How IBM APAC turned 500 employees into a social media and content army

I’m absolutely thrilled to share the success story of how building a social leadership culture can absolutely transform a business from the inside out. Hand on heart, it’s been the privilege of my career to work with the incredible professionals at IBM across Asia Pacific. Some of the smartest and most passionate people I’ve ever met.

The team

Nishan Weerasinghe, Tara Moody and Sunny Panjabi were my co-pilots on this ride, and we had fun, while working really hard to get this done. Anything new always has obstacles to overcome and cynicism around social leadership is still high in the business world – for good reason.

I also want to thank Anne Phey, who moved on to a new role after we started, but was a key driver in the early days. And Henry Adams, thank you for introducing me to Nishan. You’re a legend woman.

Why I am so delighted is, this is an idea I’ve been speaking about for many years. However until you find that one leader who has the same vision and belief this is the right approach for the business, well it’s almost impossible to get anyone to sit up and take notice. Nishan was that leader for me.

Equally, I want to thank Eric Schnatterly, Vice President, IBM Cognitive Systems for Cloud, Asia Pacific – check him out on LinkedIn! It is very rare to get someone at this level in an organization embracing such a project. Eric’s support is a key part of why we succeeded and continue to succeed – because he’s been leading from the front. Digital transformation starts at the top.

Social leadership transforms businesses

Because what we are talking about here is transformation, and creating a social leadership movement is a very deep cultural change for a business. Historically, the only voices valued within business have been the voices of its leaders – all perfectly wrapped around PR messaging.

Social media has changed all of that, it’s democratized information channels, and everyone has a voice today. Everyone is an influencer. And the collective power of employees is beyond-powerful. If we focus on helping professionals define their voice and inspire them to own it, we change the game of business.

Lessons everywhere

In the last two years, working with IBM, we learnt a lot together. What works, what doesn’t, how many will jump on board and how many won’t. What is the key motivation point for individuals, what they are cynical about, what stops people, and what really gets them moving.

We also learnt that patience is our biggest friend. You don’t get employees engaging on LinkedIn and achieve business results overnight. Because we are in the trust building game today and trust takes time to build. However, we were delighted when the first wins started coming in – a magic point that happens 6-9 months in… in case you were wondering.

To have proof social leadership is a business driver when employees are engaging intelligently, authentically, and with real purpose, tied to their own personal eminence, well this is a great day. But equally, it was the focus on employee first, brand second that was the critical piece. It can’t be about the company. That doesn’t work.

Employee advocacy is not about the brand

No thoughtful employee, who values their personal brand, wants to be a mouthpiece for a brand. They tell me it lacks integrity and would rather do nothing than do something reflecting badly on them.

The message circulating in the market around employee advocacy is always positioned to benefit the brand, and this is where it is failing.

Empower your people to own their voice, get them focused on what they want to be known for, show them where to start, and watch the sparks fly.

Thank you IBM

Yes, definitely the greatest privilege of my career. Thank you for the trust and belief IBM, the laughs and the compelling discussions. So many wonderful new friendships too. You certainly get close to people when you get into their heads to help them work out what they’re passionate about!

Which, incidentally, is the biggest challenge of this work. We all struggle with defining our magic, because usually, whatever it is comes so easily to us, is such a core part of who we are, that we can’t see it’s special! When we can’t see it, we struggle to value its uniqueness and relevance to the world. That is always the starting point.

The case study

This case study was written to be read, not presented. It is long-form, because I really wanted to share as much information as I could to help others who want to embrace this opportunity learn from our experiences. There’s obviously so much more I could share on what we did together, but this should help you understand the key mindset required, as well as where you need to focus to succeed.

It’s all about focus

My personal focus for my social leadership position, is to help everyone understand how powerful social media is, because if we engage in a real and authentic way, with integrity at the heart of all we do, it’s life-changing. If we can get everyone doing this, we will see the transformational power of social media, not just for business, but for the world. That is my why. That is why I do what I do. To be able to demonstrate this is a valuable approach, delivering ROI for business, well, you can probably guess I’m delighted.

If you’re embarking on a social leadership project in your organization, I wish you good luck. It’s hard work, but equally, it is amazing work to do. Completely inspiring.

Let me know what you think of the case study? Would love to know your thoughts?



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I am always seeking to share a message of being a social leader with integrity at the core. If you’re not being real, if you’re not delivering value, if you’re not being of service to your audience, then why do anything, right? Because social leadership is unbelievably powerful.

I believe it’s time for all of us to embrace our voice and embrace the future. We do this by working and living out loud with meaning, intention and by being true to ourselves.

If you don’t know where to start, check out my e-learning course How to build a rock star personal brand today.

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1 thought on “How IBM APAC turned 500 employees into a social media and content army”

  1. Pingback: What the Curious Case of Paul Flart Tells Us About How Companies Still Don’t Understand Social Media – Miguel Bernas

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