IBM: A Lesson in Listening

“Social media isn’t for our company. People might leave negative comments!”

How often have you heard some variation of that line of thinking? Unfortunately, the truth is that if someone has something negative to say about your company — they’re going to find a way. If not on your blog, than on some other social media outlet. That’s why companies need to incorporate “listening” into their communication strategy. People are talking — whether you’re participating or not.


The importance of listening was perfectly illustrated on Jeremiah Owyang’s blog. He wrote a post about the role corporate culture plays in a company’s ability/willingness to participate in social media. The post included an embedded presentation about IBM’s company-wide incorporation of social computing. But, the lesson about listening actually took place in the post’s comments. Jimmy, an ex-IBM employee commented on the post and used the forum to express his deep-rooted frustration with the way the company reacted when he needed time off to deal with a family crisis. His comments painted a very ugly picture.

And that’s why it’s important to listen. Adam Christensen — who, according to his blog, does “social media communication” for IBM — read the original post and the ensuing comments. Adam responded with his own comment to address the accusations:

Jimmy, I’m sorry that you’ve experienced such dramatically negative experiences at IBM. Some of the experiences you describe are very pretty deplorable. While I can only speak from my own experiences, I’m very glad that the culture you describe is not corporate wide (nor, candidly, does it resemble anything I’ve ever encountered). When I’ve had very personal family issues to attend to, my management bent over backwards to help and provided me with lots of flexibility.

Now, as it relates to our own use of social media internally and externally, our employee’s use of it, and the tools we use to accomplish this… that I DO know a lot about. Your comment about it being, “junk” doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’d love to hear your perspective. Probably not worth hijacking Jeremiah’s thread here though. Feel free to reach out via Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn…

By inserting itself into the dialogue, IBM diffused a potentially negative situation. Additional comments discussed corporate culture; however, IBM wasn’t the target of further criticism. We can only guess how the thread would have developed if IBM hadn’t jumped in. Maybe readers would have posted more attacks on IBM … or maybe not. We’ll never know — but is that a risk your company wants to take? If not, it’s time to start listening.

Photo Credit: David Plotzki.