Most organizations are underestimating the value of their most important assets for engaging in social media: their employees. In fact, the proper framework of enablement and empowerment can turn a company's workforce into the most effective means of advancing the goals of the business through social media, and IBM has found a way to do just that.
IBM has found a way to mobilize its employees in social media on behalf of the brand. At next month's iMedia Brand Summit in Austin, Texas, Susan Emerick, global digital and social influence marketing strategist at IBM, and Chris Boudreaux, SVP of management consulting at Converseon, will discuss the fundamentals of enabling a workforce for social engagement, including lessons that IBM has picked up along the way. In this interview, they give us a glimpse into the process.
iMedia Connection: Most brands now recognize the importance of social media when it comes to marketing. But missteps are still being made. What social media faux pas do you see being committed most often?
Susan Emerick: In marketing, many brands focus all of their marketing energy on developing advocates outside of their company and fail to invest sufficiently in developing the social media presence of their employees. That is a big miss for many organizations because 1) your employees know as much about your products or services as anyone, and 2) your strongest employees probably feel tremendous passion for their work, as well as their employer. For many large organizations, employees can be a very efficient and effective place to focus your energy for social media marketing.
iMedia: Although most brands are dabbling in social media campaigns, few have made the effort to develop an enterprise-wide social media framework. What is the biggest challenge facing companies in this respect?
Chris Boudreaux: Social media today is where business processes were in the late '90s. Most organizations have lots of people doing lots of things in social media, and they need someone to stand up and establish themselves as a cross-functional champion of social media across the company -- a leader who unifies social culture, governance, guidelines for social engagement, etc. People need mentoring and some amount of direction (for example, a playbook) to be successful and to drive the best outcomes for themselves and their brand. Process champions were very common in the late '90s, and social media champions today can learn a lot from the history of process reengineering.
iMedia: IBM is relatively unique in that it has invested considerable thought and resources into developing a social framework across its enterprise. Where did the push for such an initiative originate, and what were the key factors required for successful implementation?
Emerick: Social computing is transforming the way that IBM conducts business -- from collaboration and content distribution to demand generation. In particular, social media allows IBM to build strong relationships and is becoming a powerful channel for sharing our expertise in the market. To that end, the IBM social business strategy focuses employee interactions on concrete outcomes that enhance their social presence, project their expertise, stimulate innovation, and deliver business value.
In addition, IBM continually refines its methods for online discourse and social computing to empower IBMers as global professionals, innovators, and citizens in a new corporate communications model that evolves beyond mass communications into masses of communicators. Through thousands of interactions, IBM's greatest asset -- the expertise of its employees -- can be shared with clients, shareholders, and the communities in which it operates.
Key success factors have included:
- Social intelligence: an initial benchmark assessment and ongoing marketplace assessments via social listening research provided by Converseon.
- Social ecosystem mapping: helping experts know where and when to engage. We call this an informed engagement model.
- Workforce enablement: creating infrastructure and processes that make it easy for experts to share expertise and provide value online. Tools, guidance, and information ensure that the individual activities of experts align with business needs of internal and external audiences. IBM has collaborated with Converseon over the past couple of years to take this from vision into execution, and the product launch case study in our iMedia session will show how this worked recently.
iMedia: Calculating ROI for social media efforts continues to confound many marketers. Do you have any tips for marketers looking to quantify the value of social media within their marketing efforts?
Boudreaux: Calculating ROI is always a challenge, particularly in social media where companies often operate with no measurable business objective. The first step to measure ROI is to establish a measurable business objective, such as 1) increasing the portion of your pipeline that is generated by digital sources, or 2) decreasing average cost per lead.
Second, social media ROI must be measured within the broader context of all digital marketing, including on-line advertising, search, web analytics, etc. The simple reality is that social only creates value to the extent that it works with the rest of your digital capabilities, so it all needs to be measured together. Further, you should expect your ROI measurement in social media to be only as good as your existing digital ROI measurement capabilities. Finally, tie your social media activity to whatever media metrics people trust within your organization today, rather than creating completely new indicators of performance.
While successful ROI determination involves a lot more than we can list here, these are the first steps that many teams miss.
iMedia: There are myriad tools out there -- some free, some paid -- designed to help brands streamline and more easily manage their social media presences. In your experience, what are some of the most useful ones and why?
Emerick: That depends on the business outcomes you are trying to achieve. Don't make the mistake of jumping to tools first. Instead, begin by looking at the outcomes you are trying to achieve, and with what audiences. Then look at the domains you need to connect your experts into. Then define the enablement that your experts will need in order to succeed.
We shouldn't be asking each other, "What's the best tool?" We should be asking each other, "What's the right tool for your purpose?"
iMedia: Looking forward to the coming year, what social media trend do you think is going to have the greatest impact on digital marketers?
Boudreaux: Marketers are realizing that they will need to mobilize people and teams across their entire organization to achieve meaningful business goals through social media. That means influencing strategy and execution across functional areas including sales, customer service, and communications, as well as product teams and business units. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for most marketers -- to be the catalyst and leader of true business transformation across their organization.
iMedia: Beyond what we've discussed above, what is the single most important social media insight that you wish all digital marketers were aware of?
Emerick: Social media investments must start with business goals. And those business goals must be founded upon insights into the market from social research that establishes a benchmark about where you are in the online conversation. In addition, your research has to identify and prioritize influencers to engage for your particular category or categories. Finally, you can apply that understanding to a prioritized list of business goals and define how you will apply your resources to drive the biggest impact.
It is imperative to harness insights from social research and apply them when prioritizing the venues and audiences you want your employees or experts to engage. That high-level guidance will give them the focus they need to help drive business outcomes, and that is possible. At IBM, that's what we mean when we talk about our informed engagement model.
Lori Luechtefeld is editor of iMedia Connection.