IBM’s Beehive: Internal Social Networking

IBM recognized the importance of social networking, especially for the younger ‘millennial’ employees. Instead of trying to restrict employees access to these sites, IBM had a novel idea: create a social network exclusively for IBM employees. The IBM Watson Research Center gives an overview of the network they created, the Beehive.  It is very similar in format to Facebook: it has a customizable homepage, option to upload photos, personalized lists and the ability to create and organize events.

Objectives

According to Liam J. Cleaver, IBM Jam program director, the purpose of this network is relationship building and ‘people sense-making.’ Toby Ward explained the difference between the two in an April 2008 post on his intranet blog. The relationship building aspect applies to new hires, to make them feel more welcome and comfortable with getting to know other employees. It also involves team building, which plays an important role in keeping geographically dispersed teams on the same page and providing them with a sense of unity. Lastly, it plays a keep-in-touch role to help employees who have been separated maintain their personal and professional ties. The people sense-making facet is more focused on other employees’ hobbies, similar interests, skills, and learning about company projects beyond the employees’ individual teams. Here’s an example of a Beehive homepage:

The homepage has relevant tabs at the top and interactive features such as "the buzz around you" where you can read employees short, Twitter-like updates.

IBM found that employees used the Beehive to get to know each other better, and even to meet employees they don’t know. This has implications for a more open, unified company. Anne Kreitzberg explains in her January 2009 blog post that the social network is facilitating a breakdown of communication barriers by rank, location, and social group. This also aids team building and trust among employees. Another way employees are using the network is to promote their ideas in innovative ways. They no longer have to rely on top-level management to get their ideas heard, they can showcase them directly to other employees and generate feedback this way. It’s important to note the IBM did not restrict employees with rules about the content on their personal Beehive pages.

What’s the big deal?

The corporate intranet, including the Beehive, has surpassed all other sources of information as the most trusted, including the grapevine. This allows IBM’s management to get involved with employees, join the conversations where they’re taking place, and foster a sense of democratic culture within the company. In addition, this network has strengthened IBM’s collaborative culture,  a very important asset to a company reliant on innovative ideas.

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5 Responses to IBM’s Beehive: Internal Social Networking

  1. It seems like what IBM did with the Beehive should be inspiration for other companies’ attempts at their internal networks. I was curious to read some employee reviews of the internal network and stumbled upon some information on a people tagging system called Fringe. It was created by IBM’s Eric Wilcox to make the Beehive even better! This article, http://www.prescientdigital.com/articles/intranet-articles/ibm-fringe-employee-social-networking-with-a-purpose/, talks about the different functions of both the Beehive and Fringe, check it out!

  2. Claire LaBar says:

    It’s good to know that there are companies out there so engaged in their employees’ well-being. IBM has always been ahead of the game in technology, so it’s not surprising to hear that they are also on top of their internal relations. It definitely does make for a more “collaborative culture,” and I would love to work for a company that seems to care about me personally as an employee, and wants me to be a part of its social network. I thought you’d be interested to see that other professionals agree with your opinion on the importance of employee engagement. This article, http://www.allbusiness.com/labor-employment/human-resources-personnel-management/13792200-1.html, gives even more hope to potential employees that their employers have to keep them engaged.

  3. Cathy- I had never heard of a company creating their own internal social network and think IBM’s Beehive is really innovative. I think that one of the most important benefits of social networks is their ability to make people feel engaged and valuable in an organization. Take Facebook as an example. Being a part of college or job networks on Facebook really helps users to connect with other members of an organization as well as like-minded people with similar interests. It seems to be a great way to foster a corporate culture that makes employees feel valued and engaged.

  4. Many companies are finding that Intranets are the way to go to create a community feel within a business. IBM’s attempt to encourage their employees to talk is great, because when people feel like they are being silenced within a company, they may tend to lose focus and motivation. The article, 10 Best Intranets of 2010, it is extremely relevant to what you are talking about. It shows how prevalent relationship building is becoming in an array of different businesses.

    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/intranet_design.html

  5. Melinda Long says:

    I think it’s interesting how a lot of companies and organizations are creating social networks outside of Facebook and Twitter solely for employees. I like the idea that Beehive is intended to build relationships and keep employees connected to one another. I would like to work in an environment like this because it is personal, inviting, and collaborative. I also like the fact that IBM didn’t have any limitations or guides to what employees could and could not say.

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