Individuals inside and outside the organisation now use a range of social tools to engage with the business. So how can CIOs make the most of this online conversation and use unstructured social data to help shape better products and services? gets five top tips from five IT leaders.

CIOs must help the business deal with themes that customers identify through social media

CIOs must help the business deal with themes that customers identify through social mediaPhoto: Facebook

Tip 1. Identify the themes and address the customer

John Bates, CTO at Progress Software, says last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico was the first example of a major company such as BP having its reputation damaged through an inadequate response to social media: “They didn’t respond effectively and they got badly hurt,” he says.

Much has been written about the oil giant’s struggle to incorporate social media into its communications crisis plan. Bates says CIOs must help the business identify underlying issues addressed through social media and find a means to deal with customer-identified themes.

“Social media is a series of events and Twitter is the medium that can potentially damage the reputation of governments and businesses. If someone says something about your organisation, you need to raise the issue and understand what the sentiment says about your business,” Bates adds.

“Social is not just about the technology. It’s actually more about the culture. The 21st-century customer understands the culture of social media. Your business has to understand why people would want to go out on to the internet and to collaborate.”

Tip 2. Complacency is not an option, so get ready

Sandeep Phanasgaonkar, president and CTO of Reliance Capital, says responsiveness is a key issue. As the man responsible for business IT at one of India’s three largest financial services organisations, he recognises there is still much work to be done in making the most of information created through social media.

“We’re still experimenting with social media, particularly in India,” he says. “It’s more of a feedback mechanism at the moment, rather than a means to new business. But we have to be alert and ready to respond quickly.”

Phanasgaonkar also recognises complacency is not an option and that he will have to find new ways to make the most of social data. “Any customer issue needs to be addressed quickly. Social media is providing more and more feedback on our financial products. We’ll have to develop more analytical expertise when it comes to unstructured data,” he says.

“We’re at the initial phase with regards to the importance of social media and understanding how it affects our products and organisation. But the importance of social media will continue to grow rapidly – all customers are going to use collaborative tools and we need to be sensitive to their demands.”

Tip 3. Be the business leader and find a commercial focus

Independent consultant and former DHL Express CIO Tony Eccleston advises IT leaders looking at social media to take a strong stance before others in the business provide a challenge.

He asks CIOs to consider whether their IT department is configured to make the most of the unstructured data created through social media.

“As with most things, if you don’t dedicate resources to a topic, you are a spectator at best,” says Eccleston.

He encourages CIOs to open a dialogue with the board and to collaborate with other C-suite executives in an attempt to bring the right resources together. Success for the CIO will be less about selecting the right tools to deal with unstructured data and more about establishing a commercial focus.

“Customer data that was previously expensive and time-consuming to source, sort and handle can now be acquired free across various channels in real time. The balance has very much shifted towards…


…effective usage and exploitation of customer data,” he says.

According to Eccleston, many organisations arguably did not spend enough time and rigour really thinking about how they were going to use customer information before investing in expensive technical solutions.

Social networks

Social media is a valuable collaborative tool that can transform the way an organisation shares knowledge with staff and customersPhoto: Shutterstock

“Those CIOs who look from the outside to the inside of the organisation, in regards to customer information and decision-making needs, will be the social media winners,” he says.

Tip 4. Pick the right format to exploit your data

Julian Self is group operations and IT director at IPD, a company that specialises in providing high-level performance analysis for the owners, investors, managers and occupiers of real estate.

“We need to make our data more valuable to our clients,” says Self, who recognises social media can play a crucial role, but it must be exploited in line with wider concerns linked to trust and visibility.

He is currently helping IPD launch a membership site, which will help IPD customers make better use of real-estate data. Self says such closed-membership formats provide clients with a better type of engagement, where executives of related organisations are more likely to communicate openly and share information.

“We’ll use social media to drive people to the membership area, rather than leading conversations in open web spaces,” he says. “Businesses can miss the opportunity to engage through social media. But any use of data must fit with your internal requirements and your customers’ demands.”

Tip 5. Share knowledge, monitor feedback and think differently

Dean Branton, director of group operations and group CIO at telecoms specialist Kcom, uses social media to follow industry experts, engage with networking forums and interact with other thought leaders through blogging.

“I believe social media is a valuable collaborative tool that has the ability to transform how an organisation shares its knowledge with employees and customers,” he says.

Branton says all Kcom group brands use social media to some extent, particularly LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

“We also actively monitor and use these channels to capture customer feedback, help shape our proposition portfolio and to resolve service issues,” he says, in relation to making the most of unstructured data.

“Another obvious benefit is brand awareness, with social media allowing the firm to promote its products and services in the wider marketplace.”

When it comes to internal staff using collaborative tools to engage, Branton says social media can be used to provide important and alternative support to traditional regional networking organisations. He points to The Yorkshire Mafia, which he says is an active platform for business networking in the region.