03/08/2013 05:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Social Media and the Mature Organization: An Interview With Ed Brill

I recently spoke about Big Data at IBM PartnerWorld in Las Vegas. At the conference, I finally had a chance to meet Ed Brill, author of the new book Opting In: Lessons in Social Business from a Fortune 500 Product Manager. Ed and I sat down to talk a bit about the book and the transformation taking place at IBM.

There are a zillion books out on social media. What makes Opting In different?
Most of the books on social media today are written by marketers or consultants, and they either focus on tools or outbound communication. The impetus to write Opting In was a belief that those running a business, such as product or brand managers, would be more inclined to read about social business, the process of connecting people with people and people with information. Thus the book is mostly about who, why, and where to engage in a conversation with the marketplace, rather than the what and how of most of the books out there today.

So is the book just for product managers?

No. Jonathan Levitt, the CMO of OpinionLab, said in his review of the book that "anyone in business today" would benefit from reading Opting In. The book speaks to the notion of a social product manager, but the lessons learned -- included in every chapter -- are broadly applicable to business leaders across an organization. I tried to make the book a narrative, more of a case study than a how-to guide, where the reader can envision themselves in similar situations and consider what the right approach would be. Chapters about how much of yourself to include in your online persona, when to go on offense or defense, and how to inflect your social presence into real life are applicable to line of business leaders throughout a company.

What is the perception of IBM and social media today?
IBM has transformed over the last six or seven years into a culture of participation. We have one of the largest presences on LinkedIn and Twitter, and IBMers continue to explore the leading edge of both inbound and outbound usage of social media. More importantly, we have recognized the importance of social business as a tool to reach clients and potential buyers. Our research has found that people who visit as a result of a referral from a blog or tweet or other curated content are more likely to convert into participating in an offer from our website than if they just came to directly. That is a direct reflection of the authentic voice used established by IBMers and our communities.

What are some examples of where IBM has implemented best-in-class use of social tools?
In Opting In , I describe a few cases where I think we are really doing things right. One is our social computing guidelines, which were first written -- using a wiki and individuals from all over IBM -- in 2005, and have only been revised twice. Those are published publicly on as an example for other organizations. Another is our Champion program, which recognizes and rewards customers and partners who are strong advocates for our products. A third is how our inside sales team is demonstrating measurably better results by using social tools, from generating more leads to closing more business. That ROI is the holy grail that social media advocates are always asking for, and we have proven it through academic study of our salespeople's' effectiveness.