Enterprise social media: New battleground for CIO influence

As social media strategy becomes more important, CIOs and IT have a new lever to drive conversation with peers in marketing and other departments across the company.

A study by IDG raises questions about the CIO's role in helping their organizations pursue social media. The report (registration required), which was sponsored by HootSuite, highlights the following points:

  • Social media is becoming increasingly important to business. Although 45 percent of survey respondents said social media is "important" to their business strategy today, 73 percent expect it to become "critical or very important" within three years.
  • Social media is centralized. In 60 percent of surveyed organizations, social media is the responsibility of a single individual or department. Only 23 percent of respondents identified themselves as being part of a “social business,” in which social media is distributed across multiple teams or departments.
  • Business executives push social media more than IT. Fifty-eight percent of business executives rate enterprise social media as a highly important part of today's business strategy, compared with only 39 percent of people from IT.
  • Business and IT are disconnected. Sixty-two percent of respondents believe senior executives are "at least supportive of the integration of enterprise social media into business strategy," although people in IT are "more than three times as likely to perceive business executives as indifferent or reluctant."
  • IT does care about enterprise social media. As the following graph shows, respondents see IT as the primary advocate of a an social media strategy, even more than marketing:
enterprise social media strategy

What it means for the CIO

This short survey has three implications for the CIO and IT.

First, social media is part of the ongoing digital transformation taking place in almost all industries. Although social media remains centralized among a few people in a single team, the role of social will eventually expand beyond marketing and customer service to encompass aspects of core operations. Business is about communication so it makes sense that the importance of social media, which means communication, will grow over time. Smart CIOs will embrace this future today rather than waiting.

Second, there remains a disconnect and lack of understanding between IT and business counterparts. This is most unfortunate because both sides want the same thing — business success. The fact that IT views the business as "indifferent" or "reluctant," even though the business cares about social media strategy, indicates poor communication between the two groups. Although this study raises the disconnect in relation to social media strategy, it reflects a much larger set of relationship issues.

Third, because IT leadership evangelizes social media an opportunity awaits. It is odd that IT pushes enterprise social media even more than does marketing, but the survey does not explain why. Perhaps IT has embraced social media because it offers a way to interact positively with peers in marketing. If so, then IT is reaching out across the disconnect to build deeper relationships with business peers, which is great.

Social media is only one part of the larger set of concerns facing any CIO and IT department. However, we can use this survey as a symbol about the state of relationships between IT and business departments, and a signpost about what IT must do next.

Although the IT / business divide has become a cliché, even tired phrases may contain truth. For the CIO, now is the time to sit down with the head of marketing and plan together for a shared future. Use enterprise social media strategy as a vehicle to start ongoing discussions that lead to concrete activities and agreed-upon metrics. 

Don't leave the meeting room without clear action items, points to clarify, and specific outcomes tied to results and measures. While the most innovative CIOs in the world takes these steps intuitively and constantly, us mere mortals should remember this practical guidance every day.

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