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IT Briefcase Exclusive Interview: The Future of Social Business with Ethan McCarty, Director of IBM Enterprise Social Strategy

April 1, 2013 No Comments

Social business offers countless benefits to the modern Enterprise, but many organizations are still in the process of figuring out how best to harness these capabilities.

In the below interview, Ethan McCarty, Director of IBM Enterprise Social Web Strategy offers expert advice to business entities interested in utilizing social business to increase productivity and foster innovation within their organization.

  • Q. How is social media affecting the way consumers and employees interact with companies?

A. While companies are actively engaging with customers in the social space – through corporate blogs, official Twitter handles, Facebook pages and Pinterest product boards – the business world still largely sees social media as a fun, personal tool to check in and share updates with friends and family.

However, this viewpoint fails to acknowledge the true potential of social media to transform and improve not just our personal lives, but industry as well. According to a recent report, over the past two years, the percentage of Americans following any brand over a social network has doubled.

What we’re beginning to see is that forward-thinking businesses are looking for ways to use social media to better connect their employees, partners and clients and to transform their business operations globally. A recent IBM survey found that more companies are tapping into the power of social business. Almost half of the companies surveyed increased their social business investments in 2012. This isn’t just launching a Facebook page or Twitter account. Social business is about integrating social into every facet of your business from how your employees collaborate across departments, how products are developed, how you engage with clients and partners, and much more.

  • Q. What do these changes mean for businesses?

A. Businesses need to adapt their original views on social media and recognize it for the potential it creates to drive creativity, productivity and foster innovation within an organization. What’s more – and particularly for businesses serving other businesses – we need to think again about the power of social to enhance brand identity and loyalty among clients and the knowledge seeking public.

A new generation of employees is entering the workforce expecting social to be a part of business processes. These employees look for communities within the workplace to create and share ideas, connect with colleagues, partners and customers and stay ahead of competitors.  I’m not saying that every twenty-something is an expert on social media – it’s just an expectation at this point for the workplace. It would be hard to imagine showing up to work without a phone; this is increasingly the case for social systems in the workplace as well.

From a marketing perspective, social’s reach is exponential if you go about curating it in a thoughtful and meaningful way. There is power and potential in leveraging all the social conversations taking place about your organization/brand among customers, partners and employees. A true convergence of brand and culture through the use of social is almost an inevitability for all of our companies and organizations.

Adopting and maintaining an attitude of transparency will be crucial for businesses to succeed. In addition to being able to find information on products and services, consumers want to learn about an organization’s culture and value, and frankly, will judge purchasing decisions on it. Employees want to be kept informed of company strategy, news and information that can help them do their job better, faster and more effectively – but even more so, want to feel a part of the strategy in a meaningful way. Social technologies provide us with an opportunity to deliver that in unprecedented ways.

  • Q. How can businesses begin to overcome security and integration challenges associated with social business?

A. Companies are increasingly aware of the risks and compliance issues associated with the transformation into a social business. This is particularly true for companies operating in heavily regulated industries, such as finance and healthcare. They are often tasked with retaining massive amounts of data for as long as a decade.

The challenge, then, is managing the risk and compliance associated with the data produced by social networking. It’s important for a business to choose a partner that can help to manage these risks. For example, with IBM Connections, organizations can collect and analyze social data. This allows organizations to monitor conversations, posts and file uploads in real-time and react immediately if company policies or regulations are violated.

What’s more – and perhaps this is motherhood and apple pie – but organizations need to be extremely clear with their employees about how to safeguard against the risks inherent to any online activity. Firms need to change the dynamic, however, and think of how they can provide a service to their employees in this regard rather than strictly outlining consequences. For IBM, this has meant investing in employee education and even assets that employees can share with their families, such as the infographics and videos about how to go social, stay safe and be smart.

  • Q. What do you see as the pros and cons of social collaboration within the workplace?

A. The clear pros of social use within the workplace are increased productivity, knowledge sharing, expertise location and the ability to unlock innovation to drive real business value. We see this from our own internal use of social at IBM and we hear it from our clients, how they’re realizing significant ROI from social business adoption.

Take CEMEX, the third largest building materials company in the world, for example. CEMEX has employees in 50 countries, and recognized the need to increase collaboration and bring its global community closer together in order to remain competitive. Developing an internal social network called Shift using IBM Connections, CEMEX set out on its social business transformation journey. Within a year, more than 20,000 employees were engaged on over 500 internal professional communities. Ideas began to flow across the organization, across the globe, and nine global initiatives grew out of Shift. This collaboration led to impressive results, including the launch of the first global brand of CEMEX’s Ready Mix special product in less than four months. CEMEX reports that if the same level of collaboration enabled by Shift were conducted today through traditional meetings by phone and travel, the organization could be spending an additional $1 million per year.

While CEMEX is an impressive success story, there are still organizations that are navigating the social business landscape. One area that can be difficult to overcome, but plays a vital role in true adoption and transformation, is culture. An organization cannot become a holistic social business unless there are cultural changes made within the business that help to drive engagement and adoption. These changes start with leadership buy in and support. With senior leaders on board encouraging the use of social, most often widespread adoption follows. Education also plays an important role. Sure, you may be providing employees with social business tools, but are you educating them on how to use the tools to more effectively do their jobs? Implementing a system that helps to inform, educate and enable employees to take advantage of social business is just as important as the technology you implement.

  • Q. How has the rapid evolution of BYOD affected social collaboration?

A. In many cases, customer, partners and employees are leading with mobile as their primary platform for engagement. The mobile workforce is expected to top more than 1.19 billion this year, with nearly 1 trillion Internet-connected devices. As a result, organizations must be able to conduct business at any moment. To meet this demand, the mobile workforce needs more than simple access to email and calendars tools. They need to drive collaboration, innovation and efficiencies anytime, anywhere, on any device. In this new world, the intersection of social business and mobile becomes even more critical. Together, social and mobile help drive business transformation across all aspects of an organization from marketing, human resources, sales and customer support and development. It’s critical for organizations to have a clear mobile strategy and the tools to infuse social concepts in their business processes.

  • Q. What is IBM Voices?

A. IBM Voices is a visual example of the convergence of IBM’s brand and culture. It is a real-time data service that showcases live social feeds of IBMers who are experts in big data, mobile enterprise, social business, cloud computing, cognitive computing and much more. Voices then marries the individuals’ thoughts with IBM’s company feeds (@IBM, @SmarterPlanet, @IBMResearch) etc.), as well as a word cloud that shows visitors what’s trending via data visualization technology originating from IBM Research.
Voices instantiates IBM’s values-led culture and massive social media footprint.

  • Q. What makes IBM Voices different than traditional social engagement?

A. Unlike traditional social engagement, IBM Voices creates a high level of transparency in a shared place for brand and employee conversations. By displaying the unfiltered feeds of individual experts alongside “official” channels, we’re able to capture and share expertise across the entire company in a new way.

Voices also demonstrates the company’s authentic, people-centric approach to social business. Voices is our opportunity to harness the social engagement already taking place around IBM’s brands and technology, and present it in a thoughtful way to our clients, prospects and the knowledge seeking public.

  • Q. How is Voices contributing to IBM’s evolution as a social business?

A. IBM is a prolific user of social technology, and Voices is a natural evolution for IBM.

We were one of the first companies to encourage our employees to participate on social media platforms. In 2005 IBMers collaboratively created IBM’s social computing guidelines which provide IBMers with guidance on how to successfully participate in social conversations − whether inside the company, at home or on the road. Beyond just our external social use, IBM has pioneered the use of social internally to drive collaboration across the organizations. Today, more than 400,000 IBMers use IBM social technologies, including IBM Connections, our industry leading social business platform. As a result, more than 130,000 communities have been developed, 842,000 files shared globally have generated more than 22.1 million downloads. Every day, IBM generates 50 million instant message chats. IBM is holistically invested and committed to becoming the ultimate social business.

IBM Voices is another way for us to experiment, observe, analyze and learn about how people can interact with one another through digital interfaces to create value. We’ll continue to tinker with it, build new interfaces, improve data sources and so on as we have done in so many other contexts. It’s really fascinating to me, frankly.

  • Q. What other solutions will IBM be offering in 2013 to accommodate the ever growing needs surrounding social business today?

A. We’re constantly working to refine and push the envelope on social business. This includes our own social business transformation, projects like Voices, and of course how we’re helping our clients take advantage of all that social has to offer. IBM is heavily invested in helping business leaders, from the chief marketing officer to the human resource professional, advance their organization’s transformation with the adoption of social business technology. Our offerings will help business leaders integrate IBM’s industry-leading social networking and analytics technologies into their business processes to empower the 21st Century workforce as well as transform client experiences.

Ethan McCarty, Director, Enterprise Social Web Strategy, IBM

Ethan leads IBM’s global digital and social strategy team responsible for driving transformation of digital communications and marketing at IBM, leading development of digital web services & prototyping digital/social programs, deploying digital social intelligence systems, and the stewardship of IBM’s social computing guidelines. Follow him on twitter @ethanmcc.

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