Interview with Ethan McCarty, Senior Manager, Digital and Social Strategy, IBM – Part 2

This is the second part of my interview with Ethan McCarty, Senior Manager, Digital and Social Strategy at IBM.   To read the first part of this interview, click here. After looking at IBM’s innovative Social Business @ IBM program in part one, we now turn our attention to IBM’s Expertise Locator initiative…


Rick Liebling: That perhaps is a great segue to talk about the Expertise Locator initiative. Tell me about that.

Ethan McCarty - Every girl's crazy about a sharp dressed Sr. Manager, Social and Digital Strategy man

Ethan McCarty: Sure – we have deployed the first iteration of a webservice we call the Expertise Locator.  The idea behind it is to have a system for identifying IBM experts on various topics and matching them up with the appropriate digital experiences.  For example, if we have a mobile application or a web site that is all about cloud computing, then the IBM team that built that website could tap into the Expertise Locator web service to make the relevant experts show up in the context of that application or website based on business rules (such as the expert’s availability, languages spoken, location etc.)

In terms of engagement and results, we have more than 3,000 IBMers registered as experts within the system — the majority are being surfaced internally (on IBM’s intranet and within collaborative experiences) but a subset are being surfaced externally on and on our centennial site.  Through A/B testing we have found that pages with IBMers on them perform significantly better than those that do not have IBMers on them.  For example, if we have a web page that is designed to get visitors to click deeper into our site, the presence of IBM experts on the page improves both the performance and the overall feedback we get about the page.  It’s kind of no surprise — when we are transparent, people trust us and feel better about the experience.  What was interesting to me is that this is even the case when they don’t interact directly with the IBMer on the page.

As I mentioned, the term “expert” itself can prove challenging but we’re evolving from providing an “IBM Digital Experience” to providing an “IBMer Digital Experience.” The Social Business @ IBM platform also allows us to say to our employees: “We see you engage with a lot of colleagues around topic ‘x’ or interact with a lot of documents covering topic ‘y.’  Are you an expert in that area?” This all occurs in an authenticated environment and allows us to then direct that expertise outwardly.

Rick Liebling: I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface here Ethan, but what would be the one take-away you’d want people to have regarding the idea of Social Business?

Ethan McCarty: Wow, there’s so much to say here…I guess to boil it down, social business is not just about participation in social media.  It’s not just a matter of getting your company to have a

IBM is headed into the future with Social Business

bunch of Twitter handles or Facebook pages.  Rather, my point of view is that what has sprung up on the consumer side is just the tip of the iceberg. The real power to transform is on the business side. This is where a social framework can create new ways to enable sales forces, new ways to discover expertise, new ways to understand your organization’s culture, new ways to establish brand trust with your customers, and much more.


Empire Avenue: The Latest Rush To Social Media Judgement

Remember Emily’s Reasons Why Not? It starred Heather Graham and ran on ABC.  You probably don’t remember it because only one episode aired! In fact there’s a pretty big list of TV shows that were cancelled after just one episode made it to the screen. We live in a world where instant success is often demanded.  Where ultimate success is gauged very early in the process. I was reminded of this when I saw this Tweet from David Armano:

Quora: Will Empire Ave take off or is it a fad? Answer:
David Armano


Steve Woodruff had a funny response:

When @ asks (on Quora) if Empire Avenue is a fad, we have reached a Critical Craze Convergence Crossing (C4). Run!
Steve Woodruff

Here’s the full question on Quora:

Empire Ave is a social network/game that acts like a virtual stock market allowing you to “buy” stock in both friends and brands. The tech elite have recently jumped on it. Is it the next rising star or crashing meteor?

Last month Color was the flavor of the month, before that it was Quora. Now the heat surrounds Empire Avenue and the immediate question is “What’s the potential for this site, will it be a major player?” The answer of course is, “Who the heck knows?” Was anybody certain Facebook would explode like it did? Is anybody certain it won’t fade out in three years?

I think Empire Avenue is fun, and has some interesting potential, but who knows what sort of staying power it has. Maybe they tie-in with LinkedIn, that could be interesting, or they get bought by Facebook. Perhaps it becomes the authority that people are trying to make Klout out to be (unless PeerIndex supplants them first).

But my point isn’t that we can’t know for sure what’s going to be a hit, it’s that we shouldn’t be trying. Trying to pick winners is a fool’s game.  Instead we should be judging value by how well the site or app or tool helps us achieve our goals. If Empire Avenue tops out a 10,000 users, but you can develop a thriving community around those people, well that’s all that matters. But there’s no way you’re going to know if that is possible today. You have to put in the time.

I’ve written about a Slow Social Movement in the past and this is another great example of the need to not rush to judgement. Giving up on Empire Avenue now may be premature, while loading up heavily on the platform is probably premature too. The best thing you can do right now is check it out and have some fun with it.  Don’t try to monetize it or leverage it to target key demos or other nonsense, just play with it. Is it fun? Do you like spending time on the site for no other reason than it makes you happy? If so, they may be on to something.

Quora Revisted: What’s the real value of Quora?

As Director of Digital Strategy at Coyne one of my tasks is to explore new Social Media tools and applications. Sometimes a quick review is all that is needed to see that a site will have limited value (see Jon Burg’s review of Cubeduel as an example). Other times first impressions may not be enough and after further review, value can be found. Quora may be an example of the latter.

Buzz around the site was fueled by this Fast Company article from earlier this month: “Q&A site Quora builds buzz with A-List Answerers.”

Initially, I was skeptical of Quora. It seemed to be a solution in search of a need. There are plenty of places to get answers to questions on the web, whether from official site FAQs, Wikipedia or via one’s social graph (Twitter, Facebook).  But ramp up on the site seemed strong, especially among those of us involved with Social Media. David Armano noticed the rapid adoption as well:

Have never seen such effective social graph siphon and ripple effect. Nearly 1k Quora followers in less than 2 days.
David Armano

I had a similar experience. The Quora team did an excellent job of integrating their product into my existing social networks so I quickly built up a group of people I was familiar with, making Quora seem like a familiar and comfortable place pretty quickly. And yet I still had my doubts.  Those doubts were fueled by posts like this one from Saneel Radia of BBH Labs: The Answer to this Quora? No.

Frank Eliason was more optimistic, but seems to be cautiously so, asking, “What’s with all the Quora hype?Chris Brogan has a similar response, seeing potential but not yet ready to commit. He offered some ideas on how Quora could get interesting.

But soon people started talking about a “thin end of the wedge” approach in respect to Quora. Here, digital media entrepreneur Semil Shah writes convincingly on Techcrunch about seven ways Quora may grow in relevance. Edward Boches commented on how Quora is demonstrating the Network Effect in its meteoric growth.

David Armano offered seven reasons why Quora will be bigger than Foursquare. Clearly he’s become a convert, a look at his Twitter feed shows his frequency of use and general enthusiasm for the platform:

Day one on Quora. Mega potent social hooks. Following built up in record time. It's all about establishing expertise an social currency
David Armano

Leslie Barry of Iphso also is a convert. Here he speaks of Quora’s ability to “create a database of intentions.”

For me the key “a ha” moment came when I stopped thinking of Quora as another place for Social Media practitioners to keep score (my answer is #1; look how many followers I have…), but rather an engagement tool for brands.

My colleague at Coyne, Derek Brown, pointed out several potential benefits for brands leveraging Quora from a PR perspective. Derek sagely notes, “Just as the goal of traditional PR was to make you a resource to journalists, the new model of social engagement requires you to be a resource to an evolving spectrum of influencers and stakeholders.”

Brian Solis also sees the potential for brands to benefit from Quora, noting “listening and monitoring are important within Quora if it is indeed where your community is asking and answering questions. Like Yahoo Answers and Mahalo Answers, answers to brand related questions are already populating the top of search results in Google.”

I think Quora has several challenges ahead. Will it be able to maintain momentum after the initial ‘shiny new thing’ effect wears off?  Will Google or Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn catch up (or buy it)?  And of course, will they figure out a business model? But there are also many exciting possibilities. Could they partner with Foursquare or some other location-based service to offer local Q&A?  Could they integrate with corporate websites to create dynamic FAQ pages?  I think the next interesting period for Quora could be this year’s South by Southwest conference. Will Quora see increased activity around this event which attracts a core user base?  There are many questions, but Quora seems to be off to an exciting start.

If 80% of success is just showing up, what about the other 20%?

Noted Brooklyn clarinetist Allen Konigsberg once said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.” When viewed through the lens of Social Media, this quote is worth exploring further. Remarkably, many companies still sit on the Social Media sidelines, either not believing that they can benefit from Social Media or not sure how to get involved.  Others are willing to get involved, but fail to realize the commitment necessary for success and soon curtail their efforts.  It starts to become clear that Woody may have been on to something.

But of course there are many companies that are in it for the long haul. They are showing up day in, day out. For them the question is, what about the other 20%?

With that remaining 20% what can a brand do to engage people, to provide value and ultimately achieve business goals? The answer, for me, is something else Woody Allen was pretty good at: creating content with a unique voice.

If it were just a matter of showing up, Allen could have churned out formulaic pap that was forgotten almost as soon as it was produced. But instead, with that last 20% Allen created films that were distinctive and unique. No one else could have made a “Woody Allen” film and conversely, I don’t think Allen could have made a Scorsese, Coppola or Kubrick film. All these filmmakers created content that engaged people in different ways. Each filmmaker had his own voice. How, as a brand, are you creating your own voice? How are you distinguishing yourself from the competition?

I’m struck by how often brands within the same category sound so much alike. So many brands fear offending anyone without realizing that they aren’t really attracting anyone either.  There are plenty of people who aren’t fans of Woody Allen movies, but those that are will see anything he does. That should be the goal with your Social Media engagement, to create brand advocates who will at least consider any new product or service you offer. Many brands I see online seem to be aiming for “I hope you’ll tolerate us” instead.

A person who doesn’t like you won’t be easily swayed. A person with no particular opinion will go with the best deal, regardless of who offers it.. Focus your efforts on the ones that love you and don’t worry about the rest.

Kickstarter Projects Worth Supporting

One of the great things about Social Media is the collaborative and supportive nature of the industry. Kickstarter taps into this beautifully by providing a platform for people to raise funds for worthy projects. I’d like to share two of those projects and encourage you to support both in any way you can.

First up is, a project created by some Northwestern University students. I was really impressed with the quality and ambition evident in their efforts and it’s great to see a new generation of inspiring people starting to create the future rather than just try to tread the well-worn path.  Take a look at what they are creating:

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.

You can help support their project here.

The other project I’m supporting is Voyurl (great name). This one is from Adam Leibsohn, an Anomaly dude. Voyurl allows you to share your clickstream and find out who is looking at what, where and when. You can connect to friends, find new sites, or just see what others are looking at in real-time.

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.

You can help support this project here.

I really hope you’ll take a moment to consider these projects, and when you go to kickstarter, check out other great projects that are worthy of your monetary support.

Age of Conversation 3 Author Interview #14 Heather Rast

Heather Rast is our next  Age of Conversation 3 author subject:

Q1: Give us a brief overview of what you wrote about.

A1:  Navigating the integration of social communication into an organization’s marketing mix.
Q2: What drew you to the Age of Conversation project?

A2:  I was trained as a writer in journalism school but don’t profess to have all the requisite skills for that particular style.  I think I channel some natural strengths for communication into my work and extracurricular pursuits.  The AOC3 project gives me a chance to be in an environment with some very esteemed peers.  I hope to grow from the process, contribute in some small part, and learn a lot from reading the work of others.
Q3: What aspect of marketing / Social Media is being overblown right now?

A3:  In many ways, I view ‘social media’ as a coined term, one that makes it easier when discussing building and strengthening ties with customers.  By my definition, you might say that social media has always existed, yet technology advancements have introduced speed, connectivity, and platforms which dramatically increase the potential reach of relationship-building.  I think we’re bordering on pontification when we talk about social media and instead should talk about the root components:  delivering on brand promise, ensuring customer satisfaction, advancing customer relationships and extending lifetime value through product/service innovation.
Q4: Where are the real opportunities in marketing / Social Media right now?

A4:  Building small business cases tied to marketing objectives.  This ties in to Q3 for me.  Using the budget dollars available in efficient ways designed to drive the most efficacy.
Q5: Predictions are cliche, instead, tell me one thing you are going to make happen this year?

A5:  Leverage the points of differentiation (from one of my employer’s eCommerce brands) to gradually grow net value with the brand’s customer base.  Promote and cultivate the sentiment to grow the brand community organically.  Move our internal mindset from ‘transaction’ to ‘relationship.’

You can read more from Heather on her site and @heatherrast