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Should social business strategy fall under the purview of the CIO?

"Social business strategy" might be just another buzzword -- or it might be a chance for the CIO to take on a powerful new enterprise role.

A year ago, I asked a roomful of CIOs at our SearchCIO360 dinner in Boston if any of them were involved in social media projects at their company. Half raised their hands, but when I spoke with them one-on-one, only a few were leading those projects and developing their company's corporate social media strategy. Many others were pretty much taking orders from business unit leaders in marketing or legal as to the company's desired use for the technology; all that was left up to the CIO was to decide on an appropriate platform.

Christina TorodeChristina Torode,
Executive Editor

These days, the use of social media technologies is a business, and some experts argue that the person in charge of the "social business" strategy, as some are now calling it, should be the CIO.

That proclamation will come as no surprise to many CIOs: Just look at our recent story on General Electric's rollout of a social collaboration platform to 300,000 employees, led by Ron Utterbeck, the company's corporate CIO. CIOs are the executives in charge of information management, after all, and if you look across an organization -- whether business unit leaders or members of the C-suite -- it's the CIO who's arguably in the best position to boost employee productivity. And what better way to do so than through social computing?

Many enterprises are still in a 'what the heck do I use this for?' phase with social media.

Christina Torode,
executive editor

OK, I'm glossing over things a bit. For one, many enterprises are still in a "what the heck do I use this for?" phase with social media, focusing mainly on its use as a way to engage customers (track feedback about their products and services, good and bad) or create knowledge-sharing communities with yet another set of collaboration tools (this at a time when many IT departments and users have settled in with SharePoint). Yet, when you talk to social media consultants like Julie LeMoine, it's easy to see the potential of social computing to move beyond being a community tool to become a means of solving some pretty tedious business problems.

LeMoine -- who has developed social media strategies for large financial and health care enterprises and is the CEO of 3D ICC, which produces unified collaboration tools -- worked on one project where microblogging was used to get all employees involved in a company town meeting covering seven corporate goals for the coming year. In the end, the company walked away with idea "gems," and employees felt like they had a say in the direction of the company.

In another case, LeMoine's colleague employed a "game" to get employees on board with improving the translation of the company's software into different languages. The game promoted competition and camaraderie (participants who spoke the same language became "countries" competing against one another). But the real value came from the millions of dollars the company saved in quality assurance testing.

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Getting back to the CIO, LeMoine points out that social computing should be used to solve business problems, but in the end, it's a technology, and "you don't get this [social media strategy] without technology."

"If I had to name the 'three kings' needed for social computing to happen, they would be the CIO, the business unit that owns the project (as in, that is most likely the keeper of the culture behind the project) and HR for engagement. A fourth would be legal, risk management and compliance," LeMoine said.

Forrester Research Inc.'s TJ Keitt also puts the CIO into a plumb social business position due to the CIO's ability to improve employee productivity, but also because he or she has the ability to pull varied social collaboration efforts together. In an upcoming report called the "Social Business and Collaboration Playbook," Forrester explains that the growing importance of social media comes from such market forces as international competition and the fact that competitive advantage in a progressively services-oriented world is often measured by how quickly a business can deliver information. And after all, CIOs are information enablers and gatekeepers.

Want another reason why CIOs should lead social business projects? Just ask them if they're on LinkedIn, or what they think about Twitter -- or just look at how they get in touch with you these days.

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