IBM has about 433,000 employees. To put things in perspective, that’s more than four times the amount of Microsoft’s workforce and 400,000 more than Google’s. It’s also about 427,000 more than The New York Times Co. has. If you believe that a substantial minority of the public can write reasonably well, then Big Blue has a fair shot at putting out a decent product.
The company has been testing that theory since 2005 or so. At the time, Twitter didn’t yet exist and Facebook was for college kids, so social media was synonymous with blogging. It turned out that many IBMers had the itch to write, which of course was a blessing and a curse to the company. A blessing because — free content! A curse because who knew exactly what these employees were going to actually write? Would consumers take their thoughts as word from IBM on high?
IBM decided on a sort of middle road: It encouraged employees to blog to their heart’s content, but it issues blogging guidelines, so they’d know what they couldn’t blog about. The guidelines, crowdsourced by IBM employees thanks to a wiki created by James Snell, a member of IBM’s software standards strategy group, and Ed Brill, a Lotus exec, draw on common sense (“Don’t pick fights, be the first to correct your own mistakes,” etc.) and are general enough to be adopted by other companies.
Since 2005, micro-blogging platforms like Facebook and Twitter have changed the medium in which IBM often communicates, but the company remains committed to blogging and is an especially enthusiastic user of Tumblr, though you can find IBMers on Instagram, Pinterest and any other up-and-coming social media site. “We have coverage across all of the social media platforms,” says John Rooney, program manager for innovation and collaboration at IBM. “We are a large content creator. What we are becoming very much is a social media publisher.” Indeed, the company now claims some 32,000 individual blogs from IBMers. Separately, however, IBM has a Digital Marketing team in New York comprised of professional writers who create content for Big Blue.
IBM corrals much of that activity on IBM.com. Unlike other homepages for enterprise computing companies, there are no images of hardware anywhere, though if you drill down you can find a juicy picture of a server if that’s what you’re into. Instead of the hard sell, though, there’s lots of articles and videos that show how life is becoming better thanks to IBM. For instance, the video below shows how Big Blue’s technology helped an unnamed car company track a brake light glitch that was caused by a sun roof. Fixing the problem saved $30 million a year.
Like so much else on IBM.com, the content here is professionally produced, approachable and informative. However, it’s not crystal clear whom the pitch is being directed towards: Other car companies? Small businesses who might want to use the technology on a more limited scale? Other big companies?
An IBM rep says the video is a “shareable asset” that’s meant to illustrate the benefits of predictive maintenance not just for cars, but for all kinds of mechanized operations. In other words, it’s a metaphor.
Why the soft sell? David Veneski, the U.S. media director at Intel, says that blogging and the social media revolution have drastically changed how professionals talk to one another. “It’s very, very different media landscape,” he says. “Your IT guy or B2B guy is also a very strong consumer.” Such pros are looking for communication that is more intimate than a whitepaper and comes from a trusted source.
The goal of publishing programs like IBM’s or Intel’s is to become that trusted source or build on that trust. Maria Poveromo, director of social media for Adobe Systems, adds that blogs and social media also provide a way to “deliver better experiences to customers” and act as a living representation of the brand. “Because social has changed so much — the dynamic — it’s a relationship,” Poveromo says. “Customers want to be as close to the source as possible and have more direct access to the brand.”
There’s ample opportunity to do that these days. IBM is taking advantage of it by becoming a 24/7 producer of a tremendous amount of content, much of it very slick and only subtly coercive. However, little of it has gone viral. IBM’s biggest breakout video, for instance, appears to be this 18-second clip from IBM France, which has gotten 1.2 million views. A closer look at IBM’s YouTube Channel reveals that it has hundreds or perhaps thousands of videos, but some get only a few hundred views. Altogether, the channel has 5.5 million views, which is less than The Dollar Shave Club got for its launch video.
But IBM’s not out to be a viral sensation. The idea is to keep up a dialogue between its workers and those who use its products and services, not to knock Justin Bieber off his pedestal. “The role of content creator is shifting,” says Rooney. “We are curators of content created by our employees. We very much believe that our employees are our greatest resource.”
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