I’m live blogging the Media 140 event on how social technologies can maximize your workforce here from 2pm today. Please keep refreshing the page for updates. Andy Piper from IBM is the first speaker (ahh, @andypiper, met him years ago at Twestival).

A few technical hitches to start off.

Background on IBM

14.13: Andy says: I’ve been at IBM for ten years. First off, I’ll be giving you a little background on IBM; then talking about changing behaviours, my own personal journey within the company, and a few lessons learned.

This year significant year for IBM, celebrating 100 years (Andy shows some great former mastheads from last 100 yrs – sorry I can’t give you a pic right now but will get hold of slide). In 1993, IBM posted biggest corporate loss in history. Lou Gerstner took over and first piece of advice he took was to get a PC (his predecessor had been using email over a mainframe).

IBM is a bit of an invisible brand. 400 thousand employees worldwide. We’re probably best known for our consulting services. But if you have a look at our website, we’ve a list of 100 innovations over 100 years, eg: laser eye surgery – many things people don’t know about.

Diversity of culture, technology, expertise, background and interests causes some real problems for IBM. It’s a challenge to create a single corporate identity. Obviously diversity brings strengths as well.

14.20: Humans are social animals and we want to communicate. We’ve developed a mail system; telephones, email, instant messaging. Everything we do online is social (shows the conversation prism developed by Brian Solis and JESS3).

Changing behaviours

Historically I’ve always used online tools, bulletin boards and modems to connect with people. My first job was working at the Post Office (14 years ago). I was given a stack of paper – memos – and a screen linked to a mainframe computer which felt very restrictive and backward. We know that more cultural change is typically required.

My colleague Luis Suarez has been running an experiment for a couple of years – he wants to see what will happen if he doesn’t use email. Instead he uses other social technologies.

14.28: When Lou Gerstner arrived at IBM for example he saw it had traditional hierarchical structure (with ‘big cheese’ at top) but also many many little fiefdoms. Really IBM has a type of matrix management v typical of big businesses.

I lecture a bit and when I asked my group of students how they thought enterprises today communicated, Skype was the first tool they mentioned. They thought Skype and Facebook were the type of tools they’d like to use at work, or possibly a “Facebook-like” social network.

Andy’s journey

14.30: One particular day in 2005 I was working in a windowless bunker near Swindon thinking what am I doing here and I found that IBM had this tool for blogging. Workers at IBM are able to pilot new technologies (as part of an ‘expert network’) and I thought I’d see how it worked. I set up a weblog – blogging about what I was doing every day, partly as a diary and partly just to ease my frustration. I got bored with answering people on the phone or sending them emails on the same subject, so I’d just do a blog post.

Blue Pages is our own social network: you can put a photo, career information, job title etc in there. It’s a really rich environment, you can recommend documents, videos, stuff you’re interested in. Popular blog posts get ‘bubbled up’ to the front page. People suggested that I publish my blog externally. I found it interesting and kind of liberating to be able to blog externally. We get some interesting connections happening – like me being asked to speak at this event.

The product we now sell called Lotus Connections (includes social bookmarking, wikis, blogs etc) is based on the fact we’ve tried all this stuff internally for years (not that I’m trying to hard sell)!

We’ve also got a thing called SocialBlue, which is like Facebook.

When Twitter came out, we set up BlueTwit (we like to put ‘blue’ into everything). We’ve got something called Bluepedia. But we also use existing social tools: YouTube, Facebook etc.

Some colleagues of mine started a blog called eightbar (because there’s eight bars in the IBM logo).

14.40: I think I saw in Abi (Signorelli – from Media140)’s delicious bookmarks an article on the top ten sites that are blocked by employers: Facebook very high up there. Clearly worries about productivity etc.

Employee trust

IBM has an open internet policy: the idea is that employees are trusted.

By trusting individuals to be their own voices, we can empower people and let them relate what they do every day.

Adam Christensen, IBM’s head of social: “We have, I believe, the single largest number of employees using social networks anywhere in the world”.

For a period of time, we were asked not to use Slideshare in case confidential information came out, but again it was realised that employees should be, and could be, trusted.

In Spring 2005 when we realised that it should be ok for employees to blog externally, we wrote our first social computing guidelines. Rather than have someone from our legal department write this kind of legalese text, we got the employees who’d been blogging internally to write the guidelines themselves on a wiki – we then showed this to the legal dept and they said yes.

Here is the latest version of the guidelines.

I frequently describe these as light-touch: common sense. There’s nothing earth-shattering in there.

Lessons learned

14.50: Education is ongoing. Tools are constantly changing. When I talked about Lou Gerstner and how he approached the ‘I’m going to start communicating with employees” issue…you need grassroots but you also need a little bit of top-down: you need executive buy-in, and you need executive championing. BlueIQ had a VP (Gina Poole) behind it.

Final rules:

(1) Consider transparency

(2) Be ready to blur the boundaries

(3) Trust a more social, tech-savvy workforce: stop blocking these tools, and encourage more engagement with them.

Audience Q&A

14.55: Question: how do you deal with a crisis?

Andy: there was a time when it was rumoured IBM was going to buy another large tech co (which it didn’t go on to buy). There were a lot of tweets saying ‘wow – IBM is going to buy x’ – we just sent some internal messages round telling people to be very careful what they say. I haven’t lived personally through many examples. I think trust is very important.

One example, Quora has become massive because Robert Scoble said he was using it. But I need to put a disclaimer every time I answer a different topic. Think that’s going to be restrictive.

Question: it’s easy for IBM as a tech company to promote social, but what would be the top ways to sell this model of working to a CEO somewhere else?

Andy: it’s not easily translatable between businesses. I remember hearing about a mining company which had problems with temporary workers posting bad things about the organisation. But I think you just need to focus on the success stories. Bear in mind that not every interaction is going to cause a problem. I find it difficult to think of other examples because I don’t know of many – I just think I’m lucky to be working at IBM which is why I’m still there.

15.00: thanks Andy!

Next up: Matt O’Neill on using social tools for event production

Photo: The Conversation Prism by Brian Solis on Flickr

Jemima Gibbons

Social media consultant and author of Monkeys with Typewriters (featured by BBC Radio 5 and the London Evening Standard). Get your social marketing up and running with my Social Media Launch Pack!

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