Lotusphere 2010: Gina Poole talks BlueIQ and social-media business benefits


developerWorks: I'm Scott Laningham at Lotusphere 2010 in Orlando with Todd Watson.

Watson: Hello.

developerWorks: How you doing? And our guest right now is Gina Poole, who is vice president of Marketing 2.0 in IBM Software Group. Hi again, Gina.

Poole: Hey, Scott. How are you? Hi, Todd.

Watson: Hello, Gina.

developerWorks: Tell us what you're doing here. What's your focus here at the conference?

Poole: Well, my team lead a lot of our marketing innovations, all of our digital marketing, social-media marketing, as well as our live events and our virtual events, so I usually attend a lot of the different conferences.

And I'm here at Lotusphere to talk about another one of my team's missions, and that's called BlueIQ — where my organization works across Software Group helping our teams leverage social software, in this case our Lotus® software, to help IBMers be more productive, to make it easier for us to find information, to find experts, as well as to share best practices around the globe.

developerWorks: So this is the collaboration angle coming in right, cause that was a big topic this morning, obviously.

Watson: So, Gina — this is Todd — what are you seeing when you travel around the globe and you're meeting with customers and you're hearing from them? What do you see them saying as the key benefits of social software for their organizations and why they're able to overcome some of those original barriers to adoption?

Poole: I think our customers are seeing a lot of what we were seeing at IBM when we started our BlueIQ initiative and that's ... [a] globally dispersed enterprise with many of our employees are mobile or working from non-traditional offices. You know, it's become more and more difficult for people to connect and social software — really, it's all about people, which is why I love it. You know, it's about people finding each other, finding the information they need, and really collaborating and sharing and teaming is what it's all about. But, you know, all of our customers are facing a lot of those same challenges.

IBM itself is a huge company, over 300,000 employees. We're in probably over 200 countries around the world. So how can you make your employees, you know, feel part of that team? How can you help them find each other? There's probably an expert somewhere in IBM on just about anything you'd want to be an expert on, but how do you find that person or how do you find that information that you need? Particularly our client-facing employees. If a customer has a question, how do find that information fast? And how do you know it's the right information?

And then how do you share? There's always, you know, in any company, whether it's IBM or a customer, there's always, you know, lots of different teams doing similar things. And how can they easily share the best practices so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel, so you can learn from the other teams and build on that?

So I think just like IBM, our customers are struggling with some of the same things.

Watson: So what are some of the obstacles you hear from them because I know it's still a relatively nascent space, especially this whole idea of social-networking collaboration, and we've had Notes® obviously for nigh on 20 years now. A lot of these new connective tissues and software that we're building out. You know, I hear about challenges and obstacles, but what specifically are you finding when you meet with those customers preventing them from taking that leap? And maybe some advice for how to overcome those.

Poole: Yes, so probably the biggest challenge is culture. You know, that's kind of what it all boils down to. But as part of culture, you can also kind of break out the area of governance or security.

Let me talk about culture first. One of the challenges is it is kind of a different way of interacting. A different way of collaborating, you know. It's not face to face, it's not through e-mail, but it really requires a lot more interaction, you know, and doing things in a different way. It's also not so much one-way communication. Particularly when you think about the leadership of a lot of enterprises, they have probably the biggest cultural challenge often because they're used to communicating with their employees one way. You know, sending out information. You know, posting bulletins, etc. And you know, the biggest value of social software is really that two-way communication. Both sending out the information, but really getting that information back. Getting that feedback back from the community you're talking to. And there's a lot of fear in a lot of organizations: "Gosh, what if our employees say something bad about our company? And what if it gets out? Or what if they say something inappropriate? Or what if they waste a lot of time, you know, blogging or tweeting. You know, what if those bad things happen?" And so that, you kind of have to get over that cultural leap and help them see that the business benefits far outweigh any of those concerns.

And the next concern I get to is the governance piece. "Well how can we censor what people are saying? How can we control what people are saying? How can we ensure that there's nothing illegal being said?" And so one of the things that we talk about with our customers is kind of share how we're doing it in IBM. And we have a real culture of openness and inclusiveness where we really want to, you know, engage our community, engage our employees, get them involved.

So we, kind of a key tenet of social software is you really can't censor it too much. A couple of key things that we do and that we recommend all companies do is No. 1: have some kind of a business conduct guidelines. We have that at IBM. Every year our employees sign that. And it's basically just general business ethics. You know, how you should interact with your co-workers, how you should interact with clients, you know, [or] things you shouldn't talk about publicly, such as an earnings announcement before it's made. You know, a lot of these are really common sense, but it's all spelled out for employees. That's kind of the base of our ethical culture in IBM. On top of that, as our teams got involved in social software, you know, very early on, they came together and created social-media guidelines. So these just build on top of our business conduct guidelines. And they're, again, fairly common sense:

  • Be yourself.
  • Let people know you're with IBM.
  • Let people know you're not an official spokesperson but you're sharing your own views.
  • Add value to the community.
  • If you make a mistake, own up to it quickly.

Things like that.

Then on top of that, the other really key thing that I always tell companies is don't let anyone be anonymous. Because a lot of the useless commentary comes about when people are anonymous. And you know, if you think of sites like YouTube, everybody's anonymous, so the No. 1 comment on YouTube is "You suck." [LAUGHTER] You know, that really adds no value, right?

So, in IBM all of our employees are identified by their user ID, and so if you're out there blogging or instant messaging or interacting in a community or sharing files or any of these things, you know, it's associated with you. And so that really helps the self-policing to a large degree because nobody wants to get their hands slapped. You know? Or be viewed as not-as-valued employee.

And then another great thing is that the community ends up jumping in and helping to police the members as well. Somebody gets a little off-color or off-track. Often, the community will come in and help police the members of the community themselves.

So what we found in IBM between the business-conduct guidelines and the social-media guidelines, not allowing employees to be anonymous, and the community policing itself, is, you know, we see nothing but great value coming out of social software and no ... nothing bad has come out of it.

Watson: So building on that, I'm curious in your BlueIQ mission, in particular. How is IBM eating its own cooking? And how often do we get that question: How does IBM use the technology? Because it's such a great case study for many other potential customers. So you're in an organization whose real mission is dedicated to the promotion of that, so how do your teams use this stuff?

Poole: Oh, that's a great question because that's really why we put BlueIQ in place about a year-and-a-half, almost two years ago. Was so we could help IBMers eat our own cooking and be ahead of the curve.

So the BlueIQ team really focuses on working with our client-facing employees, helping to enable them on all the latest and greatest elements of social software that we're rolling out. We also created a community of ambassadors across IBM ... we have 1,200 IBMers who volunteer to be BlueIQ ambassadors who are helping their peers get started using social software. Helping their peers identify the elements of social software that will be most helpful to the role or task they're doing. And then we share a lot of success stories and best practices so that others can see, you know ... for example, here's how ... Todd, you know, achieved training through his blogging. [LAUGHTER] Or Scott through his podcasting capabilities — which is a very powerful way to spread the word.

And then we also work with the senior leadership, so we do reverse mentoring. A lot of our ambassadors are paired up with the top leaders in IBM to help them get comfortable, to help them get engaged. And we found that to be very positive and a lot of our clients, when they hear about this, also adopt something similar.

developerWorks: You know, William Shatner spoke this morning and I liked his analogy about the ... there's a difference between cooperation and collaboration. And that's a big part of this cultural shift you're talking about. How do you grade us? How do you grade IBM on how we're doing in that space? You were talking about some of the ways it's being done, how do you feel about its progress?

Poole: I think, again, it depends on the different elements, I think in some cases, we get an A+, and in some cases, we're still on that journey. And it is a journey.

developerWorks: Just like for everybody.

Poole: Yes. Yeah, it is a journey, but if you look at some elements — I mean IBMers are huge users of profiles to share information about each other. Every IBMer has a profile. Every IBMer is doing instant messaging. But when we get to some of the other areas, you know, it's not 100 percent of IBMers. We've got tens of thousands of IBMers blogging, probably 100,000 ... 100,000 plus on various different communities, and a large army also leveraging, not just internally but externally, social-media capabilities whether its LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter.

Probably if we looked at IBM vs., you know, a lot of other companies, I would say we're maybe ahead of the curve. And we're innovating because we're developing a lot of these capabilities in our product labs, in our research labs. And so we use them first ourselves. So we have a capability within IBM where we can try out a lot of these technologies, these early adopters in IBM trying them out. If they catch on, then we put them in our products.

For example, the files capability, file sharing in Lotus Connections. We were using that internally. And by the way, that was one of my all-time favorite social applications from an enterprise standpoint because it was wonderful to be able to post your files, share them, and allow people to discover them. And through that to make connections with people who turned out were interested in the same topics you were. So I met so many IBMers and got so much great information just by sharing my own files. So that originally came out of our research labs and into products.

developerWorks: What about the intersection of that space, the social-media space, and the mobile space because there were some announcements this morning about that? I mean someone ... RIM was talking about what they're doing, they were demo'ing things from their iPhones and Nokia phones and Android and all that kind of stuff. What about that space?

Poole: Now I think that's huge because that ... again, when I was talking earlier about how many employees ... what did IBM or other customers ... our mobile, our working from non-traditional offices around the world. And in my case, on an airplane or in an airport, traveling ... you know, it's huge to be able to stay connected. Mobily. From anywhere at anytime. I mean I think that's really critical.

If we look at the future of work, it's not so much about 8-to-5 anymore, but, you know, you can work anytime, anywhere, and that allows you to really stay connected to your social network and continue to interact with them. You know, if you happen to be at a client location and they ask a question and you don't have your computer hooked up, you know you can pop on your mobile device, tap into your social network, and get the answer for them just like that. So I think it's very powerful.

developerWorks: I wouldn't have found you two if I hadn't had my cellphones. [LAUGHTER] And I couldn't call you so I had to text you, you know. And I wanted to look up some other information.

Watson: Although we almost didn't have a signal to allow you to find us. Down here in the basement.

Gina, you know Scott and I obviously live and breathe on the Web, and many people listening to this may or may not know that you've been a huge proponent of emerging marketing capabilities, particularly online, and I suspect your background [of] having helped start and really shape developerWorks helped inform that perspective.

Could you, maybe in closing, tell us a little bit around your thoughts on using the emerging online and social media for IBM and other companies to get the word out about their products and services cause I think it's an area of great interest to our readership because they often have products they're trying to get people to know about and they don't necessarily have the resources of an IBM. The social media are said to be more efficient, so are they? And is IBM really, you know, getting the most out of that opportunity?

Poole: I think we're in probably the biggest transformation of marketing since marketing was invented. You know, since the first guy pushed the wheel from cave to cave. I mean it's just incredible because we're transforming from traditional marketing where the company would craft messages and push them out through different medium, and now it's really more about the audience themselves, the clientele themselves, you know, are engaging and interacting and pulling the information. So it's no longer the company or the ad agency or the marketing execs that are in charge but it's really the customers that you're trying to reach.

So again, talking about cultural shift. Huge cultural shift to really get around that. There's some really exciting capabilities and one of the things that I love the most about my team at IBM is we're trying them all. We're piloting them all; Todd, by the way, is one of my emerging-technology marketing gurus, so he's involved in most of them.

But we're seeing some incredible results from these. I mean we've seen huge growth probably in the past two years, and particularly explosive in the past year, from all of these different collaborative capabilities, whether it's proactive live chat or ratings and reviews, communities, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, virtual events ... across the board.

You know, while at the core, they are about making connections and driving awareness, opening up communication, what we're finding is they can also lead us to, you know, driving leads as well as real revenues. So they do have ... they ... ultimate business results we're seeing out of it. Which has been pretty positive.

But initially, they're about building your constituency, casting that wider net, engaging in a conversation. And what's also cool is that they're great market research tools. Because now your customers are telling you what's good about what you're selling, what's bad about what you're selling, what they'd like you to sell. And so that the listening piece is, has been just invaluable for us. A lot of work we're doing on the listening, analytics ... it's such an exciting field I could go on and on about it, but perhaps I'll stop.

developerWorks: Well, it's clearly an evolution that's great for IBM and Lotus in particular is well-positioned to be a part of all of this, isn't it?

I mean, that's what Bob was talking about and Alastair, too, is that it's just a wonderful time for Lotus to be able to bring its expertise more [into] the fold and to kind of be out front in all of this.

Poole: Oh absolutely. Lotus is in the hot seat. And innovations that are down the road, it's only going to get more exciting. And then when you couple Lotus with all of our business analytics capabilities, just for the marketing community, I think we're going to see more and more capability coming out of IBM so think marketing executives should take notice.

developerWorks: Well, Gina — thanks so much for your time, and I hope you have a great rest of the conference. I know we'll get to see you at least once more maybe at a dinner or something like that. That or a blogger function.

Poole: Great. Well thanks for chatting with me.

developerWorks: Again, Gina Poole, vice president, Marketing 2.0, IBM Software Group. Thanks, Gina; and thanks, Todd.

Watson: Thank you.

developerWorks: I'm Scott Laningham for developerWorks at Lotusphere 2010 in Orlando. More to come.

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ArticleTitle=Lotusphere 2010: Gina Poole talks BlueIQ and social-media business benefits