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Interop: Social Media Should Be CIO Priority

Redefining ROI for social media as "return on influence" is crucial to deriving value for enterprises, according to Bruce Barnes CIO emeritus of Nationwide Financial Services.

Bruce Barnes started with a message that was as simple as it was direct. "Social media is a conversation, and your organization may or may not be taking part, but you can bet that some (or all) of your employees already are -- every single day," said the CIO emeritus of Nationwide Financial Services. Speaking Wednesday at the CIO Bootcamp of the Interop IT Conference and Expo, Barnes had a lot to say about the potential of social networks, and the dangers of simply trying to either ignore or ban the popular services.

The lineup of conferences, workshops and exhibitions at the annual IT trade show -- don’t miss the Interop Special Report for updates -- running through Oct. 22 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City, reflects the technologies drawing greatest attention for their potential to transform the IT market overall.

According to Barnes, the huge shift that social media brings to the organization is its essential nature of turning monologues into dialogues. Dialogue, a component of a real relationship, is what people increasingly want from their employers and their vendors. As proof of the trend to relationship, Barnes pointed to key numbers, including statistics that 70 per cent of younger Internet users (those 30 and younger) and 30 per cent of older users already have profiles established on one or more social media sites. The total population of many of those sites would make them nation-states if they were concentrated geographically, rather than by interest.

Barnes said that far too many C-level executives still don't "get it." He listed a number of concerns offered by executives to avoid taking social media seriously. They feel, he said, that there will be, "Perceived loss of time and money on creative employee's time on the sites; business disruption from possible new fee and incentive structures; a requirement for new success metrics; and loss of control." Added to this is the perception that social media doesn't bring with it significant ROI.

The proper response to this perception, Barnes said, is to re-define ROI. "Companies should think of ROI as the return on influence that you bring to the conversation," he explained.

With that perception shift in progress, how should companies act on a desire to get into the social media game? Barnes had a number of prescriptions for I.T. organizations to begin their campaigns. When interviewed after his session in the CIO Bootcamp, he said, "I think there's a sequence that says it's much safer and easier to begin within where you can set the boundaries of the conversation. That's an easy way to go, take the lessons out of that and extrapolate them on a wider scale. It's about the conversation, not about the media. We can over-complicate this. How can I make the most of an intellectual exchange with another party? How do I get the most out of a conversation? It's a two-way transaction -- how do I get the most of it?"

The big step, though, is to begin working with social networks. "You've gotta learn. The easiest way to learn is go off by yourself and play. Find a friend or a colleague, and try it out with one or two people so you can get comfortable, then swing a bigger arc, get the experience get the comfort level, then make the connections with how you can move this into the organization," Barnes said. Once you've dipped your toe into the social media pool, he said, you can begin to take advantage of the people with whom you build relationships. "Harness the wisdom of the anthill. Let's figure this out together. Architect the collective problem solving environment," he said. "Now you're building community. Create engagement. Spiral it bigger and bigger and bigger."

The biggest lesson, though, is commitment. On this point, Barnes' words were very clear. "If you're going to be in the game, get in the game. You have to prepare to play."


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