Cover Story: Social Works
A pounding beat communicates urgency. Avatars explain After Inc.'s problems. Those watching the trailer for IBM's business process management game learn they alone can provide the solutions that will save this mythical company.
INNOV8 2.0 is one way IBM is educating customers about its products. And the simulation was the No. 1 lead generation asset for its WebSphere software brand in 2009, says Sandy Carter, Vice President, IBM Software Group Business Partners. Introducing this game into the marketing mix is one of the moves the Armonk, N.Y.-based software giant is making in its plan to master the social marketing space.
Carter says her niche within Big Blue, the IBM Software Group, has a few core tenets in its social media strategy: "First of all … we don't keep social media separate. Our social media is integrated into our overall marketing campaigns; it's integrated into our overall strategic initiatives [corporate social responsibility, branding, customer service and support, etc.]. … And then what we do is we dial up or dial down based on what our goals are. So we're very much goal-driven, very much focused in on what we're trying to accomplish, vs. … companies who say, 'Oh, my competitor has a Facebook page. Let's do that.'"
In other words, social media is about more than marketing. Instead of using social media as a tactic, the IBM Software Group considers the channel an avenue of learning, sharing and collaborating. The result is still marketing success, but the route to it is fundamentally changed by this philosophy.
"What is the value of a relationship? And can we get close to that?" Carter asks. "Because I believe that today, customers and companies are measuring social media on return on investment, and I think that will stay. But I think the best practice companies will begin to measure this engagement, this loyalty, this connection with the customer, and that will actually be the measure that leapfrogs this return on investment focus that we have today."
Tearing Down Walls
INNOV8 illustrates an area in which IBM Software Group is a social media marketing leader, Carter says. But it's not the only game in town for IBM.
Before the simulation ever became a reality, she set up virtual collaboration with her service-oriented architecture (SOA) team, dubbed it the Social Media Council and set out to break down silos. After breaking down the walls between colleagues, IBM Software Group could learn how to do the same with its customers and partners.
To that end, IBMers reach out through blogs (Carter's are Marketing 2.0 and SOA—Off the Record), Twitter (Carter's handle is @sandy_carter, and she has nearly 9,000 followers) and mobile communities in IBM's Lotus.
"We want to make sure that we're very local," Carter says. "We also bring in development. So for instance, a lot of our products are crowd-sourced, and so our virtual Social Media Group has in it a development representative. We have sales on there, because we use it for relationships; for instance, through LinkedIn groups [where] we make contacts. Or even [in] our own IBM communities based on Lotus. So we believe this virtual model is the most powerful model to use. It gets us embedded throughout the organization, gets different thoughts created in different areas. But it also enables us to bring in more and more of the power of social media."
In spring 2005, the IBM Social Computing Guidelines that Carter helped create allowed staffers to begin reserving their spots on the Web and create public personas. The guidelines have since grown to direct IBMers on how they should conduct themselves on blogs, wikis, social networks, virtual worlds and social media.
"We've got bloggers on industry topics. So banking, health care, government," Carter says. "We have different Twitter channels sponsored by different groups and different people. So it's really not just what we do on TV with 'I am an IBMer,' which is very powerful, but it's taking that to the blogosphere, based on those guidelines, and letting them share their expertise and put a face on IBM."
Listening to Customers
Carter may be on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but none of that does IBM any good if she isn't listening.
"[First,] we're really focused in on ensuring that we build an … environment with our customers that's one of sharing and collaboration," Carter says. "And so you'll see us do a lot of co-creation, crowd-sourcing with them, so that we're building the right thing for the customer through that listening.
"The second is we're focused on better execution," she continues. "So we want to build the best and most effective go-to-market strategy, especially in this economic environment. And the third thing is creating more business value. We want to be the most agile business there is. And we want to be able to respond in real time to opportunities."
By listening to customers and partners, IBM gains valuable marketing insight. For instance, customer Fabergé revealed the value of allowing more involved prospects into the inner sanctum—giving them special content and detailed product information in an online community atmosphere.
Then there's the prospecting aspect, which Carter says her team optimizes by noticing Web site activity.
"So if you're on my Web site and you go out there and download, let's say, a couple of papers on security, I pop up a live chat window that says, 'Hey, I saw that you downloaded three or four papers on security. Do you have questions about security that I can answer?'" she says. "And not only has it increased my sales, but it's also added more business value to the customer. Because now I'm not going out there [saying], 'Here's 350 products. Tell me what you like.' [Instead,] I'm saying, 'I know that you're interested in this and I have expertise. Let me give you the right subject matter expert, and let's directly target what you need.'
"So as a result, our client satisfaction is going up," she adds. "And we've seen great results, as well, in terms of … getting more new customers, using this as outreach to drive more customers to our base, ensuring that we reach customers where they are and connect them together so that they're more loyal to us and also so that they become our evangelists."
Driving at specific goals, IBM Software Group measures its social media efforts both traditionally and through engagement.
"We have an integrated, automated dashboard, which, for us, is done through our technology called Cognos," Carter says. "And we can go down to the tactic.
"So, for instance, for our last big event, Impact, we did a Twitter campaign," she says. "If you signed up in the first 72 hours, you got 30 minutes with Jerry Cuomo, [vice president and chief technology officer for IBM WebSphere]. And we can actually measure that because we gave them a code to enter to be part of the 'Get time with Jerry Cuomo [promotion].' … So we do [measurement] in what I call the typical way, trying to quantify it as best we can, with campaign effectiveness, response effectiveness, pipeline contribution."
Similar tactics were used for the October 2008 "Smart SOA World Tour," for which Carter's group tweeted and updated LinkedIn accounts to encourage online registration. Due to these social efforts, registrations increased nearly 10 percent for the face-to-face WebSphere software demos.
"What we've been focused on most recently is how to measure engagement," Carter says. "Is there a way we can get a surrogate measure for that engagement? And what I mean by that is the involvement of customers with us. So perhaps on the frequency of conversation. … What kind of interaction are [customers] having with our brand? And how do they make that real online?
"We look at an intimacy rating," she adds. "So we've been doing a lot of work with sentiment tracking. So not just frequency, but is the sentiment positive or negative? And then we look at opinions expressed in, like, customer service calls to see, 'OK, we've got this level of intimacy and can we convert this interaction to a relationship?' And then, finally, we look at influence. And there, we're still looking at some of the net promoter scores and some of the brand monitoring and brand affinity studies. And now we're really getting into relationship to purchase."
Carter thinks in the future, smart companies will view social networking as a way to gain a competitive edge.
"It's not just about adding a couple things to your marketing outreach," she says. "It's about cultural change, right? So if you're really going to go out there and ask people, crowd-source with a product, and you don't make changes to your product, just with the rules of the road, you're going to get rejected pretty easy."
Essentially, participating in social media marketing is more than just a game for IBM Software Group.
"This is a business model change," she says. "In my mind, that's what this is all about."