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CIO guidelines for using social media for business and career growth

Expert Scott Lowe offers CIOs guidelines on how to use social media for business, career tips and more.

If you're a CIO and you're not using social media for business, you're doing yourself a serious career disservice....

While some still see social media as an outlet for narcissistic people to share their breakfast habits, the secret is all in how you use social media tools in business. It's important to note that today's social media arsenal includes tools that may not be considered particularly social outside the corporate walls (i.e. Yammer). These kinds of internal corporate media initiatives can have as great an impact on the organization as more traditional social networking outlets, such as Twitter.

Take my own example.  Before June 15, 2009, social media for me consisted of a Facebook page in which I shared pictures of my kids and information about the latest family happenings. I had an account on LinkedIn but I didn't use it for much -- basically it was for keeping my resume current and ensuring that I had some way to maintain contact with professional colleagues.

Recently, a MillwardBrown 2012 survey on European social media use polled 2,700 European workers from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK on how they use social media in business. According to the survey, "We wanted to see if social tools are already helping businesses to grow faster, whether and how they can help your career, and which countries are at the forefront of this social revolution." The results indicate that social media has become more than a force to be reckoned with -- social networking is now an integral part of business.

  • A shocking 86% of frequent users of social media have recently been promoted, compared to 61% of social media non-users.
  • 38% of survey respondents who use social media tools reported being "very satisfied" with their jobs, while only 18% of non-users reported the same.
  • Roughly 41% reported finding experts and information more quickly through social media tools and 31% noted a reduction in both the volume and the length of emails.

What changed? On the evening of June 15, 2009, two of my blogging colleagues twisted my arm and gave me a very important CIO career tip -- they convinced me to join what had become the social media outlet: Twitter. Had I remained not taken their advice, I would have missed out on significant opportunities and career tips and, frankly, would probably not be where I am today. Overstated? Not at all. My business as an independent consultant and former CIO runs on how I use social media.

Besides telling the world your feelings about the latest Batman movie, your goal should be to add value back to not only the company but your own social network. Here's my career tips and guidelines on how to use social media tools in a positive way that impacts both your career and your company's mission.

  • Connect people and share ideas. Social media tools are being used by companies to improve the flow of communication throughout the organization and without resorting to email. In this way, organizations are leveraging internal social media tools to bring together ideas from across the organization, even when the organization spans the globe. By harnessing social media guidelines, CIOs promote companywide teams that can easily collaborate using social tools.
  • Achieve business goals and outcomes. Some companies are using social media tools to increase sales, grow the company faster and as a way to be more competitive in an increasingly competitive landscape.
  • Business growth and increased productivity. In almost every measured way, more than 75% of survey respondents in a recent social media for business survey (side panel) felt that social media tools will be critical to ultimate business success and for improving ongoing productivity. These metrics include both senior managers and line workers, demonstrating that there is clear alignment between the two groups.

How to use social media for business

Since embracing social media tools, I've come to realize just how powerful social media can be. I've understood that every CIO should venture into the various social media outlets for both personal and professional growth -- not to mention the added value and growth of their organization. I've concluded that for fellow CIOs who want to truly embrace social media, there are some guidelines that need to be followed before using social media for business.

  • CIOs must move beyond the view that social media is for entertainment only. While social media does have an entertainment aspect, there is a serious business aspect to the tools as well, from social media recruitment to valuable networking and sharing of career tips.
  • Social media isn't just an "external" force. Internal corporate social media tools like Yammer may initially be even more powerful than the tools that connect the organization to the world at large. Imagine if these social media tools are deployed in a way that ensures that everyone in the company has a voice and can contribute equally.  Powerful ideas will be shared more easily and more completely than is possible with traditional methods of communication. In the Millard Brown study (side panel), respondents reported major efficiency gains realized from social media tools from reduced travel time to meetings, less time in meetings overall, increased discussion of ideas and proposals and less time spend reading and responding to endless email messages.
  • Senior leadership needs to get involved. While social media may initially start at lower levels of the organization, leaders in the organization need to embrace the activity in order for it to realize its true potential. Just like any other effort, if social media implementations cannot be shown to executives as providing gains to the organization, those efforts will fall under greater scrutiny for eventual elimination if they are seen as a drain on resources.
  • The personal and professional will probably overlap. These days, more and more people are seeing gray areas between their personal and professional lives. Especially as people take the journey into social media, those previously disparate lives will necessarily intertwine. Social media demands that CIOs straddle the gap between career and the life they lead off hours.

Social media is well beyond "fad" stage and even the hype stage. Every day, we're reminded just how powerful social media has become in unfolding events (i.e. Arab Spring, tsunami warning systems, etc.). CIOs must realize that how to use social media for business is part of a greater personal career move. Ignore it at your own peril.

Scott Lowe is the founder and managing consultant of the 1610 Group. A former CIO, he's a frequent contributor to TechTarget, TechRepublic and other IT publications. Write to him at editor@searchcio-midmarket.com or tt@slowe.com, or follow him on Twitter @OtherScottLowe.

This was last published in September 2012

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