IBM is often ranked in the top 50 of US companies in terms of social media savviness, but like most companies which sell indirect that savviness does not necessarily translate down through the channel.
This means that channel partners are actually missing the opportunity to leverage the investment that IBM is making in social media to help grow their business. In fact IBM found in their 2010 IBM Business Partner Social Media Survey that 75% of their partners were unsure of how to apply social media as an effective sales tool.
"They sense it could be an effective sales tool, but they don't know how to get started," said Sandy Carter, vice president, IBM software business partners and social media evangelist, in an interview (follow her @sandy_carter).
The online survey of 1,000 channel partners, the results of which IBM also unveiled last Thursday, found that 45% are experimenting with social media to drive new revenue streams. But 74% said they need more education and direction, Carter said. They were overwhelmed by the number of social media outlets and asked for training on specific tools like RSS, wikis, Facebook and Twitter. They also weren't sure how to measure the effectiveness of such efforts.
So IBM has just launched a "skills initiative" to bridge this knowledge gap. Some of the offerings, including online training sessions and a social media guide, are available immediately through IBM PartnerWorld Communities. Others will follow shortly, including a live session called "Leveraging Social Media for your Business" at the IBM Information On Demand Conference in Las Vegas in late October.
The initiative will also include online training sessions, podcasts, and Web events. Sandy Carter gives some immediate tips here on her YouTube update.
IBM is also offering partners a free one-year Lotus Live license to help set up communities with their customers. It is hoping partners will emulate its own PartnerWorld Communities, launched in June 2009, which has grown to a collection of social networking community spaces specifically designed to help its partners more easily connect and collaborate online.
The community, with members in 30 countries, extends beyond PartnerWorld with 10,000 partners tapping into 250 LinkedIn groups, 400 Facebook groups, and over 500 blogs on industry-specific topics ranging from SOA implementations and green IT to virtualization and cloud computing (and including the IBM Business Partner blog).
- IBM Business Partners on LinkedIn can join networking groups "IBM Software Business Partners" and "IBM Business Partners."
- IBM Business Partner updates can be followed on Twitter with @ibmpartners, @ibmsoftware and @lotusknows.
- It seems the survey was commissioned by Shaun Jones, IBM Vice President, WW Business Partner, Midmarket and RLM Marketing @IBMPartnerPlan.
- You can also check this list of "official" IBM twitter accounts on Listorious.
The 250 LinkedIn groups, 400 Facebook groups, and over 500 blogs are impressive statistics, an impressive social web footprint backing up IBM's ranking as a social media savvy corporation. In fact the Partner survey also showed that 97% of respondents described IBM's social computing capabilities as moderately to much better than other competing large IT vendors. Partners cited the expertise of IBM employees, support and responsiveness, and "ease of use" as reasons IBM is ahead of other technology and services companies.
This is all a good news story, for partners in particular. I'm still left wondering if the roadblock is the "how" and in the most simple way. Partners typically focus short-term and on sales, and they don't want to dig through a lot of material, as they indicated in their survey responses. The general education is all fine, but how do you get into it quickly, indepth, and in relation to sales. I know how we do it, because we use the XeeSM tool, but it is this aspect which might make or break the early success of this IBM effort with their partners.
What do you think of the IBM initiative?
Are you an IBM partner and agree with the survey findings?
What's the thing you most need from IBM social media as a partner?