The time has finally come. We can now publicly speak about the findings of the research study on the enterprise use of social media that has been in the works since the beginning of 2009. Cisco, the sponsor of the study, issued a global press release on January 13th and over the last few days the story has been picked up in online media. The coverage has been quite broad (CNN Money, CIO Magazine UK, Read Write Web, and ZDNet among others have covered the story; you can also watch a short video below), which of course makes me feel good about almost a year-long effort.
After having skimmed through several online stories, however, I felt that there is a key piece missing in how journalist and bloggers present the key finding of our study. Yes, it is true that the study showed that when it comes to the enterprise use of social media outside of the corporate firewall, marketing and communications folks are calling the shots, while IT involvement is lacking. It is also true, that many companies tend to underestimate the importance of putting in place formal policies and procedures to manage their portfolios of social media initiatives and tools. But what most stories seem to have overlooked is why more governance and IT involvement is needed.
The point we are trying to make is not that IT needs to insert itself into the loop merely for the sake of not losing control over corporate users and systems. More oversight is needed because the nature of the enterprise externally-focused social media initiatives is shifting. Having originated in marketing and PR with the primary focus on communication with external stakeholder audiences, these initiatives are now spilling into core areas of the value chain and starting to affect core business processes and functions, such as product development and innovation, customer and supplier relationship management, service delivery etc. As this shift accelerates, companies will not be able to limit their involvement to creating communities on Facebook and conversing with customers on Twitter. They will have to make sure that the enabling web 2.0 tools and collaboration platforms integrate seamlessly with the rest of the enterprise architecture. And this is where IT comes in.
Integration, however, is not the only aspect where IT may be able to help. Ensuring alignment between social media initiatives and the overall business strategy, something that many of the study participants had struggled with, may well rely on mechanisms similar to those for aligning IT investments and strategy. Likewise, achieving security compliance, helping streamline implementation, communicating and supporting end users, documenting use cases and measuring impact are all areas where IT is well equipped to make a contribution. And what we’re suggesting in the study is that instead of waiting till the need becomes immediate and pressing, IT needs to be more proactive and step up to the plate now.