As if Facebook or LinkedIn or Plaxo or any of the other places where I’ve been personally congregating with VARs and IT solution providers for months weren’t enough, some of the biggest high-tech vendors in the channel are jumping with both feet into the world of social networks. The latest to announce a new community infrastructure (at least with a certain amount of fanfare) is IBM, which has launched something called PartnerWorld Communities.
The vendor is pitching the social network/community as a place for IBM business partners to gain access to IBM subject matter experts in order to develop leads or deliver on client requests. It also is encouraging partners to create profiles that will expose their skill sets to other partners, with the goal of encouraging more formal partner-to-partner collaboration.
The community platform is built on top of IBM Lotus Connections, which is the company’s collaboration technology. It supports the sorts of communications tools you might expect from a social media platform including blogs, private teaming areas, RSS feed support and “social bookmarking.” The company will also run Business Partner Development series within the community environment focused on topics such as: Smarter planet for a challenging economy, dynamic infrastructure for key industries, IBM Business Partner financial selling to the CFO, capturing the mid-market opportunity with infrastructure solutions, and basic sales skills.
My own informal interviews with partners over the past few months about the concept of vendor-sponsored social networks is that they have limited usefulness, unless you’re pretty beholden to that particular vendor for most of your sales.
Many of the sales/executive types are leery about sharing too much confidential information about their “value-add.” Technical sorts, mind you, seem more willing to share design approaches, bug fixes, work-arounds and the like. I don’t imagine that IBM’s community will be all the different, but maybe I’ll be surprised and all my “friends” on Facebook and LinkedIn will start spending a lot more time elsewhere.
You will hear a lot more from Cisco and Microsoft in this area over coming weeks, too, so stay tuned and figure out how you will — or won’t — participate in social business networks.