CIOs' Emerging Social Business Opportunity

cio_socbizAs a speaker at the CIO Forum & Executive IT Summit this past week, I spent two days in focused conversations with enterprise CIOs. The summit is co-sponsored by SIM, TEN and ITEEX and is a relatively intimate setting as most attendees are CIOs, and no press is allowed. We spoke about what was top of mind for CIOs and their experiences with social business. It served as an excellent “current state of the CIO,” and I have some surprising takeaways to share. I’ll also offer a surprising prediction and social business guidance to CIOs.

Having advised CEOs, CIOs, COOs and CMOs on adopting disruptive technology at various stages of my career, I have a broad perspective of the enterprise and executive roles. From the mid 1990s through 2006, I focused on enterprise software and corporate strategy. In 2006, I launched CSRA to advise enterprises on social business strategy, and I’ve been working with CMOs, which has been personally rewarding as I have also led marketing several times in my career. For context, here are a few things that most executives don’t yet appreciate about social business.

Context: Social Technologies Are 21st Century Dial tone

You have undoubtedly heard that Web 3.0 will soon be as widespread as Web 1.0; however, most visions of enterprise use of social technologies miss these points:

  • Social business is transformational out of the box because it coincides with customer “empowerment,” in which individuals’ voices collectively rival the voices of government and enterprise. This matters because people will increasingly expect to have one-to-one conversations with relevant people in the enterprise—and they’ll reward enterprises with more business that can respond to this expectation.
  • Social technologies are 21st century dial tone. Imagine an enterprise whose employees didn’t know how to talk on the telephone. Ridiculous, yes. Social technologies are more complex than telephones, but stakeholders will increasingly prefer to relate to the enterprise using social technologies in many situations, but employees currently don’t know how to use them. It’s a huge adoption issue. Within ten years, it will be unthinkable to not be using Twitter for certain business processes, for example. It already is in some situations.
  • Adoption will be more efficient and effective at organizations that approach it explicitly. Socialtech rips the skin off the enterprise. It will pressure massive business process change. Here’s one discussion in which I participated today.
  • Most organizations treat “social media” as a marketing or communications competency. That underestimates it considerably. It will soon be as fundamental as talking on the phone. All functions will communicate that way, including “marketing.”

Prediction: CIOs Will Have a Crucial Role in Successful Social Business Adoption

During my remarks on the second day, I surprised the audience by predicting that CIOs and IT would play a critical role in enterprise adoption. Here’s why:

  • CIOs depend on their increasing sophistication with business process design, measurement and management. Heavy lifting in process design will be central to making social business deliver. CIOs are often the heavies in the enterprise for process design.
  • In general, CIOs have strong backgrounds in developing internal competence among diverse talent pools. Social business teams will be distributed, virtual and process-focused. It will require internal competence in most cases.
  • CIOs, because they touch almost every part of the enterprise (not to mention the extended enterprise via extranets, mashups, proprietary networks…), have a much broader knowledge of enterprise business processes than almost anyone.
  • CIOs excel at managing distributed teams of internal and external resources.
  • Since many CIOs have a hand in software design, many understand the principles of abstraction and making roles and risks explicit to mitigate risk. CIOs that have experience with enterprise architecture teams have a huge advantage; to encourage and support social business adoption, organizations will require analogous social business competency teams.
  • CIOs have a strong service ethos.
  • However, a traditional weakness among IT staffs is a focus on technology, with people as an afterthought. They shy away from the limelight.

But CMOs have stewarded social media initiatives at most organizations. CMOs have complementary skill sets to CIOs’, but I believe most CMOs will continue to struggle to make social business deliver without CIOs’ help:

  • In most companies, marketing is about image, brand and positioning. Communications is often practiced like public relations, that is, trying to create desired perceptions about organizations. Neither of these is about empowering customers or other stakeholders, which is where the market is going.
  • Many marcom organizations outsource large swaths of operations to agencies; they are focused on orchestrating the bevy of providers, but most aren’t terribly strong on business process design or developing internal competencies.
  • Marketers have and practice invaluable communications skills that are relevant to social business, but they are serving the wrong master in many companies. All but the most radical marketing principles are still founded on what companies say to create and maintain brand image. Word of mouth has always been the most prevalent communication channel about organizations, but it’s been invisible and relatively insignificant up to now, so the organization and its proxies had extensive influence with “creating brand.” Even though it has been expensive to create and maintain brand, it has paid off because other voices were relatively absent. Of course, social technologies are disrupting this state of affairs.
  • CMOs are caught in the uncomfortable position of having to manage “business as usual” while adopting a whole new ethos: nurturing strangers’ conversations. Catch Stan Rapp and Don Peppers on marketing transformation.
  • Marcom’s instinct is to practice “social media” as marketing, PR and communications. However, to be effective, “communications” skills have to be completely retooled, at all levels of the organization (and at all agencies).
  • Once marketing learns to support empowerment and focuses on serving and supporting stakeholders, it will be transformed, and marketers’ creative and communication skills will be able to support social business in creating breakaway value.
  • Social business is about point-to-point communication, about interaction. It will be harder to outsource because outsiders don’t have the knowledge that will be required. The customer is so over the canned response read off the monitor by someone in Bismarck or Manila.

At most organizations, successful social business adoption will result from a close collaboration between CMOs and CIOs. This will break new ground for both.

Social Business Advice for CIOs

  • Plan to get involved with social business because communicating with socialtech is 21st century dial tone. Remembering Web 1.0 will be instructive; the Web and http have invaded every manner of enterprise application and network, but you undoubtedly remember that “the Internet” was scoffed at for years. Social business is similar. Commit to interacting on several platforms personally. You don’t have to spend much time, but aim for several interactions per week on each platform, consistently. As I’m writing this, Twitter broke the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. We don’t even notice this anymore, but Twitter has become the global news network of first resort.
  • Start building competency within select members of your team. Remember, the demand for social business competency will grow geometrically because it’s 21st century dial tone. Form a team to start using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Make sure to get a social media policy in place beforehand. Start small and build. You may find the Executive’s Guide to Social Networks helpful.
  • As the popularity of distributed applications grew, adoption was chaotic as they started popping up everywhere. Social business is the same except more extreme because barriers to usage are far lower. From an enterprise competency perspective, having a social business competency team to identify, organize and group-share social business best practices can significantly cut the time and cost of adoption—and the messes that have to be cleaned up. The social business competency team is cross-boundary. You probably understand how to create and manage this team better than most other executives in your enterprise.
  • An obvious candidate to begin using social business is recruiting. You can have a content strategy that will be very attractive to certain people. It can be very efficient. Also think about a “private Twitter” solution like Yammer.

Social Business Advice for CMOs

  • Obviously adoption of the transformation thumbnailed above will vary as a function of your stakeholders. But you can be sure that you will be surprised because the market moves much faster than organizations. Start thinking about social business as the transformational proposition it really is.
  • Take a personal stake and develop your own brand by blogging, either on your own blog or by guest-blogging. You certainly present at conferences, just share these insights on blogs. Develop a point of view. Randall Beard is a CMO with an excellent blog.
  • Plan to and start developing serious competency among members of your team—addressing your core business processes. You can start small, but build steadily.
  • Social business is a fundamentally new way of interaction, although many marketers think of it as “another channel” to deliver their message to market. As stated above, I believe that marketing will have to transform to meet the needs of customers. If this makes sense to you, start making an explicit plan to transform by using social technologies for core business processes.
  • Connect with your CIO and explore these ideas. Take his/her temperature. Plan to collaborate on using social technologies, but start small and informal if possible. Keep expectations low at the beginning, but move fast.
  • The Social Network Roadmap offers extensive free papers and tools online that may be helpful.

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