Hanging Around the Virtual Street Corner with IBM

One of the things that happens as time passes is information changes. Links are broken, companies pull their information from the Internet, and unless you stay on top of these changes, your content becomes difficult and meaningless. I’ve been hanging around the virtual street corner since 2011, when I published this post (original post in bold) . And while things have most definitely changed, some things have oddly remained the same. Here’s what I found in my review (I put my observations in italics). Boy, IBM was and is one smart company.


IBM Institute for Business Value’s 40-page white paper is worth the download and read for one simple reason: it challenges your thinking about social media. This lead is still valid! The paper states: “With the worldwide explosion of social media usage, businesses are feeling extreme pressure to be where their customers are.”” As near as I can tell, they still are! Think about how the word has evolved since 2011, and you’ll see that companies are still trying to be where their customers are. Is it working? That’s really the question, isn’t it?

Many companies embark on social media with the Nike philosophy: “just do it.” But that doesn’t cut it in today’s “engagement” environment. According to a piece in Infoworld Daily, corporate focus on social technologies has been in “marketing organizations that use it to monitor what customers are saying about the company, trying to influence customer views. The buzz word is “reputation management,” so companies think that by adding Twitter, Facebook, etc. to traditional advertising and marketing channels they are “doing social media.” According to IBM’s paper, that’s missing the mark (see page 2). Our sister company just finished research into how architects, interior designers, engineers and facility managers utilize social media. You can download them for free here, and they tell you the world is still trying to figure things out!

IBM surveyed more than 1,000 consumers worldwide and interviewed 350 executives and found out companies assume customers are seeking them out on social sites to feel connected to their brand. Wrong! Customers are more interested in getting tangible value, so the white paper suggests businesses are confusing their own desire for customer intimacy with what should be the real motivations for engaging customers: creating value in THEIR eyes, not our own!

You could have written that statement this year! In fact, AIM’s snapshots point this out, and they are doing more extensive research on how companies utilize social media to be published very soon. For example, in their Snapshot research, AIM found 62% of architects said that their companies were using LinkedIn. However, when AIM researchers sent to the respondent’s websites to see if they actively linked to that channel, only 35% were doing that! The disconnect between what people are saying about social media and what they are actually doing in it hasn’t changed since IBM’s paper!

There’s been a lot of content generated about this since this blog appeared. For example, digital initiatives are no longer on periphery, but core to driving retail growth and customer engagement according to a report by Deloitte (this report has been updated since 2011). These “touch points” in the digital path drive people to engage – or not engage. Marketers can no longer just “think” about these things; they have to do something, not for the sake of doing it, but for their very survival. On a recent webinar for ad agencies, a traditional ad firm weighed in with the question: “What social media channels should I be entering into to shift my revenue platform?” The answer I typed into the question box was: “None. They are the walking dead and will be out of business in less than a year.”

Boy, was I wrong. But then, maybe I wasn’t. Social media is one of the great time wasters when it comes to business — except if you use it for listening. And even then, as professional listeners will tell you, there is a lot of noise to get through as you plow through content being written or spoken. But it’s always been that way. Ask any sales person who is a 100% listener.  My blog, Hearing what you want to hear, points this out. Social media today intensifies hearing only what you want to hear, and not necessarily what is “the truth.” 

Because as Matt Creamer argues in Ad Age, the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers. But it is engagement on THEIR terms – not the advertiser’s! Forbes produced an interesting report entitled The New Rules of Engagement: CMOs Rethink Their Marketing Mix which is equally good reading with the IBM piece. Matt’s observation was valid then, and it is valid now. But engagement sometimes means different things to different people. Is a “like” engagement?” Is a hit? We define “hit” as “How Idiots Track Success” and it seems that dashboards do just that! It is easy to get tangled up in metrics that mean nothing. As we recently told a client we are doing comprehensive research for as far as the information we are trying to gather: Do you need to know this, or is is nice to know? The question is always what will do with what you hear?

Because if IBM’s white paper is true — and our on experiences with our clients’ participation in social media reflects the truth of it — 45 percent who do interact with brands say they need to feel “a company is communicating honestly before they will interact.” So the real question isn’t about adding the social channels to your arsenal of tactics; the real question is defining “honestly” not as bragging about your latest stand on an issue, but rather, REALLY doing something meaningful and of value for your customers. We think IBM’s paper is still worth the time to consider their findings and to start that thinking. Thank you IBM! Get the download here. And then let’s talk about it!

It’s hard work, thinking. Jim Mattis says when you are thinking about strategy, you have to think until your head hurts. It’s easy to wish everyone Happy Thanksgiving in a post, but really, so what? Social media for business is entirely different than social media for your personal life. B2B social media requires a  new thinking all around. If you google, “what should a company do to get customers to engage in social media,” Google will give you 1,450,000,000 results today. But those results can be boiled down and they ARE boiled in in IBM’s paper from years ago.

In that paper the authors said, “Businesses hoping to foster closer customer connections through social media conversations may be mistakenly projecting their own desires for intimacy onto customers’ motivations for interacting.” In our experience, they still are. The question is, what are we going to do to stop that and get at the truth? There’s no easy answer, but the answers are there. Let’s explore them, together, shall we? Just keep hanging around the virtual street corner: you’ll be surprised at what you hear! Let us hear from you!

For more insights follow interlinejim@twitter

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