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4 Things IT Can Do To Embrace Social Networking

Even if your organization has a social media policy and you're an engaged IT leader, it will take several iterations to get this right.

I wrote last week that IT leaders should not only be allowing social media; they should be actively integrating social network data throughout their enterprises. The question then becomes: how?

After doing some thinking on the subject and speaking with a few folks in the business, I've landed on these four recommendations for IT leaders.

1. Push policy. IT organizations have a wealth of experience crafting policies around the use of technology, and that experience can be applied to social media, notes Wade Rockett, a manager of digital strategy for PR firm Weber Shandwick and a former IT manager. "IT has a keen sense of what can go wrong," Rockett says. "Maybe that's a reason why IT can be reluctant, but it can also make them a very valuable partner." In other words, provide the vehicle, but keep people from driving off the road.

Some organizations may already have social media policies, but as was the case with initial Internet policies during the wild, wild west days, those policies may require modification as the technology matures. Nobody has all the answers right now, and it will take several iterations to get this right.

So invite those curmudgeonly security people to the table. Don't open things by asking, "Are we going to enable social media in our apps?" Start things off my asking, "How are we going to enable social media in our apps in a way that you'll feel good about it?"

2. Internalize. There are those at your organization who still think social media is a fad that will go away, and sometimes you can win over those naysayers by doing an internal project. External software typically is a riskier undertaking and requires much more scrutiny (and faces much more bureaucracy) before implementation.

Says Rockett: "A very lengthy email conversation with many branching threads would be better had on Yammer or Chatter, where it won't fill up your mailbox. This other site will be searchable, threaded, and will live in a place that is easily accessible." Ah, less email in my day? Sign me up.

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In this case, there's a significant value proposition to most users for trying social media. If IT can do a quick implementation of an internal system, it can help the organization muster the will to do a more ambitious, external project.

3. Actively advise. While IT needs to be a lot more proactive in proposing social media solutions, you can't get away from the fact that PR, marketing, and corporate communications are all experts on customer communications. So in many instances, they're going to come up with the basic idea. Problem is, they don't have the technical acumen to flesh out what the "systems thinking" view of their proposal is. IT can be helpful in "figuring out whether what I want to propose is even possible," Rockett says.

However, because IT pros have a well deserved rep for being bearish on social media, the marketing/communications folks are reluctant to reach out to them. "The IT organization I work with wants to keep things at a 2006 pace, before social networking got really going," Dave Del Piano, a CMO at a managed services company in San Francisco, wrote to me last week. "It scares the guys here with too much power and too much potential for change."

And that's why you should reach out to the CMOs in your organization. They'll appreciate it.

4. Integrate. Think about what matters to your business. Customer data is (or should be) near the top. Products like Fatwire and Day Software help organizations derive data about their customers from customers' interactions with their websites. For example, organizations can show tutorials to new customers and product specials to returning customers. Customers who participate in the site's community features present an additional data collection point that allows for content to be further customized. Sites like Facebook go a step further, putting content in front of users who have voluntarily given massive amounts of specific data about themselves.

That sounds a bit creepy, but in its most innocent form, it's the same thing as a shoe salesman offering a man men's shoes instead of women's shoes. It's reasonable for a company to want to know about its customers.

And as I pointed out last week, social networks are relying more on trust and customer recommendations. That's not creepy at all. People recommend cleaning ladies and plumbers to one another all the time. Automating this process, whether it's making it easy for folks to "Like" or "+1" a product or service, just makes good sense. In the long term, businesses that don't do this will be at a significant disadvantage.

Do you need to rip and replace your Web-based sales catalog app to let people do referrals to their Facebook friends or Google circles? Kurt Marko, an InformationWeek contributor, pointed out to me the other night: "if your legacy apps are Web-based, it might not be too hard to modify the app templates to incorporate some sort of social network widgets like the omnipresent Tweet, Share, Buzz, or +1 buttons."

Bottom line: Enterprise applications exist to provide integrated data--and one source of the truth--among logistics, sales, financial, HR, supply chain, CRM, and so on. If you don't integrate the social media part, that's going to be a problem. (Apparently Oracle thinks this way too, since it just acquired Fatwire.)

It's true that "social networking" is almost as vague a term as "cloud." And the market is splintered and will eventually consolidate. Nonetheless, take the time now to understand the different social networking segments and find the point tools that make sense for your company. Del Piano suggests that IT organizations treat social networking as a buffet, not a zero sum game where if marketing people win, IT loses.

I'm not suggesting that organizations dive into social networking without a plan. The key is to offer to help the people who need it most and have a definitive business purpose in mind.

Jonathan Feldman is a contributing editor for InformationWeek and director of IT services for a rapidly growing city in North Carolina. Write to him at jf@feldman.org or at @_jfeldman.

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Deb Donston-Miller
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/1/2011 | 2:34:40 AM
re: 4 Things IT Can Do To Embrace Social Networking
It's really interesting to think about integrating the social networking functionality into the legacy apps we use in the enterprise. "Share this" marketing plan Excel spreadsheet with your Facebook Friends or, better yet, the people with whom you are working on the spreadsheet and are in your marketing plan Google+ Circle? Makes a lot of sense.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
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