In previous posts we have discussed how to create a successful blog and how businesses (even you!) can use crowd-sourcing to source cheap or free labour and maximise the potential of any product you provide. What we have not yet considered is what risks pose a business functioning online; can the benefits outweigh the detriments?
Operating for 116 years, IBM is one of the world’s most successfully companies – practically everyone has heard of them. Lesser known is the company’s integration of social media (such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook). However the company’s move towards encouraging employee’s to share via the internet – a move effectively networking employees from across the globe into more centralized places (online) – has achieved some amazing results. According to Casey Hibbard (Feb 2010), IBM has successfully created:
- over 500,000 participants utilising crowd-sourcing to solve problems
- 200, 000 members on LinkedIn (and over 50,000 members of alum networks on LinkedIn and Facebook)
- 53, 000 members on SocialBlue (similiar to Facebook, but aimed at employees)
- over 17,000 internal blogs (and over 100,000 individuals accessing information and communicating on these blogs)
- Thousands of external bloggers and Twitter users
What’s more amazing is that IBM has no corporate blog or Twitter account – all the content is generated solely by the employees for the benefit of the company!
Knowledge Creates Efficiency
IBM has managed to develop a variety of databases (such as the 17, 000 internal blogs) that enables employees internationally to connect, collaborate and share knowledge. More than just relying on other services, the company has developed their own counterparts and software (such as SocialBlue), to further encourage their employee’s to “meet” and discuss potential ideas for the development of the business with a controlled and safe environment – thus ensuring that internal and private business information is not accidentally leaked.
What IBM has essentially created is a global knowledge network between every single employee, improving education and efficiency ten fold. If every employee could effectively reduce time spent researching for information by half an hour every day and instead use that time to make sales and improve products or services – just imagine the increased value that would be received!
Wisdom of the Masses
In 2006 IBM acknowledge a “jam” that had occurred with several projects, effectively halting progress on any further development. However, with the help of internal employees, such problems were resolved and 10 (out of 50) of the projects were turned into long term incubator businesses for IBM, generating significant profit.
Return on Investment (ROI)
Return on Investment cannot always be easily measured – how exactly can one effectively measure efficiency? As one becomes more proficient at a particular task, time spent on it decreases – but so does help from outside sources. As mentioned in some above points, IBM experienced a number of profit enhancing benefits of implementing social media as a core business strategy: efficiency, increased employer knowledge (and education), and improved communication skills. IBM invested in in the creation of social media tools and has been receiving a return of investment by monetizing those tools as part of their product portfolio.
Regulation of Social Media
As IBM has found, it isn’t necessary to regulate social media within an internal environment. This isn’t to say that they haven’t provided guidelines: IBM states that any employees who utilise internal and external social media are responsible for what they create, and of course are prohibited from releasing proprietary information.
Instead it has been found that employee’s tend to regulate themselves just as they would on a standard online community – if behaviour is deemed inappropriate then the masses effectively punish said individuals as they would on Facebook (through less communication and objections to content).
However, as such internal and online community’s develop, IBM may need to consider the overall psychological impacts upon individuals – increased laziness, and even depression from potentially being alienated within such a large social environment.
No company wants to risk proprietary information being leaked. Enterprise 2.0 technologies poses perhaps the greatest risk of all when it comes to this – one small accidentally made comment could effectively spread to thousands (even millions) of individuals within an hour – whereas older technology such as snail mail allowed the company far more time to implement recovery strategies. Going back to the point on regulation – IBM has given their employees freedom, whilst keeping sure that any individual can be hold solely responsible for any content released.
IBM is a perfect example of how a company can successfully utilise new technology to benefit a company. IBM has successfully utilised crowd-sourcing to generate over $100 million in new businesses. It has increased employer efficiency, allowing employees to work faster and harder (and ultimately generate even more revenue). It won’t be that long until more companies start doing the same.