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Should CIOs be responsible for social media best practices?

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Social media began as a technology project and has taken on a life of its own. CIOs such as yourself have an intense interest in both understanding and using social media best practices to leverage the power of the technology. Alas, the technology is consumerization of IT at its finest: Consumers and non-technology enthusiasts have taken to Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr and the like -- and they all have different social media roles. The social media revolution is much different from other tech waves CIOs have experienced.

How can you, as a CIO, find your sweet spot in the organization? How can you leverage your company's various teams and power players to explore social media and its potential? There are three important lessons for CIOs to learn when it comes to social media best practices and use in the business setting. Let's look further at some tricks to using social media for businesses.

Determine -- and distinguish between -- social media roles

The day-to-day implementation of social media engagement resides with the chief marketing officer (CMO) and his/her team. CIOs need to resist the urge to try to bring a technological solution to what is -- at the end of the day -- a marketing problem. A smart CIO understands that, for businesses, social media exists on technology but thrives on people -- and those people are basically being given an elaborate sales or marketing pitch. Social media is a marketing item in most large organizations these days. While the medium allows your business to connect more personally to various customers than might be possible through more traditional one-to-many style marketing decisions, the CIO should not have day-to-day involvement in managing social media roles. Consultation on the technical advantages and limitations of one platform vs. another, the choice of providers and so on are certainly fair game for the CIO. But "knowing your role" is one surefire way to make interactions with your CMO much more productive -- and more pleasant.

Best practices for using social media for business

Best practices using social media for businesses

CIOs eager for digital media strategy

Social media changing corporate culture

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Social media best practices utilize some restraint

A lot of social media best practices involve a proven recipe: Offer value, personalize responses and create a sense of a "club" to engender customer loyalty, for instance. Because these recipes are common, many third-party platforms exist to manage these social relationships and connect them into the greater social media environment and also into your own internal toolset and applications. There's no need to build a lot of special software and custom code: Take a look at outside social relationship management providers like Oracle's Vitrue and Involver, Salesforce's Buddy Media and approachable offerings like HootSuite. Make your social media investment where it counts; these experts in social media will build solutions for you more quickly and with less effort than you could do on your own. As a CIO, this is the best advice you could possibly get when dealing with social media for businesses.

In the same vein, avoid going overboard. Your business model -- both internally to your organization's own employees and externally to your paying customers -- has not changed because social media has become popular in recent years. Resist the urge to change the culture and model of the company in a wholesale way because you have new tools and capabilities. Find the right balance between experimentation with a new medium that holds promise and compromising the successes -- and lessons learned from failures -- that you have historically known and experienced.

Social media can inform other business decisions

Social media for businesses goes beyond just customer service and marketing functions. In fact, these visible, transparent and sometimes just-in-time interactions and communications can reveal fantastic insights across an entire organization that previously you would not have been able to access. 

Social media exists on technology but thrives on people.

As a CIO, you're used to data. In fact, you're accustomed to lots of data. Pull social media into that equation as well. Scraping data found on websites like Facebook and Twitter is an attractive way to help you better understand and evaluate your customers and their experiences. You can gauge tone and temperament, customer attentiveness, uptake and even the virility of some well-constructed offers.  With the advent of big data technologies, CIOs and businesses have a new opportunity to take all of this unstructured data and see new insights, trends and revelations about their own operations.

Social media is, unquestionably, a kind of unstructured data. It's ripe for the picking by your qualified data analysts. CIOs are vital in helping to build a qualified insight team to fill the social media roles within the company. Tread carefully, however, because there are privacy concerns -- for example, when you take direct quotes and other somewhat-personal information from these semipublic sources and use it afterward in business. Internally, there is likely no problem, but ensure metrics and content --  as they relate to social media -- are well protected and covered in your organization's privacy and social media policy.

What other ways have you, as a CIO, found to integrate social media within your organizations? Have you discovered your own social media best practices that enable you to play well with other teams in your organization? Let's embrace the new technology with an in-depth debate in the comments.

Jonathan Hassell is president of The Sun Valley Group Inc. He's an author, consultant and speaker in Charlotte, N.C. Hassell's books include Radius, Learning Windows Server 2003, Hardening Windows and, most recently, Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual. Write to him at editor@searchcio-midmarket.com or follow him on Twitter at @jghassell.

This was first published in September 2012

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