When a late arrival thought he'd catch up on the buzz at a recent conference of CIOs, he logged in to Twitter. What he found -- or rather, didn't find -- amazed him.
"I couldn't find a single tweet about what was happening at the conference that morning -- 300 CIOs in a room and not a single one using Twitter," recalls Paul Gillin, founder of Paul Gillin Communications, a social media consultancy in Framingham, Mass. Gillin, who's a former Computerworld editor in chief, was at a 2010 conference being held by a vendor he didn't want to name.
Though he acknowledges that social media tools are used predominately for marketing, the lack of Twitter activity among a group of CIOs "didn't make sense to me," Gillin says. "When a new technology comes into use, it is IT's responsibility to understand it."
"Were they healthcare CIOs? We're always five to 10 years behind," says Ed Marx, CIO at Texas Health Resources in Arlington, in response to Gillin's anecdote. Marx, who calls himself a "big-time" Twitter user, says, "It's unfortunate that CIOs who really should be out there leading and experimenting and innovating are not."
Marx says he started using Twitter two and a half years ago and now regularly uses Facebook, LinkedIn and an internal social media tool.
Marx aside, IT in general appears ambivalent about social media. In a 2009 survey of over 1,400 CIOs by Robert Half Technology, more than half of the respondents said their companies banned social media use by employees. Another 19% said their organizations limited social media use to business purposes only. A Manpower study based on a poll of 34,000 employers -- the respondents weren't necessarily CIOs -- conducted at the same time found that only 24% of U.S. companies had formal policies about social media.
Outside Looking In
"I don't see IT taking the function over," says Joseph Yanoska, vice president of technology at American Greetings Interactive in Cleveland. He thinks marketing should control the technology, since "it's ultimately a tool to help the relationship with customers."
But Gillin doesn't think that means IT should be less involved than it was when, for instance, companies began adopting ERP systems 15 years ago. "IT was very involved in that, despite the fact that ERP was an accounting technology," he says. Social media "is the future of how companies will operate, will engage with customers. IT should have an important role in it."
Yanoska does want a somewhat bigger part in his company's social media discussion. He runs IT for the online unit of American Greetings, which operates AmericanGreetings.com, BlueMountain.com, eGreetings.com and greeting card sites for MSN and Yahoo. He says IT would like to use social networking tools more freely, so it could, for example, have an easy way to inform customers about new features and site maintenance.
Right now, designated non-IT gatekeepers post on the sites, and IT has to make its case for a post. "Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don't," Yanoska says. He would like more options for posting on Facebook, especially when maintenance upgrades are about to happen. "That's a really good place [to tell] customers who are really invested in the brand, 'We plan to do maintenance.' [That way] you don't get those posts, 'Hey, what's going on?' because they already know," Yanoska says.
At Texas Health, Marx went in the other direction and ratcheted down his involvement. That's because he drove the company's adoption of the technology, using Twitter for collaboration and communications, and starting Facebook fan pages, LinkedIn groups, a Twitter feed, and microsites to connect with employees and patients. He says a microsite played a crucial role in getting employees to adopt electronic health records, and encouraging them to try social media tools and become more comfortable with the technology.
As more parts of the business got involved in social media, Texas Health created a 10-person social media steering committee. Members included the president of the hospital, Marx and the heads of marketing and communications, human resources, legal and compliance. Other groups, primarily marketing, handle day-to-day social media operations now, and Marx says this makes sense. He plays a strategic role, devising new ideas and figuring out new ways to leverage social media.
IT's Social Media Toolbox
As social media matures, more tools become available for managing different aspects of it. IDC analyst Michael Fauscette says that while business units remain involved in picking these technologies, IT increasingly helps select and implement them. In addition, established enterprise applications, including Salesforce, Oracle, NetSuite and RightNow, are adding social media features. Meanwhile, social media vendors are merging or adding new features to make themselves more useful to companies. Here are some of the main vendors in various categories of tools:
Analytics: Lithium Technologies, Radian6 (Salesforce.com), Trampoline
Customer service: Attensity, Get Satisfaction
Loyalty programs: Badgeville, BigDoor, Bunchball
Metrics/reputation management: Hearsay, Shoutlet, SocialEye
Intranet-based social collaboration:BlueKiwi, Jive, Yammer
IT Gets More Involved
IT may be stepping up its involvement as social media spreads. "Our reliance on IT support is heavier now" than it was two years ago, says Jesse Redniss, vice president of digital at NBC Universal/USA Network. Redniss' group not only helps market content and shows, but also runs a thriving casual gaming business, with its own profit and loss statement.
NBC Universal adopted a setup in which IT operates infrastructure and tools used across the company, including a video content management system, data-mining tools and a single-sign-on system for website visitors. The company's Digital Products and Services (DPS) unit handles department-specific IT projects.
Redniss says he used to think IT was too cumbersome to respond quickly enough to social media needs, but he now says, "We didn't fully understand how much we needed them."
Over the past couple of years, as NBC Universal has developed broad corporate efforts involving Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other social media sites, data management and data mining have become paramount. "We really need to figure out the right kind of funnels to build to bring everything to them so they can store it and we can sift through it," Redniss says.
But his unit will still make its own technology decisions, too. In fact, 18 months ago, Redniss recruited a DPS employee, Robin Fordham, who is now director of technology for USA Network. "I just jumped the fence," says Fordham. "Instead of USA Net being my client, I work for them directly."
Fordham leads a small team of developers that figures out how to execute Redniss' ideas. For instance, when Redniss wanted to improve customer loyalty, the group took the lead in adopting Bunchball's Nitro platform, which uses gaming to build loyalty. Fordham's unit has also done most of the work in adopting Echo's Streamserver, a commenting engine.
Social networking has roared to the top of many corporate to-do lists. In an eMarketer survey of 227 companies with more than 100 employees, 80% of the respondents said their employers intended to use social media for marketing purposes in 2011, up from 58% in 2009.
Meanwhile, social networking is being adopted by other departments, thanks to new tools and strategies.
According to Michael Fauscette, an analyst at IDC, social media tools are spreading "across all departments." The research firm does a twice-yearly survey measuring which departments manage social media strategy and tools. When IDC first conducted the survey three and a half years ago, marketing dominated the results.
"It was by far the most prevalent department," Fauscette notes. "Now, [there's] pretty even distribution across all departments, including sales and customer service." Fauscette says social media is used internally for collaboration and idea generation, and externally for marketing and crisis response.
When it comes to managing the strategy behind social media, however, marketing still rules -- it handles that responsibility at 48% of companies -- and IT isn't involved at all. Corporate communications is second, cited by 29% of the respondents as one of the departments that handles social media strategy (multiple answers were permitted). Meanwhile, 26% of the respondents named product development, 23% said customer service, and 16% cited sales.
Fauscette calls this shift a sign that the social media market is maturing. He says this means the technology will begin to become part of IT's purview. "We're starting to see IT more involved in what they should be doing: helping to find and implement the right tools, produce the tools and optimize the work."
He also notes that when social media moves out of marketing's control, "it puts you in a much better position from a business perspective to look at it in broader terms." That's what IT can come in and start to do.
IT's Role: Tool Master
For now, though, IT shows up in the integration and implementation of the tools, a role that Fauscette says makes sense. When the technology moves beyond experimenting or department-level expense charge-offs, "the CIO is in the room a lot of the time. Firms need a broader perspective," Fauscette says.
One CIO who's "in the room" is Craig Neeb, both CIO and vice president of multichannel marketing at International Speedway Corp., which runs racetracks across the country.
Neeb has been CIO at International Speedway in Daytona Beach since 2000. He added his marketing role in 2008, about a year before social media became important to the company's marketing strategy. International Speedway now uses websites for each of its dozen tracks and runs mobile marketing and social media campaigns, primarily on Facebook and Twitter. It also has a customer contact center that makes and takes phone calls and runs Web chats.
5 Reasons to Sweat
Social networking does present challenges, many of which fall into IT's purview. A report issued earlier this year by ISACA, an association for IT auditors and related professionals, offered these five reasons why companies should be worried about social media:
1. Increased risk of spreading viruses and malware.
2. Potential for brand hijacking.
3. Risk of loss of control over corporate content.
4. Unrealistic customer expectations for "Internet-speed" service.
5. Possible breaches of rules and regulations.
Because the company is publicly traded, having control over the marketing technology helps Neeb make sure it's in compliance with regulations, such as those spelled out in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and guidelines promulgated by private industry groups, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards.
Unlike American Greetings, International Speedway will let pretty much any employee post on its websites and social media sites, but first they must go through what Neeb calls "a small little training program" that takes about an hour.
Some of that open attitude is reflected in the company's management structure. "We don't do anything in functional silos," Neeb says. "Our digital strategy isn't owned by a department." It's owned by marketing and IT, with support from HR, legal and compliance, he says.
Neeb thinks that companies will have to adopt broader management of social media."I don't see how you can effectively manage any media outlet in a vacuum," he says, noting that IT brings expertise in technology for compliance, security and systems management.
IT should also increase its own use of social networking tools. While customer support organizations are embracing social media, Gartner analyst Jarod Greene says less than 1% of IT help desks use social networking to support users.
Still, as social media spreads, CIOs are hitting the "like" button more. Robert Half updated its social media survey in May; this time, only 31% of CIOs said their companies banned social media, compared with more than 50% in the earlier survey.
CIOs who want a seat at the social media table should use the tools in their own work and personal lives, Marx says. "If I came up and said, 'Hey, I want to be part of the social media strategy around here,' and I didn't tweet, I didn't blog, I wasn't on Facebook, I didn't use LinkedIn, I'd have no cred," he says.
Marx says he keeps up with trends with the help of his staff. He also has two doctors who are involved in IT, and they help him stay in touch with the needs of medical professionals. In addition, he has embraced reverse-mentoring, having enlisted a twentysomething staffer to counsel him on new technology.
"CIOs can't be noobs," says Marx, meaning newbies.
Especially if they want to avoid being anti-social.