IBM Offers Channel Partners Guidance In Social Media Marketing

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Almost half of the solution providers surveyed by IBM are experimenting with social networking as a way to find new customers and generate new revenue streams. But three quarters of those channel partners also acknowledge that they are unsure just how to apply social media as an effective sales tool.

IBM said Thursday it is launching a "skills initiative" to provide resellers, distributors, ISVs and systems integrators with training and other resources to capitalize on social media.

Some of the offerings, including online training sessions and a social media guide, are available immediately through the IBM PartnerWorld Communities Website. Others will follow shortly, including a live session called "Leveraging Social Media for your Business" at the IBM Information On Demand Conference in Las Vegas in late October.

While the number of consumer-focused businesses that use Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites is rapidly growing, just how solution providers can leverage them is not so obvious. "They sense it could be an effective sales tool, but they don't know how to get started," said Sandy Carter, vice president, IBM software business partners, in an interview.

The survey of 1,000 channel partners, the results of which IBM also unveiled Thursday, found that 45 percent are experimenting with social media. But 74 percent said they need more education and direction, Carter said. They were overwhelmed by the number of social media outlets and asked for training on specific tools like RSS, wikis, Facebook and Twitter. They also weren't sure how to measure the effectiveness of such efforts.

Ascendant Technology, an IBM premier software and services reseller, has been using social media in its marketing efforts and this week is holding its Atech xChange conference in Austin, Tex., which includes sessions in collaboration and social computing for its own business partners. "We're looking for a different way to reach out to our audience, our customers," said Elizabeth Albert, worldwide marketing director at Ascendant, in an interview.

Ascendant has used Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn to build customer loyalty and help its customers understand what the company brings to the IBM ecosystem. Use of social media also helps "bring out the Ascendant character and personality," Albert said.

The company, for example, created a YouTube video based on South Park that spoofed the IBM Lotusphere conference. While Ascendant was afraid IBM might take offense, she said IBM was "onboard with it. Customers are past the point of working with their grandfather's IBM. They want to work with the new, cool IBM."

The solution provider is also re-developing its Website to provide links to its customers' Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

The IBM social media skills initiative will include online training sessions, podcasts, and a number of Web events such as "Internet Marketing: Your 24/7 Money Machine," produced with partner Black Diamond Software, detailing how to develop a targeted Internet campaign using social media.

IBM is also offering partners a free Lotus Live license to help set up communities with their customers. She said one partner has already set up a biotechnology community using the online Lotus service.

"Through this new skills initiative, we're arming our partners with the skills they need to elevate their sales and marketing teams with social media strategies that can serve as competitive business tools," Carter said.

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