In one of my recent newspaper columns, I wrote about how IBM is doing something with social media that most companies wouldn’t dare try:  allowing their employees to speak for the company! While most corporations hire PR firms or rely on their communications director to carefully craft messages that appear on public sites, IBM lets hundreds of thousands of staffers speak out. Maybe that’s why IBM has celebrated so many birthdays — 100 to be exact. Read on:

Not many companies can say they’ve been around for more than a century. In fact, companies in the 100-year club are exceedingly rare — fewer than 500 of the more than 5,000 publicly traded companies in the U.S.

Among them is supercomputer company IBM, a technology giant that turned 100 last month.

If you were to look at all of the things IBM has done to remain strong over the years, you’d see a string of innovations from time clocks and butcher scales to typewriters, personal computers and even a supercomputer that recently won the game show “Jeopardy!” And there is also the spirit of innovation you don’t always hear about.

I believe IBM can credit its longevity and success not only to the introduction of cutting-edge technology, but also to its embracement of communication, including today’s social media.

I recently did a case study on the company’s unique, decentralized social media approach that is driving unprecedented collaboration and innovation. Many companies today have a corporate blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and even possibly a YouTube channel.

Usually organizations communicate in the faceless, nameless “one voice” that tells the story of a brand. But at IBM it is thousands of voices, and that is the way they want it. Employees are encouraged to not only speak for the company, but share ideas that even the VPs might not grasp.

IBM lets employees communicate internally and with the public without intervention. They do have social media guidelines and employees are individually responsible for what they create, and releasing proprietary information is prohibited.

The approach is succeeding. Today, an internal informational wiki and a user-generated media library generate an incredible amount of online activity. There is also a flood of people that blog for the company.

IBM lists all of its blogs in a simple directory sorted by the name of the blogger. They share thoughts, ideas, presentations, photos, videos and more. The social stats are incredible: thousands of internal blogs and more than 50,000 members on “SocialBlue” (a Facebook-type community for IBM employees). That doesn’t count the many external bloggers and thousands of participants in their occasional company crowd-sourcing “jams.”

Free sharing via social media has been part of the corporate culture since the early 2000s, when IBM conducted its first Company Jam, where employees came together to lead their own three-day discussion forum.

Three years later the concept was take to the next level with an “innovation jam” where participation included not only by employees, but also family, friends and clients. Internal company research projects were discussed and explored, and the ones deemed to be best went on to become IBM-funded incubator businesses.

With a culture as diverse and distributed as IBM’s, getting employees to collaborate and share makes good business sense.

IBM is a company that has lived through changing technology and intense competition but continues to survive and remain at the forefront of innovation. With their innovative approaches to communication I don’t doubt that they will be celebrating quite a few more birthdays to come.

Via Cheryl Perkins Column, Post-Crescent Newspaper

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