IBM’s Lessons Learned in Social Business

IBM’s Lessons Learned in Social Business
You can do social the hard way, or read these lessons learned by the IBM mid-market team

By Loraine Kasprzak, MBA
“I didn’t fail; I just found a thousand ways that didn’t work.” – Thomas Edison

In my previous post, I highlighted how IBM uses digital and social marketing to build its online eminence (think: Watson on Jeopardy), leverage the intellectual capital of its 400,000 employees, and provide deep-level content for its target audiences. This post resulted from my conversations with Leslie Reiser, Program Director of Worldwide Digital Marketing for IBM General Business.

Leslie and her team built IBM’s infoboom online community to collaborate with mid-market B2B companies. In October 2011, infoboom merged with new and expanded IBM midsized business social media channels – making it easier for business leaders to engage with the information that interests them.

The team has many lessons learned that small and mid-market businesses can apply to their own social marketing strategy. These are some of the insights Leslie shared:

Get the support of your leadership team. This helps galvanize the broader organization behind you. Present the business case and talk about social in terms leadership understands. Leslie’s team set up a consolidated dashboard with social sharing and engagement metrics that demonstrate value to the business.

Online communities take care and feeding. Community building isn’t easy. You need to understand the market view. What does the market want – an objective approach or one that’s vendor-driven? Then differentiate yourself – find a market niche and present a better solution for the niche’s needs.

Do your research and talk to clients. IBM’s research was extensive, including one-on-one “voice of the customer” interviews, focus groups, and over 1,000 online surveys. Even if you don’t have an IBM-sized budget, you should still invest time in reaching out to clients to discuss their needs and challenges.

IBM also set up a client advisory network, with 140 middle market CIOs [Chief Information Officers] from diverse industries and multiple countries who bounce ideas back and forth. This group, which has been in place for 3-5 years, is very candid and outspoken. The group also has the characteristics of the customers IBM is targeting. They’re not necessarily IBM’s best customers, but are indicative of the broader market.

It’s also important to pilot. Leslie’s team needed to see what worked and what didn’t in the market. You have to pilot before you invest in content. “You don’t want a meatball – especially an expensive meatball – hanging out there,” says Leslie.

At launch, validate and ensure you’re meeting audience expectations. Ask for feedback and correct your path.

Be sure you very carefully articulate your value exchange.  What are you going to provide that the market or client needs?

If you’re an international company, be very sensitive to country nuances and individual requirements. It’s not enough to translate – you need local experts. For example, IBM’s US healthcare solutions are vastly different from solutions for the UK. Certain countries can leverage US solutions and content – Singapore and Australia are two – but not the UK. Understand the market you’re getting into and know what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

Let your rock stars go social. People are looking for expertise, credibility and authenticity from you. Leverage your subject matter experts in your social marketing and it will help your company become an industry thought leader and drive the online discussion.

Next post: Leslie offers tips for middle market businesses for building social presence.
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