Social media lessons for CIOs

These recessionary times are definitely challenging for IT decision makers. As well as keeping the show on the road and reducing running costs, they also have to think about how to innovate on the cheap and retaining their best staff.

Given the pressure around improving collaboration internally, getting the best out of the department’s skills, as well as engaging better with customers, isn’t it surprising that many IT chiefs are still so reticent about social media?

That was one of the topics discussed last night as members of Computer Weekly’s CW500 Club gathered to hear insights from BT chief scientist JP Rangaswami, social media adviser Mark Kobayashi-Hillary and the director of LinkedIn hiring solutions business, Ariel Eckstein.

Some of the points raised by the audience during the discussion revolved around the security implications around social media. Information leaks, risks around contextual information contained on Twitter streams and privacy were all mentioned as real concerns.

On security, JP maintains that the preventative approach – letting staff know what can be shared and where, as well as ensuring the appropriate controls are in place from a privacy and confidentiality standpoint is better than focusing on ring fencing social networks and creating an IT security nightmare – given the speed of evolution of sharing mechanisms online.

Moving on to the value of using these tools, JP talked about using social media to connect to and empower customers. He illustrated this with the successful approach of @btcare in answering client queries through Twitter, adding that happy customers can effectively become ambassadors for the companies that manage to get it right.

Dealing with the so-called ‘digital natives’ within the enterprise and the need for companies to  operate in a totally connected marketplace was another point he also touched on during his ten-minute talk. 

When it comes to using social media for career development purposes, Kobayashi-Hillary pointed out that despite the fact many CIOs do extremely varied and interesting jobs, they struggle to start blogging or tweeting.

The way to go, he said, is to look for people they trust for information online – peers, journalists, analysts, experts – so they can learn from them. He added that it is important that CIOs grasp the concept of content curation and let people know about their online interactions – as well as writing in a way that sparks debate.

IT leaders should also use social media to promote their companies as desirable places to work and attract talent, said LinkedIn’s Eckstein. As an example, he mentioned consultancy giant Accenture is looking to hire 50,000 people and expects about 40% of these people to be sourced through social media channels.

Last night’s discussion was very interesting, but the facts discussed are not new to any of us despite the fact social media is just pure nonsense to many seasoned IT managers. As one delegate put it, if his 13-year-old daughter was present, she would find that conversation bizarre. Of course, she does not know a world without the web, mobile phones, My Space.  

But there is still hope. According to a survey carried out by research house Vanson Bourne on behalf of CloudNine, some 64% of the 300 IT decision makers polled said they check online publications, IT blogs (52%), Twitter (20%), YouTube (19%) and Facebook (13%) to keep abreast of industry developments.

Given the scepticism of many IT leaders around social media, these survey results are somewhat encouraging, but it is clear the CIO community still has a long way to go in grasping the value of these tools to share information, instead of just consuming it.

JP’s blog post about the ‘Facebookisation of the enterprise’ provides good advice to those still scratching their heads over the subject:


“The next time you look at Facebook, think about your IT department. Think about your shared service functions. Think about your company. Are you doing the important things?


The world has changed and so has the way companies interact with their clients and their staff. It is not something that CIOs can put in the backburner; they must act on it now or else risk losing customers – and their best talent – to smarter competitors.