IBM has published a paper on social media and where it believes it is going. While IBM (news, site) might not normally be associated with social media, the paper is the result of what is described as a web jam with over 2,700 participants over three days and from over 80 countries.

A web jam, IBM says, is an online conversation with the purpose of discussing a particular issue -- in this case social media -- and drawing conclusions that can be brought into the future with a particular goal.

While the goals of this jam are not completely clear except that it falls into Big Blue's wider "Smarter Planet strategy," there does appear to be an implied suggestion that participants should look at their social media strategies and see where IBM technologies fit into it all.

Though not providing a clear roadmap of IBMs social media strategy per se, it does point in the direction that IBM will be going to address the concerns raised over the course of the online conversation.

Social Jam for the Future?

That said, at the end of the conversation, IBM outlined where it would like to see this jam going in the future and, in doing so, gives us some kind of idea of where it would like to be going too. Future actions include:

  • Review the key insights and ideas for innovation that were raised across each topic area.
  • Share the experience about the Jam with friends and colleagues.
  • Determine if there is a role for this type of technology in your business

In sum, have a look at what was said during the jam, discuss it with colleagues and clients and see where IBM might be able to provide technologies that meet identified business goals.

It might be a tad cynical to suggest that this was a completely IBM-centric exercise, as the topics covered were very broad and appear to have avoided mention or advertising of any particular technology.

And when we say broad, it is broad it is broadest sense. It would be impossible to cover everything in the 12 documents that emerged from the jam, but some of the salient points are worth noting.

Building the Social Business of the Future

By far the most popular forum during the jam, IBM says this forum hit on subjects that ranged from problems with email, to how to create incentive for the sharing of knowledge, social networking’s involvement in government and much more.

One of the most significant topics of discussions was how to adequately measure the impact of social technologies and, in particular, how to quantify them in terms of ROI.

Of those who attended the forum, over 25 percent said that their organizations have low to medium levels of adoption of social business practices, citing ROI as a key concern.

Many participants believed that the use of social media is absolutely quantifiable and measurable, but it involves tracking a new set of metrics, including brand mentioning, message exposure, who is advocating the brand and how this is converting into new customers.

Integrating Social, Business Processes

To build around social collaboration, the forum heard, it must be integrated into existing business processes and tools, with a move away from structured business processes to more socially collaborative process styles.

To the question, what is most likely to encourage you to use social software more often in your job, participants answered:

  • Increased use by executives 7%
  • Ease of use of the tools 24%
  • Available on any device 13%
  • Increased use by my customer 9%
  • Embedded in the applications 47%
  • Customer engagement

Making Data Count

Another interesting insight that came out of the customer engagement forum was the difficulties associated with making sense of the data.

While social media puts people in contact with a huge amount of information, users can also be overwhelmed by the amount of data available, unless there is some kind of filter system in place.

Social input must be monitored, analyzed and routed to the people who need it, the forum agreed, while filtering out what is important for business so they can take action as an integral part of the business process.

It’s also important to be aware of the context that surrounds the person engaging with your company. That way, you will not only know why, but also why now.

Monitoring every customer interaction at every point in the buying cycle will showcase opportunities to improve service using social capabilities. This knowledge can help better understand the circumstances in which desired actions are more likely to take place.

Content Management

In the forum on identifying risks and establishing governance, the forum had some interesting insights about content management and its relationship with social media.

Old, paper-centric solutions for enterprise content management are not robust enough for today’s social business, the forum heard.

Coming from a wide range of sources and from a wide number of devices, and with security and regulatory and compliance demands becoming more stringent, it is necessary for social media to become more integrated into business systems and processes

In day-to-day business communication,” one commenter wrote, “social media communication streams would need to become more integrated into business systems and processes, as well as the way this content is managed.”

Another issue mentioned was the accuracy of the information that is coming through so users, or information consumers, need to be assured of the accuracy of data.

Digital signatures, the https protocol, Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) and other technologies can help provide better authentication and security.

IBM’s Social Future

There is an enormous amount of material is this and we have only really scratched the surface. The participation of partners, customers, corporations, academic institutions, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and individuals in the forums and the insights that came out of them are, as a result, balanced and wide-ranging.

IBM says it will take the conclusions and "collaborate to generate the breakthrough ideas and innovative products that will define social business for the future."

Not sure about anyone else, but this sounds like IBM flagging the fact that it is going to develop in this space, which is not really all that surprising, given the amount of money and time it has invested in business intelligence. If you want to read more, you can download the paper.