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5 Ways for IT to Put Social Media to Work in the Enterprise

From the experts | Posted on June 20, 2013 by Joel Marans

IT leaders are probably in the best position to help prevent a “fire, ready, aim” approach to using social media. This may sound counter-intuitive at first. After all, IT blocks social media, right? Not so. I’d argue that any organization that’s getting serious about using social media has a lot to gain by leveraging IT people’s natural strengths of connecting technology’s value to the business as a whole.

Here are 5 ways IT can be a force for social media good, while protecting the needs (and IP) of the business.

1. Recognize (and accept) employees WILL find a way to use social media

We’ve all experienced it. A friend just asked you for help on Facebook or Twitter, and you try to answer them on your work computer. Next thing you know, you’re met by an ominous page blocking access. So what do you do? You fire up an app on your smartphone – which isn’t connected to the corporate network – and answer them anyhow. Now, what if we change the word “friend” to “client” or “prospect”? Recent studies estimate that up to 75% of employees access social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin from their mobile devices while at work – often to do work.

Once IT leaders accept that social media actually helps employees become more productive, and that it’s a normal part of everyday employee interactions (just like email and the phone) IT will be in a much better position to set employees up for success. This doesn’t mean unfettered access to everything, by the way. It’s about providing the right level of access to the right tools. At Softchoice, our IT team – in consultation with business leaders from across the organization – enables employees unlimited access to sites like Facebook and YouTube before 9AM, during lunch, and after 5PM. Everyone also gets an hour of time each day to “spend” how they want. Access to Twitter and LinkedIn is available without restriction. For most organizations, I think this is a great model that makes employees feel free to use the tools they want, while respecting the fact we all have jobs to do.

2. Protect employees from themselves with social media guidelines

Quite often, social media in business starts in a haphazard, fragmented way. Marketing sets up a corporate Twitter account (or two). HR starts using Facebook to recruit new employees. Individual sales reps start providing customer support on LinkedIn. While these activities start with the best of intentions, they create a ton of risk for the business, and ultimately (and unfortunately) IT is held accountable. And too often the typical reaction is lock everything down (see point #1 for the consequences). In order to limit the risk, IT leaders need to ensure social media best practices and guidelines are known and acknowledged from the start.

Mistakes will be made – no question. That said, IT – in concert with Legal, Marketing and HR – will head off a majority of social media faux pas by setting proper boundaries. At Softchoice, we include social media guidelines in our Employee Handbook, which every employee agrees to – and signs off – every year. Consequences are clearly indicated, and examples are provided around what is – and isn’t – appropriate to share via social media.

3. Broaden the conversation from business tactics to business outcomes

IT leaders add a lot of value every single day by broadening the conversation around specific applications of a technology, to the broader impact the technology will have on the business. The same philosophy applies with social media. Beyond the obvious marketing and sales applications, think about how social media can break down departmental silos, remove geographic boundaries, improve internal processes and create best-practices sharing within the organization. Softchoice has found great value with Yammer to create better organizational awareness, reduce email friendly and it now gives various departments insight into what everyone is up to, and creating cooperation and serendipity that never existed before.

4. Can’t find the right social media tool? Invent one.

While you already know this, it’s worth saying again. Social media is not just Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest or MySpace. Any technology that creates the ability for people to connect and collaborate together is social media. That includes email, blogs and instant messaging/chat. The challenge for most organizations is figuring out how to reverse-engineer a popular social media tool into their proprietary sales systems and processes. Guess what? You don’t need to. No one knows better than IT how internal systems work. Sometimes that means that creating something new – rather than compromising with the limitations of an existing platform – is the best option available. In fact, that’s exactly what the Softchoice IT team did.

We have very experienced pre-sales resources that supports our sales team to deliver exceptional client service. The challenge has been connecting with the right pre-sales resource when they’re needed most. Recognizing this gap, IT built a custom tool that allows sales reps to use a combination of a web browser, custom app development and an IM client to crowd-source specific questions to a pool of pre-sales resources. These resources get notified, and provide an answer instantly and in real-time. This tool gives our sales team access to the best information possible when they need it most, which in turn helps create more informed clients.

5. Tailor your efforts to your culture

The reality is not every organization is ready – or willing – to use social media at work, for work. And that’s okay. Peter Drucker famously quipped “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. So no matter how inspiring marketing’s vision is for using Facebook, or how brilliant providing customer service through Twitter might be, nothing will succeed if it’s not supported by the culture of your organization.

When your business is ready for this transformational change, IT leaders will provide invaluable support and knowledge in making sure the strategy is done right. All you need to do is ask them.

This article originally appeared on my blog, where I share practical, tactical advice for organizations looking to use social media.

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