It's not easy to pin down the business benefits of social media and collaboration tools, and the value of such platforms is often determined by how well companies can integrate them with core operations. Many of today's savvy CIOs are testing, and slowly embracing, social media as a mechanism for corporate collaboration, customer service or increased employee engagement.
Additional reasons for CIOs to deploy social collaboration tools include the ability to foster an open corporate culture, distribute information in real time, cut divisional and location-based boundaries among workers, and encourage knowledge sharing, according to Vijay Pullur, CEO of SpotCues, a company that makes a private social networking app for people within specific physical locations or perimeters.
Waste Management uses different social networks for different needs
Gautam Roy, vice president of IT at Waste Management, says he views social media through separate internal and external lenses, to determine where he should make investments. Roy tries to embrace the best-performing attributes of consumer social networks by bringing those characteristics inside the company, to increase productivity, efficiency and improve business processes.
"We built an internal social media management platform and are using that platform to manage our IT operational events," he says. Waste Management's IT staff also scrapped email completely and now uses Twitter to communicate with employees and customers during outages or other time-sensitive issues, according to Roy. Instead of having one-off conversations with clients and starting new service requests, field agents use tools such as Yammer and SharePoint, in addition to Twitter, to access data that provides details and historical context on specific customers, he says.
Waste Management recently signed a contract with Microsoft to make Office 365 available to some of its 45,000 employees, but it also concluded that no single social media platform satisfies every enterprise need, Roy says. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Yammer and SharePoint all have important roles to play, and it's increasingly difficult to discern the differences between them. "It's getting blurrier because there is more and more overlap between these tools externally," according to Roy.
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The CIO also says businesses need to invest in social platforms that are extensible, so they can develop services and eventually expose them in separate public channels, including Twitter, Periscope, Facebook and Yammer. "Have a common platform and an open API that will help you to build on it," Roy says.
BPD strategically tackles social
Angela Yochem, CIO of logistics and transportation company BDP International, says public social media outlets, as well as social platforms tailored specifically to enterprise, provide clear business value for her company. However, the latter option requires more deliberate planning and consistent company-wide engagement. "Public social media allows us to witness and predict trends, position ourselves to respond well to events, identify new thought leaders in areas of interest, and generally keep a finger on the pulse of our industry, business and society," Yochem says. "It also allows us to influence our industry, raise topics of interest, and contribute to the global conversation in areas about which we care deeply."
Internal-facing social platforms such as Yammer can help organizations share information and collaborate, but they are only as good as the content they contain, according to Yochem. "Providing access to such a platform is not enough," she says. "Companies must be willing to seed conversations of interest, and let the conversations go where they may."
Businesses should also be careful about the platforms they choose to invest in, because what's popular today in social media can quickly become yesterday's news, Yochem says. "It takes time for an internal social platform to find its legs in a corporate culture, so the question is whether or not social habits will have evolved beyond the platform of choice by the time the culture adopts what's been selected."
Best practices for enterprise social deployments
IT, HR and specialized social media teams should lead internal social initiatives, according to SpotCues' Pullur. "Creating custom experiences specific to your culture rather than adopting a one-size-fits all product can make companies reap richer benefits from both social media and social collaboration."
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CIOs also need to ensure that enterprise social collaboration platforms fit their broader corporate or regulatory compliance requirements, according to Ken Anderson, vice president of marketing at Smarsh, a company that helps organizations in regulated industries archive data and meet compliance requirements.
Companies also need clear policies, with guidelines for business and personal, to properly manage employee use of social media, Anderson says. IT leaders should understand the usage rules and potential vulnerabilities of each platform, and establish training programs that keep employees informed of any changes. "Employees need to understand the purpose of each social media platform your business uses, and their individual role in its use," he says.