Carter on IBM's social media push

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Sandy Carter, VP-IBM Software Group Channels, recently spoke to ITM about social media and how it fits into the company's overall marketing strategy. Formerly the VP-SOA and WebSphere Strategy, Channels and Marketing, Carter continues to help IBM set and maintain its social media presence. Along with her own blog on the topic, she is the author of “The New Language of Marketing 2.0: How to Use ANGELS to Energize Your Market” (IBM Press, 2008).

ITM: Why is social media so important to IBM, and which methods are you using?

Carter: We focus on the way our clients like to communicate and dialog with us. The numbers are there: [social media] is the way our clients and partners want to communicate, and it's a way to reduce my costs while still driving engagement. We put videos up on YouTube. We're twittering. We're blogging. We're on LinkedIn.

ITM: How do you create a social media strategy?

Carter: Yesterday a customer called me and said, “I don't know what to do about a social media strategy because my customers and partners are not online.” I told him, “Well, don't use social media.”

If you are going to create a strategy, you need to understand your customers and what they want to do. Then, decide who is your target—is it new customers, partners, existing customers?—and what you're trying to achieve. Once you know that, you have to have an insight champion: someone who can be out there listening to what's happening in the blogosphere [and] the sentiment about your brand or product. If you don't do that, I think you're missing about 50% of the benefits. Then you decide what to do based on all that information, making goals specific, measurable, achievable and realistic. ITM: What Web 2.0 marketing opportunity are you most excited about?

Carter: Virtual events, not just podcasts or webcasts, but truly replicating the experience that you have at an event—but online. If you think about the current environment, companies don't have the ability to send employees to shows, and those that do will only send a few people. We decided to experiment and create an online event that would truly replicate the experience. [It has] a keynote session (where people show up, walk into the room and sit in the audience) to breakout sessions, to demo centers where partners pay for demo space, to chat rooms where you can sit down with customers and either answer questions or get to know them on a social basis. We've been doing this quite regularly and have found great results. It's been fabulous because, if you replace a real event with a virtual one, you cut costs between 85% and 95%. We typically supplement in-person events with virtual events. We're driving that attendance by using Twitter and LinkedIn. At the events, we're using to ask people what topics they want to see. ITM: Costs aside, are you seeing other benefits?

Carter: We've had good turnout and good conversion rates. Registration for our events ranges from 150 to 5,000 people. We see conversion rates for validated lead revenue that ranges from 10% to 25%. While there's nothing that can replace in-person, we get great results from our chat rooms. This shows us that the personal connection, while not as good, is good enough to get a conversion rate similar to a regular [in-person] show. Still, it's not the end-game. It's a virtual touch point. You need to continue your e-nurturing and relationship. You need to increase digital touch points after the event, and keep your eye on the end result.

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