Live from SXSW: How IBM Includes Its Best Employees in its Social Media and Content MarketingWhile many B2B companies are continuing to struggle over how to make good use of social media and content marketing to build relationships and boost sales, IBM has put itself at the vanguard of B2B marketing with a strategy that might make some companies cringe.

Instead of sticking to tightly controlled, highly polished messages handed down by a team of professional marketers, IBM instead elected to decentralize its social media and content marketing by recruiting the best minds from across the company and bringing their personal blogs, tweets and posts into the company’s marketing mix.

IBM decided that as a large B2B brand that has a diverse mix of products and a point of view on a lot of issues, it was better to create a lot of different discussions instead of one standardized conversation, said Ethan McCarty, IBM’s director of enterprise social programs at a SXSW session Friday called “Case Study: How IBM Has Enabled Enterprise Transformation Through Social Media.” When you’re dealing with so many complex subjects, “it’s better to let your subject experts be out there talking and contributing to the conversation.”

Employee engagement is at the heart of how IBM creates great experiences for its customers, explained McCarty. “We want to create the most innovative, leading-edge experiences” for customers and employees are at the start of achieving that goal.

IBM’s social team has worked to develop a program to compel IBMers — the company’s employees are called — to proactively manage their digital footprint. This started in 2005 when the company internally crowdsourced what was then called its “blogging guidelines” and now is its social media policy.

That policy document gives IBMers permission to get involved with social media and content marketing through blogging and provides guidelines on how they should do so. It has had around 58,000 page views, said McCarty, which for a policy document is “really stunning” and shows “IBMers are really interested.”

In addition to offering guidelines on how to use social media and content marketing, IBM offers IBMers opportunities to learn about how to get started and improve their skills blogging, tweeting and using other social media to share their expertise and connect with IBM customers.

IBMers who get really into sharing their knowledge through social media and content marketing can enroll as “Forward Thinkers” — a process through which they officially declare their expertise and take it public, after being validated and trained.

To highlight both its corporate marketing efforts and those of its Forward Thinkers, IBM created IBM Voices — a website that aggregates select Twitter and blog activity. It just recently launched, but the goal is to eventually include about 500 of the company’s best subject-matter experts in the Voices feed, said McCarty. IBM is also looking into other ways to aggregate and share all of the content IBMers are creating online.

For now, they’ve already found that having IBMers include discuss and link to IBM products on their blogs and in their social media posts has a major positive impact on the company, said McCarty.

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