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Social Media and z Systems: A Personal Journey

IBMer shares what can be gained by being active on social media

5/6/2015 12:00:34 AM | Since May 2011 I have been on Twitter; my original thought was to explore the platform and understand how my children would leverage social media as they grew up. Since that fateful date I have been on a journey of discovery about how powerful social media can be as a force for engagement and as a mechanism to connect with colleagues, clients, analysts and industry partners. In this article I will cover how my own social media presence has grown and the value that I have gotten from the whole experience.

I started out as I imagine most of the readers do with a Facebook page and a LinkedIn account. I checked my Facebook page on average once a day and my LinkedIn page probably once a month. I used Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends and organize bike rides. My LinkedIn account was up to date, but not active.

The Beginning

When the journey started for me was an IBM-organized social media training course. IBM was running these courses in 2011 to get people onto social media and establish their presence in accordance with IBM’s social media guidelines. Which, despite what you may think, are liberal and enabling. The guidelines pretty much boil down to not sharing sensitive or confidential information, identifying yourself as an IBMer and stating that your posts/tweets don’t represent the position of IBM.

However, the course instructor shared one other sage piece of advice that struck a cord. The instructor’s comment was that when deciding whether to tweet/post, put yourself in the same thought process you would were you to find yourself on an international flight next to your peer at your largest competitor. You would of course spend eight hours discussing the industry, key trends, you organization’s take on the market, but would never share product roadmaps or sensitive client information. Apply this same logic to what to tweet/post and you can’t go far wrong.

Another key memory of this one-day training course was a conversation with the instructor at one of the breaks that I was a new convert to Twitter and that I was keen to build toward 2,000 followers. His reaction was that this was aggressive and that I should shoot for a more modest 500. I currently have almost 2,400 followers and every day I think back to that comment and how it has spurred me on to grow my levels of engagement via Twitter.

Platform to Engage

Since the beginning a lot has changed. Social media for me now is a platform to engage first and foremost, not to advertise for IBM as many neophytes and detractors think. I admit I have tweeted my far share of positive content that one could argue is advertising IBM to my followers, but I never tweet something which I do not find personally interesting. However, as I said, social media is a platform to engage.

Take for instance one of the sales cycles that have been kicked off from Twitter. People find your content, you thank them for following (a personal rule from day one) and if they look like a good potential client you add to the thank you note a desire to talk about your value proposition, which is incredibly tough to convey in less than 140 characters. Nine times out of 10 that person will welcome the interaction and then a couple of public tweets between you will follow and the conversation will move to direct messages and then ultimately email addresses will be shared and a call ultimately scheduled.

To me at least this is a great way to engage with new clients and drive targeted, focused discussions. I can also give examples of how Twitter has enabled me to better navigate the 430,000 people that work with IBM. One such example would be when I was introduced to a vice president for the first time, and her opening line was “Steven, glad to meet you, been following you on Twitter for some time, love what you have got to say.” Now that is never a bad way to start a conversation with anyone.

Deeper Conversations

What has been a revelation for me more than the engagement with clients and IBMers has been the relationships I have been able to build with partner organizations of IBM. Through the #mainframedebate Twitter chat (more on this to follow) I have been able to grow some relationships that now extend into the physical world. I can now count multiple relationships with ISVs and business partners that are kept current and driven forward through regular contact on Twitter.

My advice here which has grown organically through experience is “play nice” even when your organization’s portfolio overlaps with that of your partner. Take the team at MicroFocus, on the surface they have competed with IBM for years, however as they look to reshape their focus they have engaged actively and supported the #mainframedebate for the last couple of years.

No discussion on my journey with social media would be complete without discussing further the #mainframedebate. The original concept for this online discussion forum came from my personal passion of cycling. One of the U.K.’s largest cycling stores had a bike technician staff their Facebook account for an hour every Thursday to answer questions, the rationale being that walking into a bike store for the first time is daunting for the cycling newbie and that asking a “dumb” question of the staff was a genuine fear.

This got me to thinking what would happen were a new client to call IBM and ask, “Can you tell me about the mainframe?” So the #mainframedebate was born. Every couple of months a panel of experts gathers on a conference call with a Sametime group chat open and opens ourselves up to any question on the mainframe. The questions normally cover the standard fair of economics, skills and workload-specific questions but we have had the occasional bizarre question. My two personal favorites have been; what is the energy consumption of an IBM zEnterprise EC12, the question posed by an energy analyst. The answer apparently is the same: A four-bagel toasters! My personal favorite was a question posed on the recent April 1 session: If the mainframe had a theme song what would it be? Well this led to a derailment of proceedings as the entire panel and watching audience went mad with suggestions. Check out the MainframeDebate playlist on Spotify for the group’s suggestions.

The MainframeDebate has now become a blog since the launch of the IBM z13 on Jan. 14 and to date has had over 4,000 views. The articles come from IBMers, clients and ISV’s all of whom are keen to blog on any topic relating to the mainframe free of the constraints of corporate editing and guidelines. I pay for the site myself and don’t intend to claim the costs back on expenses to ensure the site is open for all to blog in freedom.

Have Fun

In summary I have grown my knowledge and network through social media, met some great new contacts, kept in touch with many existing contacts, engaged new clients and most of all had a great deal of fun along the way. For anyone looking to replicate this for himself or herself, some top tips include:

• Follow @StevenDickens3 for a follow back
• Send a minimum of three tweets a day to build a following fast
• Thank people for following you; manners are always good form
• If you see a tweet you like say so, either via a retweet or directly to the person who posted it
• If you had a good meeting or attended a good presentation, tweet about it
• Get involved in Twitter chats—they are a great way to learn and engage
• Download a tool like HootSuite or Tweetdeck they make following topics you want to follow a lot easier

Above all have fun, be active, engage and don’t worry about what to Tweet, as you already know what to say and not to say in polite company.


Steven Dickens is responsible for the Linux on z Systems Go-To-Market mission as well as being the WorldWide focus for the z Systems economics message at IBM. Steven is an avid supporter of using social media tools to increase customer engagement and further awareness of IBM's Mainframe offerings and is the chair of the #mainframedebate on Twitter and the Editor/Curator of the www.mainframedebate.com blog site. Steven can be reached at on Twitter, LinkedIn, Mainframe Debate and Flipboard “Cloud Computing and IBM News.”

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