Sep 5, 2012

Is social networking part of the CIO job description?

Were I to ask you whether corporate wikis, video conferencing, and enterprise collaboration tools fall within the bailiwick of the CIO and the IT department, I'm certain you'd say "yes." You might even mutter your assent with an expansive, rueful sigh -- because responsibility for the research, purchase, deployment, training, ROI, and engagement of these tools isn't always happy and fulfilling.

Despite their manifold attractions, corporate wikis, video conferencing, and enterprise collaboration tools continue to suffer from limited, unenthusiastic user engagement. Even so, some of the same users who are loath to use those feature-rich, customizable enterprise tools are eager, active users of free, public, third-party social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

True, these sites don't necessarily offer all the features of an enterprise tool. True, the IT department doesn't need to buy, deploy, or manage any new equipment every time an employee opens a Facebook account. Nevertheless, shouldn't CIOs and IT managers push those expensive enterprise collaboration plans onto the back burner, and instead take on a bigger role in their business's use of public social networking sites?
Social networking initiatives are often driven by marketing departments (which seem to want everyone happily tweeting about good news all the time, and bad news none of the time). Historically, social networking use has often been discouraged by others in the company -- either because of the assumption that time spent on social networks is time wasted, or because social networks invite new security threats into the network.
The arguments against social networking are now starting to sound rather stodgy and out-of-touch. There are (somewhat surprisingly) real business benefits to social networking -- benefits that extend beyond basic marketing. This week's debut of Google+ is already stirring up fantasies of free, open, easy-to-use, scalable social networking that seamlessly integrates with productivity software and video-conferencing.
So are CIOs responsible for the enterprise's social networking use? Should you be responsible for researching social networks' capabilities? Training employees to use them? Proposing innovative business uses for them?
My instincts tell me that most CIOs and IT managers do not list these tasks in their job descriptions. You might take it upon yourselves to control or monitor enterprise use of social networks, but not to enable or drive that use.
Maybe my instincts are wrong. So tell me, how do you see your role in your company's use of public social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+?