You are currently viewing Social Business ROI Secrets, Revealed: “Opting In” with IBM’s Ed Brill (Part 2)

Social Business ROI Secrets, Revealed: “Opting In” with IBM’s Ed Brill (Part 2)

In Social Business ROI Secrets, Revealed: Opting In with IBM’s Ed Brill (Part 1) we covered some best practices and key takeaways on how to successfully run a business using social tools and work strategies. These practices and key takeaways come form Ed Brill, IBM’s Director of Mobile Enterprise Marketing and author of Opting In: Lessons in Social Business from a Fortune 500 Product Manager. Today we have the first of two parts of our full-length interview on ‘Social Business’ with Ed in both text Q&A and podcast format. Enjoy!


In the true spirit of being social, Ed offered me an in-person interview inside one of his favorite local malls, which you can listen to below or download here.  

I also caught up with him again as featured speaker at this recently held Social Media Success Strategies Summit in Chicago, hosted by GSMI Network. You can check out Ed’s full presentation on Social Business here.

Grant: Every book’s author has a story about how it got written. What’s yours?

Ed: I have been a product manager at IBM off-and-on over the last 10 to 15 years. I used social media quite early as a tool to make our products better. About a year ago, IBM Press (a media partner with Pearson Education) came to me and said, ‘we’d like you to write a book about your experiences’.

Well immediately I said, ‘No, I’m too busy’. But about 30 days later, we had a new CEO in place at IBM, Ginni Rometty.  I remember when she talked about how important it was for IBM to demonstrate to the market that we knew what we were doing in some of our key categories like social business; so then I pretty much decided that I needed to write the book.

Grant: Why did you think there needed to be a book on social business from the perspective of an IBM product manager?

Ed: There are already lots of books on social business and social media, and a lot around how marketing people think about social business. But I didn’t see any books in the market that talked about how people who own the business, or who are running or managing the business. So I was sharing a different point of view and from my own first-person perspective and with some real-world examples from within IBM.

Grant: What problem were you looking to solve with your book?

Ed: The problem I see is much of what is considered social business is left to Marketing and HR, who tend to treat it simply as a means-to-an-end, a channel in a multi-channel outbound strategy. Engagement, if any, may only extend as far as trend/sentiment analysis. Product managers, by comparison, have the opportunity to use social business tools for more direct engagement, through authentic voice for one, and through the ability to act directly on the engagement/amplification they catalyze.

Grant: Are there certain values that you find are being emphasized more today by those companies doing social business, versus those who aren’t (or as much?)

Ed: For sure, it’s trust and helpfulness. I think your reputation is established by what you share instead of by what you know. You could be the smartest person in the world. But if you’re not helping others learn from that, then you’re not going to get called on for big projects. You’re not going to get invited into teams and you’re not going to be asked to speak at conferences. I do a lot of public speaking that has nothing to do with my day job because I happen to be one of the visible faces at IBM on this particular topic. That’s continued because even though I’ve done a job transition, nobody externally cares that I’m doing something other than product management; and that’s because I have 10 years of expertise that I’ve demonstrated on the topic and I think that’s going to continue. If you know what you’re talking about and can prove it, then who cares what the title or the org chart looks like.

Grant: At the very beginning of your book, you stress the 3 ‘pillars’ of social business that IBM’ers like yourself live by: transparency, agility, and engagement. How have those tenets inspired others to be better in business?

Ed:I think it’s inspired people to ‘run faster’. Beforehand, people would be more inclined to not try new things or give up too early. Before you’d hear, ‘I’m caught up in process and I don’t know how to do this’. Now they’re much more inclined to trust themselves and do whatever it is they think they need to do and not worry about getting permission on everything. Nine times out of ten it will work out right. 

Grant: What have you learned since you put this book out?

Ed: Funny you should mention that! I think the thing that made me most nervous about writing the book was if there would be permission in the market to tell stories that weren’t so favorable to IBM (and there are some in the book). Obviously there were some with great outcomes, things where we’ve been successful. But obviously the book is about lessons learned; so there’s some examples of things that we didn’t do right. I keep waiting for the phone call, the ping or IM from an executive saying, ‘maybe you shouldn’t have told that story’. But it hasn’t happened because there’s permission to show some transparency over what we did or didn’t do and learn from that. I think that acceptance of transparency is the thing that made me most nervous leading up to the book and it’s made me happiest since it’s come out.

Grant: Since you wrote your book, you now have transitioned into IBM’s Director of Mobile Enterprise Marketing.

Ed: Yes, just after I published the book, I moved out of my role of running a product management team into running a marketing team. So it’s a little bit awkward to be talking about a book as a product manager and it’s what I did for most of my career and I’ll likely eventually go back to it. So today I run IBM’s Marketing for a category we call, Mobile First. It’s all of IBM’s marketing initiatives for software and services that we offer in mobile application development, including security and management and analytics. So I’m responsible for telling the world that story.


Grant: How do you see mobile evolving in social business?

Ed: At IBM we’re really thinking of mobile as primary, now. That’s the evolution that’s taking place. It’s not just that people have their mobile devices. It’s now, ‘I want to complete the transaction on my mobile device. I want to get access to my account on my mobile device. I don’t want to have to go back to a desktop or think about it later’. Mobile is often my primary channel today, be it my tablet, smartphone or other handheld. So that’s really changing the way that businesses have to think about building applications for mobile and delivering customer service. It’s completely different from the old mindset of, ‘I just put a new style sheet on my website and everybody’s happy’. That’s probably the biggest trend I see.

Grant: We’re sitting together right now in a shopping mall. Give me an example of how, right now, I, as a customer, would engage in social business, and how businesses need to accommodate that.

Ed: OK, say you walk into a store and happen to be in the jeans’ department. Maybe there’s something more specific I can on your device that’s relevant to where you are, right this very minute – mind you not just that you happen to be in a store, but that you happen to be in a specific place in a store. It’s having data like that and the ability to respond it context to the consumer in real-time while they’re shopping or browsing, that I think will make the sales cycle more successful businesses.

Grant: How do you demonstrate ROI with these social business initiatives? 

Ed: We’ve invested quite a bit in this area, and I think we actually have the ‘Holy Grail of ROI’ that people are looking for in terms of social. In our sales teams, we put them in a control group and a group that was actually using social tools, both internal and external: internal to get better answers to questions from customers and external to communicate with those customers. The ones who were using social business tools were more successful by 7% at closing business; and 26% more leads were coming into them versus the control group that wasn’t using the tools. So we know we’re making more money by using these tools to engage with our customers; bring ourselves to their point-of-presence; and share expertise all throughout the organization.

Grant: So lets talk about big programs with Social Business at IBM you really emphasize in your book: One of them being your ‘Champions Program’.

Ed: The IBM Champions program is a way that we identify advocates in the market. They might be customers. They might be channel partners, a business partner, a developer. It could be somebody that just has an affinity or interest in the technology. We’ve identified them through their participation, through social listening tools, sentiment analysis. We’ve put this little flag on them that says, ‘they’re a champion.’ They had to be nominated either by himself or herself or someone else, or by an IBM’er. A group of humans evaluate their participation and give them the designation for a whole year.

What we give them in return are things like early access to information, briefings, some ‘schwag’. There are a whole bunch of rewards for them. The only expectation we have of them is that they’ll continue to be advocates. It’s worked out really, really well in extending our reach into a very authentic channel, people who aren’t paid by IBM, but who have earned that acknowledgement from us.


Grant: You also strongly emphasize training employees throughout the organization on how to ‘do’ social, and dedicate a whole chapter to IBM’s publicly available Social Computing Guidelines. So what are some key social values that really need to be emphasized with doing business today?

Disclosure is very important. We’re pretty up front about that as both IBM employees and the people we work with. We want to encourage them and I think we’re pretty transparent. Transparency is really important in order to establish authentic voice. Like with our Champions program, we’re telling them something in advance, like an early briefing with terms for non-disclosure up until a date. We know that they’re the people that we want to be telling others and running right out of the gate (like talking about an announcement right on the day that it happens). Sometimes we put a bit more force of law. But most of the time, its just guidelines that make sense.

Grant: Social Business is still very new for most organizations, most not really knowing how to go about doing it, and certainly hesitant about letting everyone do it. What has been your experience with which groups in business are really being under-utilized?

Ed: Well, take my own. I think that obviously there’s a lot of room for product managers to get involved with a lot of companies. I did a podcast with the Association of International Product Management Marketing and most of the people who were on that podcast said, ‘oh my company doesn’t let me do this’. It’s only reserved for people who are in marketing or whatever. Maybe they’re not thinking about it internally, where they could get involved with ideation or other ways of channeling people outside the normal reporting lines within their own organization. But also, R&D might be the people your customers want to talk to, instead of always having to go through sales or go through other people to get to the real experts in your organization.

Grant: There’s also the question of participation – particularly, how much access does the enterprise give to provide its employees or other internal stakeholders to the workings of it’s own network? For example, many contractors usually have to work onsite for enterprises; but they don’t have access to employee wikis or intranets for collaboration and knowledge sharing. Are there pros and c
ons to this?

Ed: I think there are. Sometimes your employees are the only ones who will have your best interests, who have signed the policy documents and whatever if you have them. But within an organization, a culture of participation by everyone is really important. I can establish the reputation of people contributing; and I could see something like a little asterisk of their position in the company – if they were someone like a contractor, and value that accordingly versus a 20-year IBM’er. I think there’s ways that every voice can count, and you just have to be able to establish something about the reputation of the person to go with the voice.

Grant: What are some of the recurring mistakes you see with companies attempting social business?

Ed: I think there are too many companies that try to restrict the message; and this is not the age for that anymore. The conversation about your company is already taking place online, whether or not you’re participating in it; so wouldn’t it be better to bring the people who have the authentic voice and establish some credibility within that conversation? This is sort of off-line from social, but if you look at a company like Jet Blue. They empower everybody — their pilots, their cabin crew — to make decisions and participate in the service to the customer in their organization. That’s going to indirectly get them better credibility online and in the conversation. So even if those people can’t tweet directly on behalf of JetBlue, they’re representing the brand in a way that’s going to get others to talk about them.

Grant: One of the big challenges you say businesses have is distinguishing between the corporate brand and the personal brand.

Ed: Yes, I think that’s a real challenge most businesses have, including with our own company’s growth. When I first started blogging, I was told “we don’t have celebrities at IBM and we don’t want to talk on an individual level.” Today, we have 300,000 celebrities at IBM. We’ve empowered everybody to establish their own personal brand and their own voice, and be part of the conversation. I think the best way to sort of manage that is to recognize that people want to do business with people. They don’t want to do business with “the entity.” They don’t want to be looking at a faceless conglomerate. It’s all right to have people with individual brands and reputations that will help affiliate your customers who want to do business with you.

I have my own personal Facebook fan page, my own Twitter account, and I’ve got LinkedIn contacts by the thousands. That’s all worked for me. People assume that’s not going to work for them. Heck in my book, my cellphone number is on one of the pages (which I didn’t realize until after it was published!) But it’s not like anybody’s ever called me with an inappropriate call. Being that accessible has only just helped me in the ways that I go to market.

Grant: Let’s move on to video. IBM does a ton of well-produced videos and has several YouTube channels. As an online video specialist, I’m very interested to hear how IBM integrates video into its own social business, and connects those video initiatives to ROI and other performance goals.

Ed: Inside of IBM, our intranet use of social is where video really shines. There are a lot people at IBM who don’t have time to write; or who don’t feel good about writing, and where English isn’t their primary language to write in. But they’ll look into a camera for 5 minutes and have no problem. That starts all the way with the upper levels of the organization as a way to communicate things that previously had been the domain of an e-mail – which maybe not everybody got, that got deleted after 10 minutes and everybody forgot about that. So I think video has a permanence that I think other communications vehicles don’t really have; and it has another way of building that personal brand and making other people feel “human” within the organization.

Grant: Talk about how you get your core subject matter experts out of their shell with video.

Ed: One of the things we do at IBM (and this is really huge-dollar domain), is we take real IBMers and put every one of them in our television commercials these days. So it’s like, right at the end, “I’m an IBMer” 2-3 seconds about what they’re working on out of a 30-second shot. They’re not actors, they’re not people from our marketing department. We take real people from real work and put them in front of the camera. Now not everybody is going to want to do that, but it’s a way to establish again that we have humans with expertise within the organization; and not just marketing voices.


Catch some of the newer “I’m An IBM’er” commercials for television here.

Grant: So lets talk about who influencers YOU in social business. What brands or individuals do you follow?

Ed: I look at what McDonald’s has done. They had this reputation of being not healthy, not flexible organization founded in roots of, ‘standardization is the most important thing that we can deliver’. Now they’ve really humanized their product to where it’s still not going to be my first choice for where I’m going to eat when I’m on the road, but I’m now much more inclined to be part of that customer environment because I know a lot more about them as a company, because they’ve opened up about how they make stuff, who they source it from – the transparency I think has made a big difference for them as an organization. 

There’s also a guy I really follow who used to work at IBM, Christopher Barger, who’s now an industry analyst. Whatever he touches turns to gold in the social space. He really understands what the engagement model needs to be.

Grant: What predictions do you have about social business in the years to come?

Ed: There are two things I’m looking forward to that I really hope will happen. One, is getting the language barriers broken down. Today, my use of social technologies is all in English. But yet I have huge untapped knowledge for those markets in Japan, or in India, or elsewhere. Some of those companies have adopted English for their external communication, but there’s still a whole mess of people who aren’t participating online because of that language barrier; or they’re participating in their own native language, only. I think the tools have to evolve on the language front.

The other is, I think, that’s going to be more ability to narrow your audience in social. Right now, social is all broadcast. Except when you’re working within an organization, you can’t really control and provide some selectivity of the message. When it’s out there, it’s out there. It’s not that I want to have privacy or control or security or whatever. I think there are times that you really need to channel appropriately, just like any other part of a communications mix. I think that social will really evolve to ways where you’ll really hit your right audience, and not just have to think about it as, ‘I have to have a public twitter stream, I hope somebody reads it’.

Grant: What final thought would you like to give to the decision makers on evolving into social business, who are making a real com
mitment to the culture?

Ed: To the decision makers: trust your employees, allow them to do whatever it is they think they need to do. To the knowledge workers : trust in yourselves and not worry about always having to getting permission from someone else. 9 times out of 10 it will work out right.

[Q/A ends]

“Opting In: Lessons in Social Business from a Fortune 500 Product Manager,” is now available at Amazon and IBM Press