How SM brings a team of 380,000 closer together
[IBM's George Faulkner]
In my interview earlier this year with Firestoker's Jevon MacDonald, I speculated there was probably more happening in social media behind the firewall than in front of it. In this talk with IBM's George Faulkner, I would speculate that there is more happening behind IBM's firewall than at any other company.
Faulkner, a 14-year veteran of IBM has played a key role in IBM internal social media, particularly podcasting since 2004, the first the audio social media tool was introduced. He is currently editor in chief of the prolific IBM Media Library, which curates more than seven million employee contributions.
I found the extent of internal social media activity to be far greater than I had expected. This is a company of nearly 400,000 employees residing in over 200 countries. One-third of them telecommute and social media has made it closer, more efficient and more agile. I found parts of what George told me to be remarkable, and as a social media evangelist, some of it was to me downright inspirational.
1. Can you walk me through what IBM is doing behind the firewall with social media? Can you tell me what is going on both with employees as well as with your partners and your ecosystem?
Before turning IBM's 380,000 employees loose to self publish, we felt strongly that social computing could only exist and thrive if founded on some guiding principles and heightened cultural awareness. Like most large organizations, IBM staff already adhered to Business Conduct Guidelines (BCG) covering responsible practices. With those BCGs, in mind, we initiated, socially drafted, and published a set of company values - created through a three-day, intranet IBM Jam, which is an open forum. From that, we established three cultural principles that we set in place immediately:
(1) Dedication to every client's success
(2) Innovation that matters - for our company and the world
(3) Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships
We view, this third one--trust and personal responsibility in all relationships--as a foundation for all open social computing activities at IBM.
The Jam resulted in us socially drafting the IBM Blogging Guidelines which help IBMers to engage, utilize and represent themselves in all social spaces.
With these foundational elements in place, IBM began to launch internal publishing spaces enabling blogging, podcasting, file sharing, wikis, social networking etc. Most of these spaces support social tagging, comment functions, networking/personal connection abilities, private/public sharing, and have transformed the way in which we find experts, answers, information, and how we connect globally and culturally with one another.
These platforms are guided by the IBM community and are not policed. Intranet editorial calendars do not dictate use and employees may publish as they see fit. The often referenced yet mythological scenario of the "Wild West" that many large organizations fear when considering this sort of mass open publishing has manifested itself as the complete opposite. When IBMers publish their expert opinions or share insight into their work, we all win. When they share opinions - no matter how hard-hitting - it inspires productive conversation. We feel these conversations influence and help shape executive opinion and add tremendous value in supporting the talent, skills and character of our employees.
We are involved socially beyond the IBM intranet - both in external social media and community platforms - with clients and business partners, and find that where conversation and community building are involved, great progress can be achieved.
2. Which of these programs works best in your opinion? What works the least well? Why?
Our most successful social platform by far is Wiki Central. Between publishing, editing, and visitors, IBM wikis achieve over 1 million hits per day. This speaks volumes in regard to what IBMers want and need in collaborative publishing and knowledge-sharing.
Our second most popular platform is the IBM Media Library which supports subscription-based audio, video, presentation and document publishing along with html-friendly page building and much more. The Library has achieved over 7 million file downloads to-date and is home to over 28k files created by IBMers worldwide. Our blogging platform is active as is our file-sharing platform. Our social networking site is quite popular as well. What makes all of these platforms most interesting, when viewed holistically, is how they are all tied together through our Enterprise Tagging Service, which enables extremely valuable discovery/search for IBMers through a variety of aggregation tools.
3. How do you measure or judge the success of your social media programs?
We measure success very simply in all social media publishing efforts on our platforms. The primary measurement is based on the conversations that the content inspires and what we all learn from these conversations. There is deep value in this open dialog. It inspires us to think, to collaborate, to work through puzzles and share our vast expertise. We finally get to be the experts we were hired to be on an extremely broad scale. We have moved from mass communications to masses of communicators.
4. How do you think internal social media is changing IBM as a business? What about corporate culture?
For me, I am more connected than I have ever been in my 14 years at IBM. Vast amounts of information are now available to me, specific to virtually any topic I seek, with just a few clicks. I not only get information, but can access vast opinions, find subject matter experts and even launch broad-scale community initiatives if I so desire. My reach is much wider, my effectiveness multiplied, my profile and reputation enhanced. I understand more of the vast undertakings of IBM in new ways which makes me a more valuable asset to the company, and I am more culturally aware of who my peers are and what my company stands for.
This is a huge change - a massive flip of traditional big business information control that has placed trust into the hands of the employee and enriched our business and our culture, allowing us to be responsible adults who feel empowered, not followers waiting for the next strategic missive with no ability to participate in the conversation.
5. What have been the biggest barriers to getting social media going at IBM? How did you overcome them?
Biggest barriers were fear of the unknown prior to launch. Worries that there could be IBMers with difficult concerns and issues looking for discussion and finding nobody there. Worried some employees may be discourteous or irresponsible for some reason, even in light of our deep values. This never happened.
“The Wisdom of Crowds,” is not a catch-phrase. It is real. Given the opportunity to publish, IBMers immediately embraced it and have been working together through thick and thin ever since. The fear was overcome in light of our very first Jam - the Values Jam.
During that three-day open forum, we saw how IBMers would react and interact in such a situation. Although it was a controlled experiment with a set length, it was tremendous. The blog platform followed shortly and the rest of the platforms came after that. In any instance - and there have been but a few - where an IBMer gets somewhere close to crossing the line of what our guidelines and values frame, the extended IBM community steps up and speaks up. It is inspiring to see and to be a part of. The community, at large, oversees these situations and always acts to effectively work through these bumps in the road with respect, thus effecting change and progress.
6. I've talked to several global enterprises in the last couple of years and there’s a similar scenario. There is a small band of social media evangelists and a sea of other employees. In your case, you are part of a 5-member communications team serving 380,000 employees. How do you expect to succeed?
Setting guidelines, launching education materials, creating content that would be inspirational to those sitting on the fence, and evangelizing around all of this was difficult for the first few years. Our social media evangelists are a very widespread and enthusiastic bunch, but not the key here.
The key proved to be simple enablement and guidance built on deep trust. The evangelists were the early adopters, for sure, but as the years roll by, and although it is not as rapid as I had anticipated, these platforms offer such a remarkable opportunity for all IBMers that it is inevitable that most will use one or more at some point, or they will be left behind in our new knowledge-sharing community ecosystem.
Adoption at first for the general population was often done with skepticism. Now they are eager and wide-eyed. It just took some time. I should note that we never announced the launch of any of these platforms in our intranet homepage news spaces. They were all rolled out in a viral manner. This stemmed what I would guess could have been a mass of confusion and/or ambivalence and, in turn, created a slow and steady interest.
7. How do social media programs scale at IBM? When small, pilot programs succeed and require significant budget and oversight, how does it --or will it--occur? Who does social media report to?
All of our social computing platforms come from within the CIO's office, IBM Software and IBM Research.
8. What percentage of IBM's marketing or communications budget is dedicated to social media?
Many of these internal IBM social platforms were built for a variety of reasons by a variety of sources as mentioned above. Over the last six years, IBM Communications has simply played the role of leading IBMers to understand how to use these spaces and take advantage of the opportunities they present.
Our mantra is in teaching IBMers to understand why and how to use them, how to create low-cost content with existing tools and how to focus more on quality of message and creativity (and follow-through) than expensive, slick and sleek productions.
I dare not speak for IBM content creators worldwide - we are a massive group of self-publishers without an editorial board - but investments have surely been made by some to aid in content creation. We feel strongly that low-cost options should always be considered because, when done well, they can be extremely effective and are very often going to prove to be more genuine at heart, thus generating a larger audience and inspiring deeper conversations.
Content created by 'people like me' - non-professional media producers - is compelling and is often devoid of traditional marketing hallmarks and people react very well to that. From my humble cubicle, I've spent the last four years conceptualizing, recording, editing, publishing, promoting and nurturing a large volume of podcast content on a total $1,500 investment in audio equipment and software. My internal podcasts have generated over 266,000 downloads, and I feel IBM has enjoyed a healthy return on that investment.
9. How do internal social media programs impact the lives of IBM's significant number of employee telecommuters?
Some of these IBMers have never met their managers face-to-face. Social media has enabled many of these folks to hear the voices of their peers and to feel and experience our culture and brand in new ways. It's important to realize that globally, fewer than half of all IBMers work in traditional offices. The remainder work remotely from customer sites, from home, are mobile with no fixed office.
IBM employees are bombarded with more content than ever before from more sources than ever before via multiple devices. As a result, they’re consuming large amounts of bite-size content, and later deciding where to more fully invest their time. And they’re exercising unprecedented control over assembling and customizing their content — thanks to wikis, RSS feeds, and meta-tagging. Today’s young opinion elites have a different way of gathering and validating information about companies. Unlike older influencers, they graze for information constantly, trust a multitude of sources, and prefer first-person testimonials to statements by traditional business authority figures.
IBMers are more likely to trust company information coming from regular employees than that being issued from the C suite. And in places like Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the U.S., “a person like me” (i.e., one with shared values and interests) is considered the most credible source of information about our company.
By providing IBMers with self-publishing abilities, tied together through subscription and social tagging, telecommuters participating in this are now more integrated and culturally connected than remote workers have ever been before. At the most basic level, we have found that IBMers react extremely positively to media embedded in traditional intranet news articles, due to the personal nature of most of our social media content and the trust they have in the information. But we also find that telecommuters truly appreciate the aural and visual window into other IBM work locations and the community spirit they encounter in the comment spaces as a result. I telecommute sporadically, and can speak from experience that it feels a lot more like being at IBM than it used to.
10. Any additional comments?
I have been stunned and overjoyed at what has occurred here at IBM in this social media space. IBMers publish a wide range of content, some worthwhile to only a few, some that connects on a widespread basis. Some have 'blogged their way into a new job,' some have prompted procedural change as a result. I'm not joking when I say it has transformed my personal work-life and how it has enhanced my productivity. Such widespread self-publishing enablement is unique to IBM as far as I know, but I see it as the inevitable future for many large organizations.