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Falling off the Radar – Why it’s Risky for CIOs to Stay on the Trailing Edge of Social Media

Over the years, CIOs have typically been on the leading edge of new communication technologies such as pagers, email, laptops, the early mobile phones, BlackBerries and today’s smart phones. The benefits of being in touch have been obvious and compelling.

Many IT leaders are now in danger of falling out of context.

But social media is proving to be different. While estimates vary, it is clear that when it comes to the use of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, many CIOs are on the trailing edge. We believe that this is risky. Many IT leaders are now in danger of falling out of context if they are not prepared to use social channels as effective intelligence gathering, communications and personal branding mechanisms.

CIOs often ask us why they should bother with social media. They tell us that they know what’s going on, and when they don’t they have a rich network of people and suppliers from whom they can learn. And they are already invited to participate in more events and conferences than they can make time for, so feel little need for self-promotion. Understandably, many have chosen to focus more on the policy and security side of their firm’s social media usage.

So what is wrong with this thinking, and how can the use of social media help make CIOs more successful?

Your own personal radar

The starting point is the recognition that social media isn’t mostly about posting and broadcasting one’s thoughts. Social media is mostly about listening, and the development of your personal radar. It is a powerful new source of intelligence – corporate intelligence, competitive intelligence, customer intelligence, supplier intelligence and employee intelligence. The goal is to listen in context, stripping out the noise so most of what you hear is relevant and comes from people you know, respect and trust.

Our rapidly changing world means no one person or org has all the answers, we must collaborate in-person & online"

"Social media allows engagement & learning daily re: new activities across fields+sectors = a diversity of thought"

David Bray, CIO, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - by Twitter

You don’t need to listen to many people to get context, but they do need to be the right people. Identifying the right people is a challenge for everyone because while a vast quantity of information (‘big data’) is available, it is not easily aggregated and filtered. Even the leading social media firms struggle to manage their own data, let alone provide an effective information service you can subscribe to.

Thus, the main barrier to effective social media usage is learning how to listen, how to identify the right people to listen to, how to read their information, and how to share the appropriate information with peers and colleagues to avoid overloading them further. This requires skill, effort, time and experience.

Humanizing the individual and the firm

In addition to increasing business intelligence, social media can help humanize the individual and the organization so that we can work better together, sharing information more easily, and providing a means for like-minded people to engage with each other directly. The cultural shift that is required for this more human approach can be best understood by recognizing the differences between the digital and the social. For example, the figure below lists the current main areas of interest in the two domains. One is focused on devices and technologies; the other is all about culture and behaviour.

Information is becoming democratized, sharing is becoming an ‘economy’, and digital trust is becoming a key factor in shaping the speed and depth of both personal and corporate engagements.

In essence, social media is now forcing the world to communicate better. Because information is becoming democratized, sharing is becoming an ‘economy’, and digital trust is becoming a key factor in shaping the speed and depth of both personal and corporate engagements.

For example, LinkedIn can tell you how many hits your staff are getting on their profiles. The number can run into thousands a month, meaning those profiles can be as significant as your corporate website. We call this shift the move from .com to .people. Increasingly, we decide whether to deal with a person or an organization based on what we can find out about them. Do we like and trust them? Do they have a good track record? Do they ‘get’ social communication? Or are they going to be ‘too slow?’ Will they fit in?

Going forward, social media will become an increasingly important part of your firm’s business strategy. CIOs who fall behind the curve will find it difficult to be the digital leaders their firms require, and others will inevitably step in to fill the void.

"Twitter keeps me connected to our fans and to people who love technology"

- Michelle McKenna-Doy, CIO, NFL

"Social tools enable me to accelerate my learning and contribution"

Joanna Young, VP for Information Technology and CIO, Michigan State University

A brand called ‘you’

Even mentioning the ‘B’ word or ‘personal marketing’ can get many a CIO’s hackles up. However, since we are spending more and more time online, we had better think about how we appear there. Having a poor profile on social media is like turning up to work in a city office in a t-shirt and shorts, wearing a Mickey Mouse watch and chewing gum – and expecting to be taken seriously.

"I use LinkedIn as a business networking management tool. It gives me valuable insight into people I meet and also recruit. Twitter is my research tool and publishing mechanism for both business and my social interests in football and music"

Ian Cohen, Former Group CIO, Jardine Lloyd Thompson and Associated Newspapers

So CIOs have to decide how they want to be perceived both inside and outside their organization. If you decide to be invisible, that sends a strong message about you; if you never share anything you’ll find people stop sharing with you. Reciprocity is now the natural norm.

We believe it is good practice for CIOs and other executives to do a ‘health check’ on their own social media skills and profile, and to decide on their personal strategy – be it just ‘listening’ or more broadly contributing, sharing and engaging. This is generally best done through peer level coaching, either one-to-one or in a group session that takes account of the context around their industry, company policy and appetite for social media.

We have also found that although the digital generation may ‘get’ social media from a personal lifestyle and platform perspective, and may be great at being ‘digital buddies’ providing technology support, they are not necessarily the best people to formulate your personal social strategy as they often lack the necessary executive and market context.

How the LEF can help

For the reasons above, the LEF sees the need for a social media advisory/coaching programme and we are happy to announce that we are now working with Bob Barker ( and Thomas Power ( to fast-track CIOs and their teams in the following social media areas:

  • Business intelligence – How to create a personal intelligence platform that provides relevant news, market insight, customer intelligence and competitive activity
  • Social technologies – How to set up the major social platforms on all your devices to best meet your goals, develop good habits and be as efficient as possible
  • Personal branding and etiquette – How to look good online, decide on a focus for communications, and share and network effectively.

Included in these sessions are tests that help identify your individual ‘online mindset’ so you can recognize your behavioural patterns and make changes to become ‘more social’.

Social media is both a skill and a journey. Like driving a car or mastering a sport, it can’t be learned overnight, but it is well worth the effort.

Learn more about our Social Executive Development Programme.  Contact Kate Taylor to book a workshop at 


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Research Commentary

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