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Jul 7, 2009

Combine Social Media with Traditional Tactics: 3 Campaign Examples from IBM

SUMMARY: As the number of social media channels continues to grow, it can be daunting to figure out which tools suit which purposes for marketing.

See how an IBM VP combines social media with traditional tactics for product development, event promotion, and demand generation. Includes lessons learned and highlights from three campaigns.
Sandy Carter, VP Service Oriented Architecture and WebSphere, IBM, has been incorporating social media into IBM’s marketing since 2006. She and her team started slowly with corporate blogs, and lately have pushed into hosting forums and using third-party social networks.

A key lesson learned is that is that using social media channels is not a strategy unto itself.

"All of our campaigns involve a combination of traditional marketing, plus social media," Carter says. "We actually don’t believe in a solid social media campaign. We always combine it."

We spoke with Carter to discuss three IBM marketing campaigns that featured prominent roles for social media and online communities. Read on to learn how social media fit into the context of these larger strategies, and how the team combined social media with traditional tactics.

Campaign #1. Harnessing group knowledge for product development

In 2007, Carter and her team were building an IBM platform for Web-based applications called WebSphere sMash. At the time, IBM’s website had a robust set of online forums where developers discussed technical topics. That community represented a large skill and knowledge base.

To make sMash as strong as possible, the team listened to developers’ needs through traditional methods, including focus groups and analyst reports. Then, Carter’s team supplemented that information by going to the Web to ask developers for their opinions.

Channels included:
o IBM-hosted forum
o IBM-hosted blog
o Twitter feed

The team explained their vision for the product, and asked developers:
o "Is this something you want?"
o "What sort of features do you need?"

Information came pouring in, with about 4,500 postings to the IBM forum alone, Carter says. The team gathered this information, mined it for insights, and incorporated some of the advice into subsequent beta releases.

- On-going updates

Traditionally, the team’s development process followed this basic schedule:
o Issue a beta release
o Accept feedback for about six weeks
o Make updates to the product
o Release the final version to the public

The process for sMash’s release was more on-going, Carter says.

"We actually did beta releases on the blog, websites and forums we had. And almost every night we would take some of that feedback, post a new build, and people would download it and provide us feedback. And we did this continuous loop on the information that came in."

The community helped design everything from the user interface to the product’s name.

- Successful launch

Since its 2008 launch, WebSphere sMash has been regularly growing in usage, Carter says.

"We’ve already had 81 subscribers on Amazon EC2, which is more than any other product placed there." Amazon EC2 is a service used by developers to access resizable computing capacity.

The number of people downloading the platform from IBM’s website has increased 20% over the last four months.

Campaign #2. Building a community, promoting an event, generating leads

The team ran a 100-city road show on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) during the first two weeks of October, 2008. The goals were to bring together the SOA community in-person, further the community’s knowledge, and help IBM generate leads for its tools and solutions.

Furthermore, Carter’s team wanted the SOA community to stay connected online before and after the event. The team used social media and interactive elements to not only promote the event, but to hold the community together afterward.

-> Step #1. Promotion

In addition to traditional marketing -- including direct mail, display advertising, and one-to-one invitations -- the team used the following social and interactive elements to promote the event:

- Bot

On arrival to IBM’s SOA website, visitors saw an animated, 3-D person walk around the page with an offer for the event in her hand. When clicked, the person brought visitors to the event registration page. The "bot," as Carter calls it, increased clickthrough rates to the registration page a whopping six-fold.

- Twitter

The team sent messages on the micro-blogging service that included a promotion code. When customers signed up for the event with the code, they were allotted 30-minutes to talk with one of IBM’s Chief Technical officers at the conference.

Within three days, 40 people registered to speak with the CTO in Amsterdam alone, Carter says.

- Blogs

The team also blogged about the conference on several of their developer-oriented blogs. These posts, combined with the efforts on Twitter, encouraged some developers to mention the event in their personal blogs, feeds, and social networking pages. Some customers created groups on Facebook, and at least one created a LinkedIn group, Carter says.

"With all these social media add-ons, we got an incremental 10% lift in our registrations for virtually no cost."

-> Step #2. Connect customers

The team worked with a third-party provider to build an online community website called SOAsocial. Having a third-party host the community was important to avoid the appearance of an IBM-dominated and -based community. The team wanted the community to grow on its own.

-> Step #3. Encourage engagement and user-generated content

The team encouraged customers to take pictures at the events and post them to the photo-sharing website Flickr. This helped spur the community into action, and also helped Carter’s team save money.

"We usually have a photographer take pictures of the events. We had 100 events, and it would have cost us about $100,000 to have a photographer at each and every one of those cities, taking pictures and recording that for us," Carter says.

-> Step #4. Follow-up widget

After the event, the attendees stayed connected through the SOAsocial network. Carter’s team wanted to stay connected with them too, since the attendees were potential customers for IBM’s SOA tools.

The team built a widget that supplied the often-requested event presentations. The widget could be placed on a blog or website, or downloaded onto a computer.

"The cool thing about that for us is that the widget is driven by RSS feeds. So now that they have that widget, when we have news, we push that information out to those customers," Carter says. "If there is a new product, we can push a demo out to them."

Best of all, about 67% of the conferences’ attendees downloaded the widget, Carter says.

- Additional sales promotion

The widget also linked to and encouraged users to visit IBM’s SOA website to check out products.

Campaign #3. Energizing the market with interactive game

To help stimulate, build and further educate the market about SOA technology, in 2006 Carter’s team created a free 3-D game called INNOV8.

The game featured all the elements you’d expect from a computer game: interactivity, a hero, a villain, and a plot. The game also included SOA lessons throughout the experience.

During 2007, over 1,000 universities downloaded and played INNOV8.

- New educational content

Although not a socially-oriented game, INNOV8 served as an accessible way for people to learn about SOA and eventually become contributing members of the community that IBM was building.

"INNOV8 helps customers learn SOA concepts in a much more consumable way," Carter says.

Through research done in 2008, the team found that students taught through the game had an 80% higher recall on SOA topics than other students. They also found that graduates who had used the game in school were taking it with them into the business world to teach their coworkers.

- More accessible

INNOV8’s second version was Web-based, meaning it could be played on any computer with an Internet connection. That platform made it easier for people to share the game.

- Social promotion

For the second version, the team also created leader boards that listed the players with the highest scores.

They promoted the game through a separate Twitter feed, and through IBM’s blogs and forums. Promoting in social forums made it easier for people to connect with like-minded friends and coworkers after learning about the game.

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