How IBM Promotes Employee Engagement with Social Media

I am constantly impressed with IBM and its open attitude towards its employees’ use of social media.  The company has on its website, for all to see, its “IBM Social Computing Guidelines”.  

I wrote about this on the Blogger’s Bulletin, a LinkedIn subgroup.  With the start of 2010, other companies, who are floundering with their social media policies, would do well to check out IBM’s guidelines.  One of many lines in the guidelines that intrigued me: “IBM is increasingly exploring how online discourse through social computing can empower IBMers as global professionals, innovators and citizens. These individual interactions represent a new model:  not mass communications, but masses of communicators.” What a profound statement.  Gone are the days when a company can tightly control its message through advertising and printed materials.  IBM has recognized that thousands of its employees, within certain guidelines, are the touch points for communications with customers, prospects and the general public.

Empowering employees to be brand advocates for the company takes courage and a great deal of trust.  From the guidelines, “In 1997, IBM recommended that its employees get out onto the Internet – at a time when many companies were seeking to restrict their employees’ Internet access.  In 2005, the company made a strategic decision to embrace the blogosphere and to encourage IBMers to participate.”

IBM says that when it wishes to communicate publicly as a company it has a well-established means to do so – through employee blogs and other forms of online discourse.  Isn’t this refreshing?  That a company as huge as IBM is empowering and leveraging its employees to enhance its brand?  There are other companies, too, like Zappos and Comcast that understand the value of employee involvement in social media.  But there are too few companies who understand the power of the Internet.  And some companies are still muzzling their employees – but it’s too late.  Their employees are already out there.

Jon Iwata, SVP, Marketing & Communications, spells out IBM’s social media policy in this video.  Jon Iwata – Social Media as an Internal Tool. Well worth watching.

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  1. Thanks to David Zinger who picked up on my IBM blog post and pulled out 15 nuggets of IBM’s social networking policy for his own blog post, “15 Kudos to Big Blue: IBM Offers Great Guidance in Social Media and Employee Engagement”

  2. Gone are the days without social media. We all need to get on the band wagon or we will be left behind. If we are not already.

    We can learn from the Big guys how to capitalize on what they know and how they use social media. I am glad that IBM shares this. It would be nice to see other large companies share this information as well.

    With a growing company of my own, I need all the information I can use

  3. Thanks for this post, Jeannette. I have shared it with the Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community via Twitter (@SMinOrgs) and LinkedIn ( We have a number of IBMers in the SMinOrgs Community, and I have invited them to share their thoughts on IBM’s approach. It’s a great reflection of how organizations have to move from a “no” philosophy to a “yes with guidelines” philosophy when it comes to developing/revising their social media/communication policies.

  4. This is a very interesting post. I agree that top-notch organizations will continue to move in this direction or continue to lose quality employees.

    I’m curious to know more about IBM’s workforce demographics, for example, how many exempt versus non-exempt employees. Since the two are held to different FLSA standards I would like to know if and how IBM manages these groups with regards to social media.

  5. Great to get these insights into specific behaviours and cultures of different companies around this.

    I think that understanding how to move to ‘self regulation’ of this many communicators is often the first challange, but clearly IBM appear to have been able to achieve this.

    • Thanks for visiting, Frazer. I think you used the operative word “self regulation.” Companies need to trust their employees to do the right things. It’s in their own self-interest and the company’s, too.

  6. What a refreshing take on the encouragement of communication, and from a source (IBM) that I wouldn’t have pegged for this today. I would think it would be Skype or Google or Salesforce saying the same.

    • Matt — thanks for visiting. IBM has been enabling their employees to be brand advocates on social media long before other companies were even thinking about social media. They are a terrific example of the openness that more companies need to adopt with their employees.

  7. Hi Jeannette,

    Thank you very much for sharing this great article. Yes, I totally agree with you. Empowering employees to be brand advocates for the company takes really enough courage and a great deal of trust. It is so nice to know that IBM recommended that its employees to get out onto the Internet! Again thank you for sharing this.

    • Anne — the operative word is “trust.” Employees can be trusted. They want to do what’s best for the company because if the company succeeds so will they.