How IBM Uses Social Media to Spur Employee Innovation

By Casey Hibbard

“Be yourself.” It’s one of the rules of social media. If you’re blogging, tweeting or Facebooking for business, be real—or you won’t be followed.

Yet, how do you pull off “authentic” while maintaining the company brand message?

It’s tough enough for a small business. What if you’re #2 on Business Week’s best global brands list, with nearly 400,000 employees across 170 countries?

At IBM, it’s about losing control.

“We don’t have a corporate blog or a corporate Twitter ID because we want the ‘IBMers’ in aggregate to be the corporate blog and the corporate Twitter ID,” says Adam Christensen, social media communications at IBM Corporation.

“We represent our brand online the way it always has been, which is employees first. Our brand is largely shaped by the interactions that they have with customers.”

Thousands of IBMers are the voice of the company. Such an approach might be surprising for #14 on the Fortune 500.

Organization: IBM

Social Media Stats:

  • No IBM corporate blog or Twitter account
  • 17,000 internal blogs
  • 100,000 employees using internal blogs
  • 53,000 members on SocialBlue (like Facebook for employees)
  • A few thousand “IBMers” on Twitter
  • Thousands of external bloggers,
  • Almost 200,000 on LinkedIn
  • As many as 500,000 participants in company crowd-sourcing “jams”
  • 50,000 in alum networks on Facebook and LinkedIn

Results:

  • Crowd-sourcing identified 10 best incubator businesses, which IBM funded with $100 million
  • $100 billion in total revenue with a 44.1% gross profit margin in 2008

Edgy at 114

At 114 years old, IBM seems to be the Madonna of the corporate world, staying relevant from decade to decade. The first company to build a mainframe computer and help NASA land a man on the moon still holds more patents than any other U.S.-based technology company.

As it turns out, its decentralized social media approach is another milestone in the company’s history—driving unprecedented collaboration and innovation.

IBM lets employees talk—to each other and the public—without intervention. With a culture as diverse and distributed as IBM’s, getting employees to collaborate and share makes good business sense.

“We’re very much a knowledge-based company. It’s really the expertise of the employee that we’re hitting on,” Christensen says.

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