Social networking has become a key medium for interacting with colleagues, contacts and customers. So why are some businesses still scared to let their employees engage? Mark Samuels reports.
As many as 48 per cent of companies still ban their staff from accessing social networks at work, according to research from HCL. The survey suggests many executives believe social tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, are too distracting from day-to-day activities.
That perception can be a challenge for modern CIOs who are charged with moderating communication channels, while ensuring the continual flow of information. Below, leading business executives provide seven tips for creating successful engagement through social technology.
1. Encourage knowledge exchange
"Collaborative platforms can become a source which helps unlock the collective intelligence of the whole business," says experienced IT leader JJ Van Oosten, who is a former board member and CIO at Tesco.com.
He says CIOs need to create a framework in which workers feel safe to experiment on a personal level and to design cross-functional activities, such as with the marketing team, from which the organisation can learn and scale at a pace that is right for the business.
"Social media then becomes a normal thing to do and is integral to the business," he says. "When you are building a new brand or opening a new store, it is important to use social technology to give to the community what they expect and to get the local people to understand what you stand for."
2. Do not use compliance as an excuse
How many organisations truly engage with their customers across multiple collaboration channels? For Dave Upton, associate director at Xantus, the answer is far too few - and he believes many organisations are trying to find legislative reasons to avoid social interaction.
"Are you using compliance as an excuse for not using social media? It should never be an excuse - embrace social media," he says. "Wake up to what's being said about you. You can't manage the external message."
Upton says CIOs have to concentrate on collaboration from an internal perspective and use the tools to sell the organisation: "If your business doesn't embrace social media, your business won't be perceived as an attractive place to work. If your employees are constrained, it will be a negative influence on the perceptions of your business," he says.
3. Never treat networkers like outsiders
"The connecting tissue of an organisation is often minimal," says Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist at cloud vendor Mimecast. "It's time to measure the importance of the people that connect your organisation together."
Unfortunately, he believes the value of many of these individuals is often misunderstood and they are often left at the margins of the organisation. Such communicative people, says Borenstein, are traditionally the type of individuals who get slated in performance reviews for just hanging around the water cooler and chatting.
"But these people are the connecting tissue. These are the individuals who have the great skills that will help to pull your organisation together," he says.
4. Make the most of Facebook
Mark Foulsham, head of IT and operations at insurance firm esure, warns his CIO peers not to underestimate the power of social media. He pays particular attention to Facebook and the potential for positive references to influence buying behaviour.
"CIOs need to think of business in relation to their personal habits. If I want to do something at home, like employ a plumber, I'll ask for a recommendation. If you extrapolate that relationship further, Facebook is...
Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.