A Deeper Look at Social Business

an interview with
Ethan McCarthy Senior Manager of Digital and Social Strategy, IBM

In this part of the interview, Ethan McCarty IBM’s Senior Manager of Digital and Social Strategy, goes into more specifics about their social business initiatives. Of particular interest to me is the Expertise Locator, a nascent Marketing as Service program that connects prospects/customers with experts IBMers.

Drew: Walk me through your various social business initiatives at IBM.

Ethan: IBM’s social business initiatives run deep – from the products and services we sell to clients to our own use of the technology and implementation of social business processes throughout the organization. IBM Connections is our social software platform for businesses designed for workers to network both inside and outside of the firewall. It’s basically the backbone for an organization to transform into a social business. It provides all the necessary social tools – wikis, blogs, communities, instant messaging, etc. – and social analytics features to allow employees to really expand their professional network, to find and contribute content, to identify expertise within their organization and ultimately drive the bottom line for the organization. We’re using this technology at IBM and reaping huge benefits.

Beyond drinking our own champagne, a huge priority for IBM, in order to really become a social business, has been education. We offer a huge catalogue of educational modules all around how to get involved in social computing. Back in 2007, we used a Wiki and about 250 IBMers wrote our Social Computing Guidelines collaboratively. We offer modules around why IBMers need social computing, we provide examples of how IBMers have used social digital experiences to improve customer interaction, sales, business value, various business process – these examples are impactful. We offer a Social Computing Demystified course and then we have a course about IBM’s digital strategy in general. This is all available to every IBMer on an internal site, Social Business @ IBM. It’s a one stop educational resource for the IBMer who wants to establish their digital reputation and two-fold, help to enhance IBM’s brand.

Drew: How have IBMers embraced these initiatives?

Ethan: IBMers are ready to go out there and be the brand. A great example of this is our Centennial Celebration of Service. This year is IBM’s 100th anniversary, and it’s a big deal. In honor of the accomplishment, we asked every IBMer [to] take a full day and dedicate it to skills-based service. This event was about IBMers going out and teaching the thing they’re great at or going to a non-profit and helping them to optimize their IT systems or doing consulting in the industry that they’re expert in. You can go to look at our IBM 100 website and you’ll see some of the visualization’s from the day of service. IBMers uploaded almost 2,000 photos of themselves doing these celebrations of service, they tweeted using the hashtag we created to trend on twitter. The event was all about giving back and celebrating our organization’s expertise and talent, but being the social business that we are, it incorporated so many digital and social experiences as well.

Drew: Tell me about the Expertise Locator.

Ethan: A new social business initiative we’re rolling out is the Expertise Locator, which is also situated in the context of that training material we talked about earlier. IBM no longer sells consumer products; the brand experience for IBM is an experience with an IBMer. If your brand is experienced through its people— not through the products— then you’d want to make sure that your very best people are well equipped to interact with the important audiences and constituencies. That’s what the Expertise Locator is about. It’s incredibly nascent; we’ve just been working on this for a year and a half, but we already have several thousand IBMers who have enrolled internally and we’re starting to help those IBMers prepare for being surfaced in digital experiences all over the place— not just on our Intranet.

The next phase of this project is to really describe our experts and do the hard work of figuring out what the policies will be for accessing them – how will we give them enough controls that it’s not invasive to them or they don’t get overwhelmed or how do we make sure the right experts show up on which page so they’re connected with the right people. There are kinks to work out, but we’re really excited about the impact its going to have on the IBM brand experience.

Drew: Is there a risk here of over-promising this one-to-one interaction between this expert and the visitor?

Ethan: I think there is that risk. But, there are a few things that are helping to mitigate that. One is we’re not promising a one-to-one interaction. There are interaction modes on IBM.com where that it is promised, but the Expertise Locator is not that kind of immediate interaction, its offering the opportunity to connect with these IBMers over LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, by phone, etc. The interaction with voices from IBM can be extremely multi-modal and very satisfying. I think we can actually deliver on that, particularly because a lot of the social systems that are emergent that we’re taking advantage of. We could get to that point where, depending on who you are, we would match you with, and what you’re trying to accomplish, we could match you with the right person who has the right modality of interaction.

There are lots of risks and we’re going to have to figure out how to address them and we’re trying to apply some of our best thinkers to that. We also think there’s a big risk to circling the wagons and ignoring this new mode of doing business. Becoming a truly holistic social business is not without its risks, but ultimately taking these risks is what sets you apart from the pack.

Drew: How do you measure the value of a program like this?

Ethan: There’s the operational measures like, Are we getting people to enroll? Are they going through the training? The company does some internal research periodically about a lot of different issues, but one of them is awareness of our guidelines. I would like to see that one of the results of this would be more IBMers really feel like they’re familiar with the social computing guidelines and feel empowered by that. We ask those kinds of questions internally, so those are sort of operational metrics.

When we were first testing how we would show experts on external web pages, we did an AB test. We found that the page performed better when we put experts on it. It’s not that surprising; everybody who’s been doing web stuff for a while knows that your confidence and trust in the page is going to go up when you see real humans on it. We did focus group analysis and asked for feedback. [The participants] looked at the expert: It showed whatever the expert’s latest blog entry or tweet was, so they got the sense that there’s another person there. Their confidence in the page went up; their trust in IBM went up. Overall they were feeling better about being there.

Part 3 of this interview will be posted tomorrow.

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