Increase social impact of your design program using an effective tool

The best way to increase your presence in a community is through social media in today’s era. Since IBM started the design program back in 2013, there have been many IBM designers who are dedicated to promoting our new way of working very proudly — mainly through the mainstream social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. However, none of these tools work in Mainland China because of the Great Fire Wall.

So, what do we do now… Since our studio launch (IBM Studios Shanghai — the software design studio) back in 2015, there has been a healthy increase in number of followers on our own social media, WeChat.

What is WeChat?

As one of the most popular social media, WeChat has 938+ million active users as of 2017 (data from Wikipedia). Almost every business/brand has its own official/enterprise/subscription account as a marketing or service tool.

The key features of WeChat include direct messaging, moments (a feature to get social feeds of friends’ updates like Facebook), subscription accounts (a feature that enables them to push feeds to subscribers/followers, and interact with them), and so on.

Why WeChat?

Compared to other social media in China, such as Weibo, which means micro blog in Chinese, WeChat reaches a larger audience and has a better interaction function to it. If you compare Weibo and WeChat to western social media, they’re a lot like Twitter and Facebook, only more sophisticated.

IBM China and IBM HR China have their own separate WeChat subscription accounts mainly for marketing and recruiting purposes. When we launched the design program in China, we strongly felt these existing channels and other traditional recruiting methods such as career bulletin boards (BBS) in schools were not effective anymore for us to create the design program’s presence locally.

In the beginning, we were in urgent need of an effective social tool/channel to tell the local design community that we’re here now, especially to the top design schools. IBM’s traditional academic partners have been mainly in the engineering programs, and very few top design schools in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan knew about our design program.

The WeChat channel became a good complementary tool to support our recruiting activities.

A recruiting event posted on the IBM Design account.

How do we stay interesting and attractive to our followers?

In the beginning it was just for publicity and recruiting when we posted something on WeChat, as we positioned ourselves as a newcomer in the local community. However, as our design program got more mature globally and our studio got more presence locally, then our position shifted towards becoming a Key Opinion Leader.

The content we post shifted from not only IBM Design promotional articles/videos and recruiting ads, but also design practice and thought leadership sharing. More importantly, we conducted a survey in a few schools to see what they expect from us.

Here is a list of topics that we regularly post:
- Recruiting ads
- IBM Design practice articles shared by global and local designers
- Internship stories by current and past interns
- Top IBM news (e.g. IBM Z14 launch)
- Videos of leaders sharing design related topics (e.g. When Doug Powell visited us last year after his Distinguished Designer promotion, we recorded an interview with him using 10 questions, which we posted 10 separate posts on WeChat.)
- Studio event announcement
- Videos that showcase the new way of working at IBM

Screenshots of recent posts in our content management view for authors.
Screenshots of recent posts in our content management view for authors.

Posting timing and empathy for our followers is our secret sauce to stay in the game. We also designate a designer to respond to comments and questions in real-time.

There has been a healthy increase of our follower numbers each year since early 2015.

2015/1/1: 195 followers
2016/1/1: 1522 followers
2017/1/1: 3542 followers
2017/8/4: 4290 followers

This is the trend of new follower numbers from July 5 — August 2. Some major increase here is usually triggered by a particularly post.

How do we leverage WeChat to create a consistent online and offline experience for community activities?

Many of our followers are millennials. When we announce a studio event, such as a meet up in our studio, they expect to see a consistent experience online and offline.

Branding — Within the announcement, we usually include image elements that are consistent to our studio identity and branding, and past events. When the participants arrive, they will also see posters with the same elements on our studio walls. This is also a good opportunity to show our creativity.

The posters we used for our studio launch event where we invited clients and media to our studio. The Eye Bee M logo elements were customized by our designers using the original Paul Rand’s Eye Bee M logo.

Group Chat — We created a Group Chat called Bee Friends on WeChat. Since our first meet up event, we have been asking people to join this group, where we have ongoing design and design thinking related discussions. Specifically for the meet up events, we would post videos and pictures in the Group Chat, so that people who cannot make it are also able to see what’s happening. They can also post questions in the group, and get an almost immediate response from our designers.

In conclusion, the WeChat channel is one of the most important factors for our success in the China and Asia Pacific region. We will continue to listen to our followers and create a better user experience for them. After all, we’re a group of advocates who are driving the new user experience for IBM.

Shirley Xu is the Studio Program Lead at IBM based in Shanghai Zhangjiang. The above article is personal and does not necessarily represent IBM’s position, strategies or opinions.