Social Media and the Enterprise: CIO as Enabler

By Larry Bonfante  |  Posted 04-27-2012

Social media has become pervasive in every part of today's society. Historically much of what has shown up from our Twitter feeds and Facebook posts has ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime (do I really need to know that you had a turkey sandwich for lunch or that you have sent me a "virtual drink"?)  However, old school naysayers who view social media as a "waste of time" are missing an incredible opportunity for engagement.

How valuable would it be to know what the consumers of your products and services are really thinking and really want? In the past, marketing departments have spent millions of dollars to conduct market research and run consumer focus groups. Today, you can ascertain much of how your target market is reacting and responding to new products and services by engaging them via social media. This can be either a blessing or a curse, depending upon the value of your efforts.

It used to be that you would read Consumer Reports to find out if a new model car or piece of electronics was a lemon. Today, you can find real-time product feedback online and via social media and get the perspectives of your fellow consumers.

Now, companies can actually "pick the brains" of consumers via social media. Instead of spending millions of dollars on researching and developing novel new products without any guarantee of a targeted audience, we can actually ask our clients and prospects what they'd like to see us develop in the way of new offerings. Many world class companies are getting innovative ideas from consumers at little or no cost. What better audience to determine what we should produce than the audience we hope will consume it?

Believe it or not, I still know CIOs who block employee access to social media sites as they feel these are a waste of time for their employees. I wonder how many Millennials have decided to not a take a job with a company that won't allow them to Tweet or access Facebook from inside the corporate firewalls. I wonder how many opportunities to find qualified candidates for open positions have been lost by companies who aren't searching LinkedIn to identify suitable professional prospects.

At the U.S. Tennis Association, we created a social database of skills and talents within our organization. Now, when we need a specific skill that is not part of someone's day job (i.e. who can take photographs at our next staff outing?) we can simply scour this repository to leverage (for free) the talents and passions of our people. They feel like they are using their unique talents to add value, and we don't have to find and pay for outside resources…a classic win- win scenario.

The average day is no longer divided into work time and leisure time. For most people (especially young professionals) the expectation is that they can simply live their lives. It doesn't matter what time of day it is, or where they happen to be (at home, in the office, on the beach). They expect to be able to do what they need to do to be effective as professionals, friends, parents and partners. As CIOs, we need to ask ourselves: Are we enabling this anytime/anywhere approach to life, or are we constructing artificial barriers to this new way of living?

About the Author

Larry Bonfante is CIO of the United States Tennis Association and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at Larry@
CIOBenchCoach.com