by Frank Cutitta

CIOs Need to Join the Social Conversation

Aug 29, 20133 mins
Business IT AlignmentCIOIT Strategy

Itu2019s time to learn how to exploit the tools of mass discussionu2014or risk being sidelined. For starters, CIOs need to become more personally familiar with social media.

The relationship between CIOs and CMOs has been called “socially awkward,” since IT is seen as the land of slow and no and marketing staff has a reputation for being unguided missiles. This strained relationship is especially evident when it comes to social media strategy, yet that’s where cooperation between marketing and IT is most needed.

We’re at a point where technologies such as social media, big data, location-awareness and cloud-based CRM have, collectively, become what I call “weapons of mass discussion.”

While I appreciate the sensitivities of using this term, I think it’s appropriate because the business world has been radically altered by the incredible power of mass-discussion technologies.

When properly deployed and integrated, social media provides the closest proxy we’ve ever had for the aggregate mind of the consumer. Companies that can listen to and influence what customers are thinking, saying and doing in real time can reap significant competitive advantages, while those who are inept at this will find themselves in an increasingly perilous defensive posture.

In many companies, mass-discussion technologies such as social CRM are now at the center of IT investment and innovation. Some pundits predict marketing’s IT expenditures will surpass those of the traditional IT department. But my research contradicts those who predict the demise of IT; it shows that demand for socially savvy IT professionals within marketing organizations is increasing.

Many marketers are more dependent than ever on IT’s expertise to build a safety net for adopting marketing technology. Rather than becoming extinct, IT pros with social-media and mobile skills are simply wearing a new marketing jersey–and deriving more professional stimulation as a result.

But this will require IT departments to become more interested in content, not just the technology containers holding that content. IT departments have been heavily involved in the deployment of internal social networks (such as Jive and Yammer), whereas the marketing department is increasingly in charge of customer-facing technologies such as social media, mobile apps and analytics.

While the reasons behind this internal-external split are entirely understandable, it isn’t such a good idea. The technologies and the staff who run them share many overlapping areas, including skills, content, tools and community memberships. For example, content that goes viral is often equally interesting inside and outside the company.

Effective community managers are needed both internally and externally to launch and sustain group conversations. Moreover, many of the differences between internal and external systems break down in the real world: Internal systems can help get the right person to the right external customer, while business-partner relationships tend to straddle both internal and external boundaries.

IT should leverage its experience with internal social networks to develop skills and build credibility so it can earn a place in the external social marketplace. Otherwise, IT departments risk being marginalized as marketing services vendors fill the gap. And marketing should pay more attention to social media usage inside the company–to see what topics catch on, and what information, services, tools and skills can be leveraged externally.

How do you get started? Revisit employee incentives to encourage greater IT staff involvement in new technologies. And CIOs must increase their own use of social media to become more familiar with the tools of mass discussion.

Frank Cutitta is CEO of the Center for Global Branding and a research associate of CSC Leading Edge Forum. Follow him on Twitter: @fcutitta.