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The Big Brand Theory: Big Blue Is Social Business

ImageFor the so-called efficiency movement in business, 1911 was a banner year in the US. The first major books on the nascent business philosophy were published; most notably, The Principles of Scientific Management by Frederick Winslow Taylor. It was also, incidentally, the year in which three business machine companies merged to form the company that was later to be named International Business Machines, then IBM, and eventually by some, "Big Blue."

In the past hundred years, IBM has played a central role in the growth and development of businesses across the world. Tabulation machines and time clocks gave way to mainframes, then software, then ultimately to entire systems that support business. For over five years, IBM has also been the leader in worldwide market share for enterprise social software.

Big Blue takes the social media revolution seriously. IBM has reorganized around what they see as the major market shifts: social, mobile, big data, analytics, cloud, and security.

ImageOn the IBM SocialBusiness team, Amber Armstrong has the responsibility for market-making and evangelism. Armstrong shared some insights about the work going on at IBM, first addressing much of the public misconception about social business. 

Armstrong says, "People think a social business is social media, or that promoting your business through social media is social business.  IBM sees it quite differently: we help our customers develop a social strategy to connect a company or city's employees and customers to drive cost savings, increased revenue, and innovation.  It's a much broader story."

The whole team is focused on how to get people to understand that broader story. Armstrong's efforts to get the story disseminated are reinforced by Michela Stribling [@mstribling], who drives the content strategy behind the group's social campaigns. As opposed to being focused on selling individual products, the team is working to create a bigger understanding in the market.

The SocialBusiness blog takes a role-based approach curating content for collaboration, analytics, marketing, human resources, and sales for social media practitioners and business stakeholders of all levels. Besides sections on breaking news and discussions, there is a section for basic education, one on emerging insights, and yet another featuring posts from "forward thinkers."

While Armstrong doesn't address specific metrics, she shares the larger view of how the team's success is measured: "We do want to end in sales leads, but we look at the overall metrics. We look at reach, engagement, and amplification."

She continues, "We define reach by how many people are in the community; number of participants; engagement; people commenting; liking; and amplification. We really limit that to people who are sharing our content independently."

An example of IBM's approach to social content is their "Always On" campaign. Armstrong says, "We're just constantly putting out new content in a really 'snackable' format; really very small chunks of content. We're trained to stay connected to what's relevant in the market."

For the recent "Bike to Work Day," the group teamed up with one of their own customers, Performance Bicycle, for messages and images. Those posts, incidentally, also linked to a case study telling the story of how Performance Bicycle saw great success by integrating a learning center into their ecommerce site.


Armstrong excitedly tells about how IBM is reinventing itself yet again in its history. She says, "This time it feels a little different because we're doing it on so many different fronts. I've been with IBM about eight years; and this is the most change and pushing forward that I've ever seen."

There are still executives and entire businesses reluctant to join the social media revolution. The fact that Big Blue has taken it on as a central business driver should help those holdouts believe in the shift.

The efficiencies of a hundred years ago often addressed how a person moved an object from one place to another. The social business revolution is a continuation of that tradition, albeit one that takes it to another level: the movement of ideas. It's still about smarter business.

Join The Conversation

  • May 27 Posted 3 years ago KevinHorne

    All well and good, except the business backdrop shows IBM struggling with reduced sales/revenues for the past eight quarters in a row.

  • ambarmstrong's picture
    May 19 Posted 3 years ago ambarmstrong

    Thanks for the interview, Ric. It's a very exciting time to be in Social Business at IBM.

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