In his 2013 book, Opting In, Ed Brill recalls the time he was reprimanded by IBM corporate communications in 2003 for identifying an employee by name in a blog post. “We don’t have celebrities at IBM,” the PR rep told him.
How times have changed. Brill’s elevation last month to the corporate role of Vice President of Social Business Transformation shows how far IBM has come in shedding its old blue-suite image in favor of one that applauds individuality. Brill and his team will tackle the task of making social media “part of the daily fabric of the company, at all levels and job functions,” he wrote on his blog.
I can’t think of many IBMers who have demonstrated more aptitude for the job. As social platforms began to crack the shell of corporate insularity a decade ago, Brill was on the front lines. Brill started blogging before blogs were mainstream and when Facebook was still a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye. As a product manager in the IBM Lotus organization for many years, he bucked the traditionally reserved IBM style to gleefully tweak competitors by name. “Only twice did someone ask for me to be fired at the chairman’s level,” he joked in Opting In.
Now in his first corporate job, Brill will have a bird’s eye view of activities across IBM’s sprawling 400,000-employee global workforce, but he expects that change will happen from the below. “We have a long tradition of social things bubbling from the bottom up,” he told me in an interview last week. “We now have a culture that actively involves top execs as well. Executives are all active on our internal social networks so good ideas are making it to the right ears.”