efforts. Instead of email, we’re using social tools – file sharing, video conferencing, wikis, communities, instant messaging, etc – to get our jobs done.

FYI, you can follow Ethan on Twitter @ethanmcc.

Could IBM Be Bigger in Social Media than Facebook?

09/22/10

Fathoming a new product from IBM via a launch event is like trying to understand the ocean by watching a wave. Nonetheless that was my task, swimming through the presentations and ultimately landing an interview with Jeffrey Schick, IBM’s VP of Social Software. Drenched in the vision Schick shared for the IBM Customer Experience Suite, it occurred to me that IBM could end up being more important to the business use and monetization of social media than Facebook.

While the comparison between IBM’s new social software solutions and Facebook could be considered all wet from the start, the mere fact that I’m discussing both in the same sentence should make you take notice. IBM is not sitting idly on the dock as web and mobile usage transform business interactions. Rather they intend to ride the wave of Web 3.0, creating and implementing the software that according to Schick, “can better connect people with people and people with information.”

Social software is not a new idea at IBM

Long before Mark Zuckerberg aggregated his Harvard friends online, IBM’ers could find their colleagues in a similar manner. According to Schick, “at IBM 15 years ago, we had a way to look up people to create a globally connected enterprise.” “Today we have approximately 500,000 people within IBM and we do about 6 million look ups a day on pages that look strikingly similar to other social network profile pages with features like blogging and photo posting,” added Schick.

IBM’s internal network served as both an incubator and torture test for its latest offering. “The idea of getting the right person over the right time at the right opportunity and yield the right result was really important,” explained Schick. So while Schick and his team watched the rise of Facebook with interest, they took greater inspiration from the technology they were already using to deliver “an exceptional work experience for employees” which also translated into better client service.

Social software for business that is as easy as Facebook

Recognizing how simple it is to publish on the web today, IBM aims to make their social software tools as easy to use as social networks like Facebook. Acknowledging the early adoption of social technology by kids, Schick noted, “now I say this stuff is so easy us old people can use it!” This simplicity of use has fundamental implications for business, “making a tremendous difference in the way that people can collaborate and share information,” added Schick.

The emphasis on ease of use also means that IBM may be able to address some of the needs of small and medium size businesses with its new offering. By taking the capabilities they’ve created for big companies and putting them on the cloud, smaller businesses may indeed be able to leverage these services and according to Schick, “easily create a community that would allow them to invite their clients and engage them.”

Reaching for more than 500 million “likes”

While pundits debate the value of a Facebook fan, IBM has no doubt about the value of its new social software portfolio. In addition to using the software to “build better client and employee relations,” Schick expects that “people can get genuine business value [from it].” While dialog is important, all of this, according to Schick, “is done to drive revenue, to create better customer satisfaction and gain some competitive advantage.”

And though IBM calls its Customer Experience Suite “new,” they are already touting case histories that prove its merit. Schick explained how the relatively small Practicing Law Institute is “leveraging the web to create communities to better engage their attorneys that take their classes.” He also explained how a large construction firm, “created a web experience that allowed them to hear the types of homes they should be building.”

Being a social organization is more than being on a social network

Though Facebook is the reigning social network, it is simply a ripple in the ocean of IBM’s vision for the new social organization. Businesses of all sizes need to think social across their intranets, extranets, the internet itself and the emerging mobile marketplace. Whether it’s about sharing information internally, with clients in a walled garden, or with prospects on their cellphones, “social is an important dimension and critical to what we’re doing,” explained Schick.

Recognizing that the social tsunami could be a bit overwhelming to its customers, IBM also tried to use itself as an example, employing a range of external and internal social tools at the launch event and online. Attendees were encouraged to tweet using the hash tag #IBMexperience while the event was streamed live online. All of the launch-related content was shown in real-time using IBM’s social media aggregator providing proof positive that IBM was indeed practicing what it preached.

Final Note: Regardless of your business size, IBM’s big move into social software should be a clear indication that every business needs a broad-reaching social strategy not just a Facebook fan page! This strategy needs to address the needs of your customers and your employees, ensuring optimal collaboration between them anytime and anywhere.  (This article first appeared on FastCompany.com)

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