Social media and IT support - which side is your bread buttered?

While IT underpins the social media revolution, IT managers are only scratching the surface when it comes to using these tools to improve IT service and support.

Sainsbury’s recently rebranded its tiger bread as giraffe bread, following the advice of a three-year-old child. The young girl wrote to the supermarket pointing out that the pattern on tiger bread was far more giraffe-like than tiger-ish, and a customer service employee at the firm wrote a pleasant reply agreeing with her observation. That might have been the end of the matter, and a few years ago probably would have been. But the child’s mother posted Sainsbury’s response on Facebook, the story went viral, and someone at Sainsbury’s quickly sensed an opportunity to make the most of the ensuing publicity.

Proof indeed - if proof were needed - of the power of social media. Just a few clicks can mean instant fame and fortune or commercial ruin. The power of online communities such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn is truly immense, driven by the sheer size of such online communities and the speed and diversity of their communications methods.

It’s curious that, while IT underpins the whole social media revolution, IT managers are only scratching the surface when it comes to using these tools to improve IT service and support. Looking at the key processes involved in IT service management – such as change management and incident/problem management – the one element that routinely spells the difference between success and failure is communication. Changes to the IT infrastructure can be meticulously implemented, but if user expectations are not managed and the effects of changes on a day-to-day basis are not understood, the whole process is doomed to failure.

Similarly with problem management, finding root causes for repetitive problems is immeasurably easier when a good line of communication is established between different areas of IT and between IT and its users, allowing analysts to track recurring patterns over a much wider area than would otherwise be possible. Services such as Twitter walls with hash tags and real-time chat can build a far stronger rapport between the user community and service managers, and also allow users to “self serve” and share experiences to find their own solutions.

Organisations that are pioneering the use of social media to support service management have found a marked improvement in the rate at which problems are solved and a reduction in the level of frustration experienced by “uninformed” users. Such organisations are in a small minority at present, and even they would admit that these tools are often hard to integrate into the IT infrastructure. Other organisations treat social media with understandable suspicion, arguing that the unmanaged introduction of new devices and alternative approaches to service and support –far from offering quick solutions - can actually add to the workload of information and technology support, raising significant security and data integrity issues.

Despite these concerns, and the fact that many senior IT service managers have only a passing knowledge of social media, it’s clear that nothing will slow the expansion of online collaboration and communities or the enthusiasm of their members to find different approaches to resolving IT issues.

Those who recognise the potential of new media will be planning to embrace and support them alongside - or as part of - more conventional service management processes. Like Sainsbury’s bread marketing department, they know a powerful trend when they see one!

Mark Lillycrop is marketing and publications manager at itSMF UK.

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