I love social media. No need to twist my arm—I’ll admit it. I check in on Foursquare and follow and post updates on Facebook, all while tweeting and following my personal and professional interests on Twitter and connecting to other digital aficionados on LinkedIn. The why is simple—I get tremendous value from these systems because they keep me connected to the people who matter most and the ideas and insights that help me grow professionally.
For a long time, however, my interest in social media seemed like some kind of geeky, extracurricular activity and, despite my passion for exploring social media’s possibilities, it seemed peripheral to real business.
Well, not anymore.
We recently conducted a social business study at IBM, which found that, after years of inaction or timid pilots, companies are finally tapping into the power of social business in a big way. In fact, almost half those companies surveyed increased their social business investments in 2012.
A major driver behind the adoption is the growing need to connect both their brand and culture.
Business leaders have known for ages that their biggest asset is their employees, the people who forge the ideas and innovations that drive success. But as companies become more geographically and culturally dispersed, plugging into this asset becomes daunting.
That’s where social comes into play in two key ways.
First, social technologies give businesses the opportunity to tap into the collective wisdom of each employee, be it a marketer in Australia or a programmer in California. That is done by integrating the personal and professional personae of each person in ways that unearth valuable new ideas that can spark innovations and connections that drive the brand forward.
One example of that is a new system my team launched called IBM Voices. IBM Voices is a new social website and web service that showcases live social feeds of IBMers who are experts in a variety of areas, such as big data, mobile, social business, cloud computing, and more. Voices then marries the individuals’ thoughts with company’s feeds (@IBM, @SmarterPlanet, @IBMResearch and so on) to give readers a dynamic snapshot of the collective personality and expertise of our company, what topics are trending, and more. A social service like IBM Voices lets employees share their unique knowledge and valuable insights in a way our clients and other IBMers can tap into.
What’s more, it gives us a powerful way to signal to IBMers who might aspire to eminence in their field.
But plugging into your brand and culture is not just about extracting ideas; it’s also about listening to your brand’s voice and cultivating a positive impact in the market. Today’s chief marketing officers (CMOs) expect—no, require—an unfiltered view because businesses operate in glass houses, under the watchful eyes of consumers who will call foul if the brand fails to live up to its promise. CMOs need to both listen to the market and cultivate a strategy of engaging their advocates and employees at scale. It’s not enough to have a “listening department.” The social web demands successful organizations to have a lot more surface area: more ears to sense and respond to threats, opportunities and changing trends.
According to an IBM study, 82% of CMOs plan to increase their use of social media over the next three to five years. One way CMOs are using these tools is to listen and participate in discussions to understand how their brand is experienced by employees and customers alike. When gaps appear between the business’s unique character and its actions, employees in both official marketing and communications roles and others who are aligned with the character of the brand can then take appropriate action to close the gap.
Employee engagement is often the answer to both how to avoid a brand crisis and, if one has already started, employee engagement provides your best answer in how to respond to it.
Companies today live in the social media age that extends well beyond launching a page on Facebook. By introducing social media concepts to employee engagement, executives, including the CMO, have the unique opportunity to ensure the enduring success of the business.