My Forrester Groundswell Awards Page

Entry: IBM big data “social surround”
Type: Business to business
Category: Talking
Company: IBM, Information Management
Submitted by: David Pittman, Social Media Strategist, IBM Information Management

Program Objective

When a leading industry analyst group publishes a “hype cycle” around your primary topic, you know you have to do a little something extra to stand out from the crowd – and stand out in a positive way. Anyone can talk; the goal should be to influence people with your talk. Around the topic of “big data,” IBM was one of thousands of voices, but we wanted to be the trusted voice of authority, experience and expertise.

To accomplish this, we embarked on a multi-pronged “social surround” strategy. In this strategy, we culled, curated and commented on thought-provoking and educational content being produced by subject matter experts outside IBM. We also showcased IBM’s extensive cadre of thought leaders, from Research Fellows and Distinguished Engineers to product managers and client enablement staff. Throughout, we strove to educate and engage, rather than sell.

Throughout our “social surround” program, which began mid-way through Q4 2011, we had several objectives:

  • Position IBM as a thought leader around the topic of “big data”
  • Increase engagement with other thought leaders outside of IBM
  • Broaden the scope of conversations and topics around big data and analytics
  • Improve results on key search terms
  • Promote availability of free educational tools and assets about big data
  • Raise awareness of the full platform of big data solutions offered by IBM


At the program’s inception, a Google search on “What is big data” would yield several hundred thousand results – but the first one for IBM would be on page 10. We knew that we could never be considered a “thought leader” if our top result on this most basic question was 10 pages deep in search results. We rallied a cross-functional team to develop key materials in a variety of formats:

  • Product marketers wrote blogs and recorded “big picture” overviews
  • Distinguished Engineers and Client Enablement staff recorded “how to” videos
  • Web team developed a series of “What is …?” pages on key terms related to big data technology
  • Social media blogged, tweeted and posted status of all the above items on Facebook and Google+, and also interacted extensively with other thought leaders outside IBM
  • Other subject matter experts answered questions on targeted LinkedIn groups and Quora

After this concerted cross-functional effort, we have so far tallied these accomplishments:

  • Listed routinely in top 2 results on Google for “What is big data,” vying daily with Wikipedia for the top spot
  • Named a “Top Big Data Blog/News Site
  • Named in the “Top 50 #BigData Twitter Influencers
  • YouTube views up 1152% (from 4999 to 62,603)
  • “Meet the Experts” twitter chat with clients and industry luminary speakers had 200 participants, reached over 200,000 followers, and resulted in 1.4M+ impressions
  • IBM contributors are often listed as “top influencers” in targeted LinkedIn groups
  • Commissioned market research shows IBM is either 1 or 2 in share of voice across topics we target
  • New IBM big data hub launched with the goal of being an objective “center of gravity” for topics and conversations around big data. In its first 2 weeks, in the traditionally slow month of August, it had over 10,000 visits and 740 subscribers to its feed 

This integrated marketing approach has been cited within IBM as a model for other teams to follow.