Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal: Students Help Corporate Client Use Social Networking

IBM, San Jose State Partner on Social Business Savvy Class

Posted by the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal Feb. 3, 2011.

By Diana Samuels

If there’s one thing today’s college students know well, it’s how to use Facebook.

Now IBM Corp. is partnering with San Jose State University to help students harness some of their online social skills and bring them to a work setting. The university and IBM recently finished a pilot program to teach students about “social business.” The goal is to give students resume-boosting skills that can lead to a career creating social business tools or simply help them communicate more effectively at work.

“Young people today, they thrive on using social media tools,” said Larry Gee, the lecturer at San Jose State who taught the pilot program. “Can you imagine if they overlay it with business concepts? It’s a fantastic medium for success, to move business forward.”

The idea for the program came out of IBM’s student engineering competition in India, called “The Great Mind Challenge.” The company was looking for a way to bring a similar initiative to the U.S.

“We’re looking for more ways to work with students worldwide,” said San Jose-based IBM Director of University Relations Jim Spohrer, “to get them the skills that they need for 21st-century jobs. Social business is a great example of a 21st-century job.”

IBM connected with San Jose State to pilot the first U.S. “Great Mind Challenge” competition, and Gee incorporated it as a major part of his fall semester courses. This spring, the company is expanding the competition to more than 20 universities, with prizes like a Kindle Fire awaiting the winners.

IBM’s definition of social business goes beyond just using Facebook and Twitter to interact with customers. A social business is one that uses social networking tools — including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, wikis and others — to collaborate and communicate both internally to colleagues and externally to customers and partners.

The skills that students have learned from using Facebook in their personal lives “can be used in the workplace to help build relationships, to help build customer engagement, and to help build productivity,” said Alameda-based IBM web and social media manager Daryl Pereira, who worked with Gee to help plan the course.

The market opportunity is a huge one: Forrester Research predicts the market for social enterprise software will reach $6.4 billion by 2016, with a compound annual growth rate of 61 percent. And IBM, which is based in New York but has a large Silicon Valley presence with five local facilities, has a vested interest in seeing the market grow. The company makes social business software including IBM Connections and IBM Lotus Quickr and was named by an IDC Research report in June as the market leader.

As part of the SJSU program, IBM employees hosted webinars and helped bring in industry guest speakers. The program also allows students to use their skills in the real world. SJSU students were asked to analyze and evaluate the social business practices of Group Business Software, a software company and IBM business partner with U.S. headquarters in New York.

Teams of Gee’s students analyzed GBS’ social business practices, culminating in a competition where the teams developed recommendations for GBS to implement social business practices more effectively. GBS will also participate in the broader competition this spring encompassing universities nationwide.

For the SJSU pilot program, the winning team had recommendations such as creating a “like/dislike” button for GBS employees to immediately give feedback on company ideas, and hiring a company that can monitor GBS’ presence and customer feedback on social media sites.

Adam Lazarus, a product marketing engineer at GBS who helped coordinate GBS’ involvement in the program, said his company is currently analyzing students’ recommendations and does plan to implement some of them.

The competition is “a great example of how these companies and these businesses are looking to get top talent and looking for the innovative ideas that can put them above their competitors,” Lazarus said. “I think nowadays drawing that talent from the pool of college students is necessary.”

Jackie Flowers, a San Jose State master’s student in biotechnology who took the course, said she sees social business as a way to speed communication at large companies.

After growing up with Facebook and other social networks, adapting those skills for business was “really, really easy,” she said.

“I think some of the older generation are some of the ones who are actually going to have trouble transferring over to a social business platform,” Flowers said.

Diana Samuels can be reached at 408.299.1835 or dsamuels@bizjournals.com.