4 Social Media Lessons SMBs Can Learn From IBM

I had the opportunity recently to talk to Ed Abrams about how the company he works for uses social media and how it’s helped them to increase sales, loyalty and brand engagement. What company does Ed Abrams work for, you ask?

He’s the Vice President of Marketing of IBM Midmarket Business. Yes, he works for a little company called IBM, and they’re crazy about social media.

I thought it would be interesting to share some of Ed’s insights and offer some advice on what any business can learn from IBM’s social media use, regardless of its size. I also asked Ed to share some of his own takeaways from his experience, which he was kind enough to offer.


Takeaway 1: We Must Accept That the Conversation Has Shifted

One of the biggest reasons SMBs tell me they don’t need social media is because they’ve never needed it before. The direct mailings, the in-store promotions have always worked just fine. Why try something new? Well, because as Ed notes, social media has changed the communication landscape. What worked before doesn’t work as well today. We must shift focus.

According to Ed:

It’s no longer acceptable to push messages out in the marketplace. The power in the communication chain has shifted from the marketer to that of the end user, the audience. They have control of the conversation.

For IBM that means they need to participate in the conversations their audience is having to drive better engagement with IBM, better perceptions of the brand and better purchase consideration. Just because people know about IBM doesn’t mean it’s their first choice. You can’t simply do the traditional marketing and demand generation anymore; you have to show up where and how your customers want to consume information about you. And more often than not, that means getting involved in social media, where those brand conversations are happening.

Takeaway 2: Search Drives Decisions

What’s important to Ed is that IBM shows up in what he called “stimulated search.” He noted that 85 percent of the time, customers’ decisions to interact with a brand begins with a search. It’s up to you to ensure your brand appears there. You do that by making sure people are talking about you, your brand and your business. That’s whats driving IBM’s social media approach. They’re creating content that will be found later when a user does a search for the brand or any one of their products.

Takeaway 3: The Power of Social Media Is Real-Time Feedback

When speaking with Ed, I really wanted to know what IBM has received from their participation in social media. Because, let’s face it, IBM is a fairly recognizable brand. They’re not looking to build awareness the same way a small business is – so what were they looking for when they got involved, and how has social media helped them?

According to Ed, one of the biggest benefits of IBM’s social media use is the ability to take advantage of real-time feedback. Typically at a big organization like IBM, it would take months to find out what their salespeople really needed to be effective with their customers. Thanks to social media, they’re able to have a real-time dialogue with the people who are meeting customers and give them the information that they need to be successful. For IBM–or for any company–that’s huge!

At IBM, they’re also tracking metrics like:

  • What conversations are taking place around the brand? What is it that people are talking about specific to the brand?
  • What are the engagement rates and conversations between IBM and its experts?
  • How many Fans and Likes do they have?
  • How many Twitter followers do they have?
  • How much time is spent on-site inside their portals and websites?

Takeaway 4: The Biggest Social Media Inhibitor = Fear of Having Nothing to Talk About

When you talk to SMB owners who are nervous about social media, often what they’re most nervous about is finding something to talk about. That’s what keeps them away, the fear that they’ll sign on and it will be nothing but blank air.

Ed agreed that having something to talk about is one of the biggest social media inhibitors for a small business owner. To help combat this he gives his team pre-written messages that the company wants to put out there. This doesn’t censor what it is they can or cannot say, but it often helps his team understand where to start the conversation, where they want to direct people, and how to go about having conversations. The hard part is getting started and that’s what these conversation prompts are intended to do.

Personally, I thought that was a great way to ease employees’ or SMB owners’ fears about sending that first tweet or creating that Facebook page. According to Ed, the power of social media is the intelligence inside your organization. You want to unleash that intelligence. I love that.

Those are just a few lessons I took away from my talk with Ed. I also asked him to give me his four takeaways for SMBs looking to get started with social media. What four did he think were most important?

  1. Don’t assume that social media has to be anything and everything you do. You have to be comfortable in this environment on your own. If you’re uncomfortable, you will fail.
  2. Once you commit to social media, stay engaged. It’s like any conversation you’re having – whether it be at a cocktail party or in a business environment – you can’t just stop.
  3. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You can always try new things. You can always introduce new elements into your environment. The simplest way to think about social media is that you’re having a conversation with your constituents.
  4. Listen more than you talk. The biggest benefit is the real-time feedback you get from what’s going on about your business or around your business. The more you can take out of that listening, the bigger the competitive advantage you’ll have, and the better off your business will be.

What do you think? What have you learned from your experiences in social media? Any big lessons?


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

9 Reactions
  1. Lisa, I love the insights and tips you wrote here. I totally agree with you that the conversation has shifted; everyone now is a publisher. I think that what many are missing is the point of why they’re on social networking sites in the first place. Social media channels aren’t anymore just your digital billboard where you can post or shoutout promotional stuff about you. You have to engage in conversation with a smarter audience and participate. I guess, the toughest part is – how to keep people talking about your brand and keeping that ‘talk’ burning like a Greek fire.

  2. It is important to find your ‘social glue’…the key things that you and your customers have in common to keep the conversations interesting and to keep people coming back and wanting to participate. And finding that glue involves knowing your customers and why they’re coming to your site in the first place. It’s different for every business. I talk about this in two books I’ve written on social media.

  3. Thanks for the real-life example! It helps to see what others are doing successfully.

  4. These are some great takeaways. It’s nice to see that not all big corporations are using social media as a sales channel, but using it for what it’s meant for. It’s also comforting to see that even people working for IBM have trouble trying to come up with something to talk about. Thanks.