IBM social business roundtable at SXSWi

faulkner nay mccarty emerick motzer





I sat down at the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas a few weeks ago for a social business roundtable with five colleagues deeply involved with social media strategy at IBM. Here are a few highlights:

Scott: Let’s go around the group and hear what you all are excited about this year at SXSWi.

George Faulkner, IBM Manager of Social Brand Engagement: So I come here for all the same reasons that others come here. Unfortunately weather kept me away the first couple of days and I’m really, really happy this morning to go see a talk by Golden Krishna, The Best Interface Is No Interface. It was great. I think this is a gentleman that I would recommend people look up and see what he’s been talking about the last couple of years.

Chris Nay, Local Business Channel/Social Business Manager with IBM Research: No matter where I’ve gone and what I’ve listened to, there’s been this theme of good storytelling and how important it is. I was at the Chuck Lorre/Neil Gaiman Q&A and even though these guys are writing books and making television shows, they were talking about how they actually liked being able to give things away for free on line because it actually increases the sales of whatever they’re doing. People want authentic stories. They want what you might still consider back in the album days, the liner notes, on a CD or an album. People still want that and when they get something for free, maybe it’s even just Chuck Lorre’s blog, they read that and say, well, I want to hold that in my hand with more context and it’s actually improved and increased sales and things like that, so they want that authentic story.

Kate Motzer, Social Business Manager for the IBM Design Lab: I really enjoyed a session I went to yesterday from a Stanford professor, BJ Fogg, about this program Tiny Habits. It wasn’t directly related to social or digital, but the things that we took away … just kind of getting people to change a small behavior. Go on Twitter each day and do a tweet or two. So it just made you think about breaking it down to very simple steps. He said he believes only three things will change human behavior in the long run. Option A. Have an epiphany. Option B. Change your context (what surrounds you). Option C. Take baby steps.

Susan Emerick, IBM Manager of Enterprise Social Programs: I went to a panel discussion led by Jure Klepic @jkcallas who I have followed online for years, who’s passionate about influencer marketing. I think it’s just fascinating how social has evolved in terms of studying what drives influence and the bottom line that I really took away from (the panel) is that influence is founded in relationships among people and you’re only influential if you have a shared belief or a shared purpose. It’s not about these cred scores or popularity scores of some type. There’s so much more to social influence that is grounded in a shared belief, a shared topic of interest that you can lean on each other for whether it’s complex business problems that you’re trying to solve for your company or in a different context of a personal relationship. Influence is always contextually relevant and based on human relationships.

Ethan McCartyIBM Director of Enterprise Social Strategy and Programs:  Meeting up with friends and colleagues is obviously a major constant for any conference and a compilation of social media is very much what that’s about. Getting to make some connections with some of the companies that we do business with, some of the developers and such, I mean that’s all just been fantastic. One speaker who I heard that just really blew my mind was Douglas Rushkoff who has a book that has just come out or is coming out this month called Present Shock.  I guess it’s kind of the other book-end to a book that came out many years ago called Future Shock and a response to how we’ve thought about futurism. He’s describing a society that is sort of a presentism society. That people in this society can either be overwhelmed by a kind of time compression that’s happening by all of these connected devices and macro trends in the way capital is moving around or we can find ways to cope with and slow it down in order to have much richer lives.

I thought that was a really interesting pick because, chiming in with what Kate was saying, it wasn’t necessarily a social media presentation. It was more about behavior and behavioral science and an understanding of societal trends. He had one that I thought was really unusual and interesting. He was pointing out that he had five phases that he talked about in terms of present shock, and one of them he called apocalyptico, and said that’s when we spend more time thinking about apocalyptic scenarios than dealing with our real life. That reminded me of what people say say about the popularity of UFOs and aliens in popular culture in the ’50s and ’60s being a response to the Cold War. I think some of this stuff like Walking Dead, which I’m a big fan of, and all these zombie and vampire movies and flicks and TV shows, are a bit of a response to this time compression and complexity that all of this connectivity is giving us.

Scott: Maybe we don’t say that this is all directly social media related, but it’s interesting to me how it all spins underneath that in a sense, or maybe social media is just a facet of how you view all of that stuff. Your remarks make me think about a session I noticed that was happening today. I think the title was, Five Comments Versus 1000 Likes, or something like that. There’s this focus here this year on meaning and substance over just buzz.

What do you guys think about IBM’s vision on what social business really means, what we’re trying to help our partners and customers with in that regard, and how effective are we? Are we learning some lessons as we go about sifting out old hard-sell direct marketing tactics and getting down more to what you are really talking about, Susan, which is relationships? It all inevitably comes back to relationships with meaning, doesn’t it?

Susan: Right, it certainly does especially in a B-to-B brand like IBM. We are focusing on helping our employees be better engaged where it matters with the clients they serve to try to help provide that value to them in driving an improved customer experience. At the heart of being with the B-to-B brand and in the technology space there isn’t anything more foundational than people, and what we bring as humans to that relationship has never changed. It’s just that how we connect has changed, but the foundation of helping a customer solve a problem or coming up with a new innovation and helping them understand how to embrace it and how it would help their business, that’s still always been the same. It’s just you reach someone in a very different way now because of the possibilities of connecting via social.

Ethan: I think also there is a move from the periphery and kind of low-value activity to more central business when it comes to social right now. I think part of what’s happening is the periphery can be very superficial and it’s kind of lightweight, just distributing content or something like that. And now you see a lot more of the emphasis in what we call broadly social media being about really deep interactions and so I think at a conference like South by Southwest, you’re seeing it mature along with the media that it’s about, so that’s why you have more heavy hitters like BJ Fogg, the Stanford behavioral sociologist, and Douglas Rushkoff. You have these almost sociological or philosophical heavy hitters coming in here because it’s about relationships and interactions as opposed to medium.

Chris: To piggyback on that, the B-to-B marketing session yesterday was talking about how this shift has moved from the trust of the brand to the trust of the individual and the challenge may be communication. How do we get our employees to see the value of being in those social media spaces to exactly talk about what they do and not to feel like, “oh, the corporate guys are telling me to do that?” How do we just encourage co-workers to talk about their expertise and what they’re doing. You’re an engineer. You’re a software developer. Be in those communities to talk about what you do and how you use that expertise. And then, “oh yeah, by the way, I am with IBM.” So that, I think, is a challenge, a lesson to learn here.

Scott: Within IBM we talk about the tools, right? We want everybody to be social, to blog or tweet or this or that, and we sometimes come to this assumption that if we use those tools we’re involved in social media. But if we’re just broadcasting and then nobody’s discussing anything or talking with us, is it really social media at all?

Ethan: Well I think you’re getting to the point of this all being about behaviors as opposed to technologies and I think that’s what is drawing everybody that’s sitting here with you today to this practice. I think we are on this trajectory away from the idea of social media being some kind of separate thing from everyday interactions. I see a decreasing distinction between what is social media versus just some interaction that you’re having with somebody that is mediated through a digital interface. I think it will become harder to distinguish between what is a social media tool and what is just the way I’m connecting with another person.

Kate: I also think it’s the intention of the person, not simply in the act of posting. If they’re just going down a list and checking off “tweet today” just to get that done, its not social. But if they are going on their social platform and consciously trying to share with people, looking at other people’s tweets, interacting with people that interact with them … it’s the intention of the person as well as what they’re actually doing.

Scott: So we’re talking about an extension or another aspect of just being a community and  the more we get away from focusing on tools and technology and the more we talk about just doing what we do as a community, leveraging the tools of social media, then maybe it resonates more with more people, right?

Kate: I think it does, and I think the sense of community is where, if you are following something that is truly of interest to you, you’re going to create a community of others that you share that same interest with and develop relationships over time because they’re sharing their knowledge. For example, Jure Klepic, who gave that influencer panel discussion today … I met him online through Twitter because he was very active over the last few years sharing his research about what he was doing, ethnographic research and trying to get underneath understanding relationships of people and how that drives influences. So that was a passion of mine from a professional perspective and how to apply that to IBM as we work with the market insights team at corporate to advance our overall practice. So I think that’s a great example, a living example of true community that is based on relationships, but social made it possible. I discovered Jure through Twitter.

Then we all talked about our favorite sandwich spots in Austin, jazz, and where everyone was headed next. And then I realized that the silence button on the iPhone deactivates the mic input so the nice handhelp mic I used to capture everyone’s comments was turned off the whole time (only the phone mic worked), which is why this ended up as print instead of audio. Lesson learned, and a freebee for you out there who don’t have to make the same mistake.


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  1. Great insight from some knowledgeable people. I agree that storytelling is changing, and that influence is taking on different shapes with social media. We try to capitalize on these growing trends with our contacts in Iowa. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Mark. The thoughts about preoccupation with cred scores missing the point sure resonated with me. Douglas Rushkoff (author of Present Shock) also spoke about what he called digifrenia, or “everything is important all of the time,” which, of course, it isn’t. But that social condition makes it doubly hard, and important, to focus on quality and depth of connection. Love to know any general thoughts about how you’re achieving that focus in Iowa, if you’re able to share.

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