Tapping into Twitter: Five tips for CIOs looking to harvest social data

Time to exploit online conversations and unstructured social data...

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? silicon.com 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...

By Mark Samuels

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.