What We Can Learn from a Bag of Marbles

Last week, some colleagues and I attended a seminar on social media community development in the B2B space. The event was presented by the Carolinas chapter of the Business Marketing Association (BMA), and the speaker was Ryan Boyles, a social media strategist at IBM. Boyles shared with us the IBM model of social media strategy and management as they continue to shift from the former ThinkPad-maker to a digital solutions provider. Their strategy seems to have been developed around the desire to more directly connect customers with a unique problem to an IBMer with a unique solution – and social media serves as their platform. Boyles opened his presentation with an analogy that I thought captured this idea nicely and also helped framed the approach for application in B2B. The analogy was set up as follows:

These two items have the same volume, but which has more surface area — the the consistent, large sphere or the diverse little spheres?

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And of course, the correct answer was the marbles — they in fact have about 300% more surface area than the baseball. This represents the compounding effect of empowering employees to interact with customers one-on-one in the social media space. As opposed to a single faceless corporate Twitter or blog, IBM has created an army of experts in the social space ready to personally interact with customers as brand ambassadors and problem solvers. That may sound a little risky in terms of managing a brand’s image and reputation online — and frankly it is, without the following considerations:

  • Before turning over the social media reigns to employees, develop a clear and deliberate set of guidelines that define your business beliefs, mission and goals as they specifically relate to social media. This will be the rulebook to which all of your social media ambassadors will be held accountable.
  • Structure the ambassadors around individual brands or products. This will allow your ambassadors a more manageable editorial calendar, and it will also allow them to interact with customers as a subject matter expert, ready to help with their specific business needs.
  • Plan to bring executive leadership into the conversation. As your ambassador community grows, also leverage the more global, brand perspective that can be brought by key executives within your organization. That can be as simple as allowing the ambassadors to “coach” the potentially less social-savvy executives. Tweeting from a key tradeshow or weighing in on a key issue to face the industry could go a long way in terms of lending a corporate voice to your social presence. And it shows engagement from product experts all the way up to the CEO.

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