IBM is trying to help channel partners with social media strategies. The IBM effort deserves applause but it begs a bigger question: Are VARs facing a social media problem -- or does the real issue involve broader marketing challenges? Here's the story and The VAR Guy's spin.

First, the stats: IBM says 45% of their business partners are "experimenting" with social media business strategies, according to a global survey of roughly 1,000 partners. Sadly, 75% of the IBM partners that leverage social media don't know how to use it effectively, the survey found.

Now, IBM is stepping in to address the problem. The company plans to assist VARs with:

  • training sessions and a social media guide available via the IBM PartnerWorld website;
  • a webcast and podcast series on Web 2.0 social media opportunities and successful strategy implementations;
  • a live session on "Leveraging Social Media for your Business" scheduled for partners at the October 2010 IBM Information On Demand Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada;
  • virtual and in-person workshops at the IBM Virtual Innovation Center and 40 IBM Innovation Centers worldwide on LotusLive, IBM's online collaboration and social networking services in the cloud;
A majority of the partners surveyed felt that they're overwhelmed by the social media tools, and there will also be training focusing on more specific tools like enabling RSS-feeds, Facebook, wiki pages, simple videos and of course, Twitter. Many partners are also just looking for new ways to engage their customers, too.

The Real Problem: Marketing

The VAR Guy's team applauds IBM's education efforts. But there's a bigger elephant in the room: We suspect VARs who struggle with social media actually struggle with marketing in general.

Social media, after all, is only one piece of a comprehensive marketing, PR, communications and advertising plan. In other words, social media is a tactical component of a broader marketing strategy.

How can VARs focus on social media within the broader marketing, PR and lead generation context? Four potential solutions:
That's all for now. Time for The VAR Guy to focus a bit more on his own social media efforts today.

Additional reporting from David Courbanou. Sign up for The VAR Guy’s Newsletter; Webcasts and Resource Center; and via RSS; Facebook; Identi.ca; Twitter and VARtweet.