I've been thinking about the management issues involved in social media for some time, and I enjoyed David Churbuck's posts on Social Media 201—taking the discussion past freshman level. So here's an organizational question for companies getting serious about social media: Where's IT? I talk with people who manage their companies' social media engagement efforts, but I haven't heard much (if anything) about their corporate IT departments' involvement. As processes mature and the use of tools gets more sophisticated, that needs to change.
The View from Across the Table
The topic came up when I saw John Soat's article in InformationWeek, Don't Let Tech-Savvy Business Execs Do An End Run Around IT. More of us outside IT have some level of computer skills, and IT managers have learned to be concerned about "rogue" technology purchases and projects. The growth of web-based technology services makes it easier than ever for a reasonably tech-savvy manager to buy needed services without dealing with an IT department that may have different priorities.
When the topic of rogue IT projects comes up, I would normally assume we're talking about databases or critical operations-support systems (such as customer relationship management or sales-force automation systems). But one of the examples was a "digital age boot camp" for a marketing group at Heinz North America, and that sounds a lot like a social media workshop. The CIO was concerned that IT barely found out in time to send a representative.
Hmm. Apparently, IT's sensitivity toward digital/ online/ technology topics extends well beyond custom software deployments. I wonder what they think of social media analysis services, or whether they think about them at all?
IT and Social Media Analysis
Media monitoring and measurement are services that marketing and communications groups have bought for years, and it's natural to assume that their extension into online sources shouldn't change that. If we look at the range of available tools and services, I think that's correct as a starting point, but it depends on what you buy and how you use it.
The services you might buy to monitor or measure social media activity are delivered in a variety of formats. Your choice of delivery will suggest how much involvement IT should have. In increasing order of technology integration with a client's own systems, delivery options include:
- Analyst reports and briefings delivered by any method
- Single-user online dashboard
- Automated alerts and reports delivered by email
- Web-based dashboard used by a workgroup
- Web-based social media analysis platform with workgroup and collaboration features
- Installed social media analysis software on enterprise server
- Social media analysis system with links to CRM, intelligence or collaboration systems
- Custom social media monitoring and analysis platform linked to other enterprise systems
Starting at the top, it's easy to keep IT out of the discussion of traditional consulting-style services. The technology is entirely at the vendor, and deliverables are in executive-ready format (typically PDF or Microsoft Office formats). At the end of the list, we're deeply into IT territory, with custom-built systems using high-end tools and components. The extremes are fairly easy to decide, because IT won't be interested at the low-tech end and will be essential at the high-tech end.
What about dashboards and the more involved web-delivered services? Where does it become something IT will want to know about? The line will vary by company, but in general, IT leaders should start paying attention early, because the maturation of processes around social media monitoring and analysis will lead to integration with other systems and processes.
Processes will drive integration
Listening to social media is useless in a vaccuum. The value comes from what a company does with the information it develops, from customer opinions to new market opportunities. Making effective use of the information requires connecting across functional silos and with existing processes, even if the initial integration is essentially manual.
When monitoring uncovers customer problems, the information needs to go into a customer service function, which has its own tracking systems. Market insights might feed into other business intelligence or collaboration environments. Reports may roll up to broader executive dashboards. As social media proves its value as a source of intelligence, companies will be motivated to integrate it with other enterprise systems, which is where IT involvement is essential.
Some of the available options already live at the intersection of social media and enterprise applications. Web-based services from companies like Visible Technologies and Radian6 support billable work in agencies that sell social media services. A direct link between a new technology and revenue is a good definition of mission critical, which should get CIOs' attention. A manually-created buzz report that goes directly to the CEO of a product company (a real example) should be equally attention-getting.
Steps for CIOs
As companies set up social media listening capabilities, CIOs should be part of the process. At a minimum, IT leadership should understand the goals behind social media listening and engagement initiatives, even if functional groups select services with low technology demands. As practices mature, IT needs to be prepared to lead the company to extract more value from these services and should begin thinking about how to use the insights from social media analysis in other enterprise systems.
Leaders in adopting social media practices are already making the connection between, for example, online communication and customer service. Integration at the systems level is only a question of timing and leadership.