CIOs and Social Media

Tom Catalini, CIO of the Museum Fine Arts, says IT leaders need to take the plunge into social media.

Tom Catalini, CIO, social media
I attended the CIO Perspectives Conference in Boston this summer and enjoyed a talk by Tom Catalini, CIO of Museum of Fine Arts.  Catalini, a prominent blogger, talked about why most CIOs do not engage in social media, why they should, and how they can get started.  I caught up with Tom a few weeks after the event, and asked him to elaborate.

How many CIOs are using social media in their leadership role?

Surprisingly few.  Social media is not new; it’s not going to be a fad.  We see it changing business models and how companies interact with their customers. I would have thought that more CIOs would be engaged with social media by now, but that’s not the case.

Why do think the traction is so low? 

I think it’s a comfort level issue. Social media requires a different approach than other technologies do. For most technologies, we take a systemic view point.  We think about business goals and objectives and then build a plan with a beginning, middle and an end.   But to explore and learn about social media, you need to wade into it without knowing what the end game is, and it often means “putting yourself out there.”  If I become active on social media, what am I going to say? Who will I engage? What will I do?  That can be intimidating.  But it’s necessary. The world is changing. Several years ago, people were uncomfortable putting even their basic work profile or photo on LinkedIn.  Now, it would be odd not to be a part of that network.

If social media provides such a barrier to entry, and the goal is not clear, why do it?

Social media is changing the way businesses work. If you want to be a business leader at the table talking intelligently about strategy, you need to be literate in social media. And you can’t become literate by reading case studies.  You learn faster and gain a much better understanding if you roll up your sleeves and get involved.

Otherwise, how can you advise your business partners?  How can you talk intelligently about the medium unless you know what it means to tweet and re-tweet and follow people?  Personal experience gives you insights into the tools your customers are using and how you can engage them as a business.

What’s the first step in engaging in social media?

With social media, it’s all about baby steps. 

Twitter is a great place to start.  It’s a lightweight, public medium. You can get on there and lurk for a while and learn a lot before you start tweeting.  It’s mobile, which is its native platform, and engaging does not take a lot of time because the content size is restricted.  It’s easy to jump on for a few minutes when you’re waiting in line for a sandwich. 

The new Twitter user will be confused at first.  Who should I follow? What’s with those hashtags? You just have to go down the rabbit hole and figure it out.  And being on Twitter for a few weeks is not enough.  You need peel back the onion and work with it somewhat steadily over time.

Once you’re ready to jump into the deep end, you can start a blog, which means setting up your own corner of the internet and offering your perspective on something.  A good way to start this process is to read other people’s blogs.   Once you start commenting on blogs that are interesting to you, you’ll figure out what you want to say in your own blog.

As you get deeper into social media, you will realize that you cannot necessarily take a linear approach. You just follow this path and then that path as you figure out your next level of engagement. Like hopping on rocks one at a time in order to cross a stream.

What has your experience with social media been?

Several  years ago, I became curious about social media.  I read some books that described the different platforms, and then I set up a few accounts to experiment with. When I got to the point where I was ready to start my own blog, I was intimated.  I put out a few posts and I remember thinking that people would probably be looking at me funny when I walked down the hall. But then I continued blogging regularly and realized that no one seemed to care.  That was an important takeaway:  If you write a blog for recognition and accolades, you may be disappointed, because for a while, only your cat will read it.   

But if you write it for other reasons, you will see the benefit. Not only does writing a blog make you knowledgeable about the medium, it makes you a better communicator. Writing a blog is a unique way to crystallize your own thoughts. It really helped me to push my own thinking forward.  It dramatically improved my writing and communication skills because I’ve developed a stronger metacognition capability.  I articulate a thought in my blog, and I find that later on, I am much more effective in communicating that idea or my opinion when the topic comes up.

Eventually, your ideas will find their way to others, allowing you to make real connections online. Social media has allowed me to meet people I would not have met otherwise. And for me, it’s also been useful in terms of personal branding and professional development.  When I was changing jobs last year, I found that recruiters and potential employers had read my blog and knew about my approach to leadership and strategy, before they even saw my resume. That created some great dialog in the interview process.    

About Tom Catalini and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Tom Catalini currently serves as the Senior Director, Information Systems and Technology Services, for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Prior, he was the Vice President, Technology, at William Gallagher Associates for over a decade.  Outside of his day job, Catalini is the President of the Boston Society of Information Management (SIM) and is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Bentley University where he teaches a graduate course on eMarketing.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is recognized for the quality and scope of its encyclopedic collection, which includes an estimated 450,000 objects. The Museum’s collection is made up of: Art of the Americas; Art of Europe; Contemporary Art; Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa; Art of the Ancient World; Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical Instruments. 

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