I talk to a lot of IT pros that still believe that social media is all about people taking pictures of their food. Although there is still some of that going around, the reality is that social media, when used appropriately, can have positive benefits for all facets of IT. In this article, I'll talk about five ways that social media can be a positive force.
This article focuses on IT as a consumer of social media services, not as a driver in the organization. Frankly, I'm pretty much focused on Twitter here, too. For me, Twitter has become an invaluable tool.
Keeping up with and learning about new trends
Although there is a lot of white noise and junk on Twitter, it really comes down to who you follow. If you choose to follow celebrity gossip sites and the like, expect to have a lot of junk in your Twitter timeline.
That said, there are millions of people on Twitter. I follow less than 200, but these are 200 that I have specifically selected to follow and I periodically cull my list. And, as new people with interesting insights rise to the surface, I review their content and then may choose to follow them.
There are Twitter groups and individuals out there for just about every aspect of IT. There are CIOs, systems administrators, developers, help desk people and more all participating in a broad, real-time world.
I follow people from across the spectrum and spend a lot of time each day reading their thoughts and shared links and find a lot of knowledge and a lot of humor in the posts.
Getting quick help for difficult problems
Vendor support is good, but Twitter can be better! Once you've gained the right following, you'll find that people are eager to share their knowledge. If you're in a quick bind, you can often sent a tweet simply describing your problem and someone somewhere will respond. Sometimes, the responses will be helpful and other times they won't, but it's another avenue by which IT staffers and leaders can get help with vexing problems.
Reaching out to the user base
Sometimes, social media can be put to great use inside the organization. IT is often seen as a black box inside the organization, full of mystery and intrigue. Often, this is the result of poor communications and social media is one method by which IT can break out of the box and be seen as more transparent and more communicative.
Under such a plan, IT staffers would share appropriate information on a regular basis while people inside the organization subscribe to the account in use.
The key here would be IT staff regularly sending out updates but not overwhelming their subscribers with too much information or too much jargon-laden information.
Quick notification of system issues
Just as a company's user community could benefit from IT staff using social media to improve their community outreach, IT staff themselves could become more aware of systems issues by linking their monitoring systems to social media, but in a more restricted way. Obviously, it would not be desirable for potentially sensitive alerts to be received by just anyone.
Such integration would make the alerting system more proactive by enabling more IT staff to see alerts as they are raised. IT staffers can simply use their own social media accounts to subscribe to the alerting channel.
There is obvious opportunity here for security issues, so if you decide to go this route, make sure you do so carefully and within the confines of your security policy.
Building a peer network
The chances are pretty good that you won't be in your current job forever. By leveraging the power of social media in an appropriate way, you can build a strong peer network that can help you land your next job or otherwise assist when the time comes to move on.
Personally, since leaving my full-time job last year, I've been very successful as a self-employed consultant, trainer and author and much of this success is the direct result of the efforts I've made in social media. Without the connections that I've made, I would either still be in a miserable position or would have had to rely on more traditional means to seek new employment in an economy that is certainly not slanted to the benefit of the job seeker.
If you're absolutely against social media use, these suggestions won't make sense, but if you're willing to embrace this world and to do so carefully, you and your department may find great benefit and a whole new way to work.
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.