IBM targets SMBs with social media bootcamps

Eight weeks of training is geared at helping SMBs learn to listen, converse with customers over social networks and other social media outlets.

When it comes to marketing, I tend to think that big, big companies don't particularly understand what it takes to build visibility for a local or small business -- as opposed to cultivating a global brand and barraging people with multimedia messages. Small businesses are interested in one big thing: lead generation, and the best qualified leads are often from existing customer referrals.

But when it comes to social media, there are plenty of things that small businesses can learn from the best practices and mistakes of the big guys. Social media allows small companies to put the customer referral affect into overdrive. But there definitely are rules of engagement emerging.

So, if your company has anything to do with IBM -- whether it is an IBM Business Partner or uses IBM retail systems or servers or whatever -- it might want to check out the big high-tech company's series of Social Media Boot Camps. The intent of the eight-week-long sessions is to help small and midsize businesses start social media "conversations" that could help drive new business. And, ultimately, help with some of that brand-building stuff that they really haven't been able to handle as easily, up until now.

IBM is focusing a lot of attention on its business partners, the integrators, VARs and IT services companies that represent its technologies. The hope there is to make these folks more savvy about social networking and media options; those companies, in turn, can help their clients -- often SMBs themselves -- get into the social media groove.

IBM offers several examples of SMBs that have benefited from getting more social with their marketing efforts.

One company is Starfire Technologies, an IBM Business Partner, that is now reconstructing its Web site as a result of its classes with IBM. "We learned to listen on the channels where our business partners and clients are participating, thus helping to identify and move opportunities faster through the pipeline," said Starfire Technologies Vice President of Marketing Mary Spurlock in a press release about the boot camps. "It's also helped us create a valuable collaborative forum for marketing and client support."

The point about listening is really important one. I think that some of us tend to barrage social media outlets with our own thoughts and comments and messages; we sometimes overlook the potential to derive feedback that might shape our business strategy or tactics. Social media shouldn't be a monologue.

Getting off the soap box now, but the IBM education sessions are definitely anyone with an IBM affiliation should consider. After all, this is a company that wrote up its rules of engagement for social networks probably 10 years ago. OK, so many it was seven years ago. The point being that it has been thinking about this for a long time, so there is a lot of opportunity to learn from IBM's successes -- and mistakes.


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