Case Study: IBM's Experience with B2B Social Business

Case Study: IBM’s Experience with B2B Social Business offers my notes and insights on Sandy Carter’s inspiring and useful summary of a social network pioneer.

Sandy Carter, Vice President & Social Media Evangelist, IBM

Case Study: IBM's Experience with B2B Social Business: IBMSandy Carter has been on the front lines of introducing disruptive technology to the market for many years, and she outlined an impressive string of IBM’s social business initiatives and milestones on Day One of the Social Networking Conference. Even though I am aware of many of IBM’s initiatives, I took away several new nuggets, which I’ll share below, along with my notes of her presentation.


Case Study: IBM's Experience with B2B Social Business: social networking conferenceBy any measure, IBM has been a social business pioneer, so I have been covering them for years. They constantly challenge the stereotype that large organizations cannot respond or innovate. In addition, I have collaborated with them while managing several employers’ IBM strategic alliances over the years, and I am an IBM business partner currently, so I know the firm from several perspectives. I’ll share these and some links after my notes from Sandy’s preso.

Social Networking Strategies at IBM: Background

  • One of IBM’s first bloggers, Sandy had an “aha moment” when the Wall Street Journal quoted her blog (in 2005); she personally experienced the power of blogging.
  • In 2005, Sandy and a group of 15 bloggers wrote IBM’s blogging policy. Legal checked it and only made a few tweaks. The point is, it was practitioner-generated and owned.
  • In 2008, the team wrote the IBM Social Computing Guidelines, to broaden guidance. She wrote The New Language of Marketing 2.0, which outlines how to organize to take advantage of Web 2.0 and social business. It formed the basis of her presentation.

Internally Focused Social Business (Enterprise 2.0)

  • There are roughly 500,000 IBMers worldwide, and 1,800 communities (internally). IBM build “Wikicentral” to drive internal collaboration among teams. They also send 4 million Yammer messages per day.
  • Dogear is an IBM-developed product that enables social bookmarking on corporate intranets. It has drastically reduced search time to find documents.
  • When an IBMer is going to retire or leave the firm, s/he gets two weeks to dogear the most valuable artifacts to make the transition for the next person that much easier.
  • IBM sees financial impact in these areas: less travel , lower email cost and better collaboration.

Externally Focused Social Business (Web 2.0)

  • Sandy outlined the approach in her latest book: Analyze, Nail strategy, Go to market, Energize community, Leads & revenue, Scream (break through noise). That’s ANGELS.
  • Analyze is about listening. 55% of the value of social business is listening; she sees clients making the mistake of copying competitors (she didn’t use this expression, but I see this constantly, that’s the blind leading the blind). IBMers use Twitter to tap the stream, learn what people are thinking about any subject. Flag core words like SOA. IBM has 70% market share of SOA (tools, technologies).
  • Co-creation: IBM asked surrent Websphere customers what features they would like to see and why, and they opened the conversation to the blogosphere. They got 4,000 ideas in three days and created an energized community. She also referenced Coach’s crowdsourcing of bags.
  • Nail strategy. The example was IBM’s corporate social responsibility and green initiative. They realized it would be incongruent or unsavory to have a (physical) conference for green initiatives in which people would burn tons of CO2 getting there, so they held it in Second Life. The sales conversion ratio was equal to physical conferences. When you encourage customers to help customers in support communities, however, realize that it can cut into service revenue, as Apple has learned.
  • Go to market. For Impact 2009, they used Twitter and LinkedIn to drive attendance to a partner conference on Smart SOA, the prize was that three winners would have 30 minutes with IBM’s CTO. They generated 40% of the targeted attendance within 72 hours. More results for Impact 2009:
    • Build community. You can develop extensive synergy if you co-create a community with a strategic partner. IBM partnered with InfoQ to launch a community, and the partnership made it much more dynamic because neither owns it; they co-hosted 100,000s of YouTube and Flickr. They asked people to make videos, “Why you like IBM,” and they got great content they could use in many ways.
    • Widgets are extremely powerful; at conferences and on Web pages, IBM makes slides available for download via widgets, which can track how long people what a video. Likewise, if someone returns to the same or similar page within a short time, that pops a live chat window, so they can offer help.
    • Results: 10% of total registration incurred no marginal cost as it was through social networks; 15% year to year increase in new sales; cancelled professional photographers and gave flip cams to attendees, reducing cost and increasing engagement; 46% increase in Web leads; lowest cost/lead in all of IBM.
    • Lessons learned: IBM is very bullish on virtual events for which they use Second Life sometimes but more often white label vendors from and others. The problem was, in one Second Life meeting, a whole nudist colony showed up! (I mused, “I wonder if they were Microsoftians.” ,^). Also consider using virtual goods (necklaces and trinkets that cost nothing but confer status and importance to attendees).
    • The average attendance was 186 minutes per attendee.
  • Energize: she outlined IBM’s experience with the game, Innov8. They recognize that people have short attention spans, and gaming can be very effective for engaging people. Innov8 is a lead generation campaign. The game is free to play, but IBM knows that people want to brag about their scores, but they have to give their contact information in order to display their scores outside of the game.
  • IBM is pushing aggressively with social business because they can see success. It’s not yet neat and tidy, though. They are reducing marketing 1.0 investment in favor of marketing 2.0. They are trying to use Cognos to get better measurements, but it’s still a work in progress.
  • The largest software deal in 2009 was sourced from an IBM blog.

Final Shots

  • I have not succeeded in capturing Sandy’s palpable enthusiasm for social business, but I hope you can sense why IBM is so committed to it.
  • Knowledge is social, and interacting in digital social networks takes time and skill and trust. It’s important to move everyone internally in this direction because it opens up tremendous productivity due to low transaction costs. Sandy’s examples and energy reflected that this is starting to happen.
  • Here’s another IBM case study I wrote at #snc2009. Look for Adam Christensen’s presentation.
  • IBM Drives Enterprise Adoption of Social Networks with New Enterprise Adaptability Practice explains how numerous IBM products and services combine to help clients
  • Leadership, Trust and the Globally Integrated Enterprise is my coverage of IBM CEO Sam Palmisano when he was in Chicago to accept the International Executive of the Year

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